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Hungary: update on OGP progress

Sandor Lederer |

The Hungarian government published its draft action at the end of January. While it was developed in cooperation with CSO participants, the final draft does not contain but a few elements of the NGOs’ suggestions – its major part is a mere repetition of the government’s anti-corruption program with some minor innovations regarding budget data and transparency of public procurements.

The super majority of the governing party in the Parliament has brought unique opportunities to intervene in previously neglected policies. This vast political authority was indeed used to implement radical transformation in the state structure, and various subsystems (e.g. Media, Health, Education) became exposed to fast and profound changes. As corruption cases related to politicians of the previous governments triggered a serious outcry countrywide, and were between the factors leading to the landslide election victory; radical, comprehensive and definite steps were expected from the government in the field of anti-corruption as well. The government started to elaborate an anti-corruption program in the Fall of 2011. Expert CSOs criticised the draft program because it lacked transparency measures, which was particularly disappointing, as at that time CSO actors were already urging the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice to join the Open Government Partnership. After several negotiations and public dissent, the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice expanded the program, and incorporated a commitment to join the OGP.

In its letter of intent Minister Tibor Navracsics set a deadline of November 2012 for the elaboration of the Hungarian action plan. While this deadline has been pushed to April 2013, the ministry has never missed a chance to use the OGP-issue in its communications as an illustration for its anti-corruption efforts. Last spring the Ministry initiated a consultation process on its anti-corruption agenda. Besides NGOs active in anti-corruption and transparency matters, representatives of other lobby groups and governmental agencies participated in the negotiations. The consultations covered several different topics, such as whistleblowing-protection, lobby regulations, impact assessment and, particularly, the content of the OGP action plan. The participating anti-corruption and transparency NGOs had a common understanding on the relevant topics and the necessary measures for strengthening transparency in Hungary and for bringing the government closer to citizens. Our common suggestions were the following:

As the table shows, neither suggestions related to open data nor those fixing the failures of the present FOI legislation were incorporated into the action plan. Commitments related to the transparency of public procurements and budgetary data fell short since (1) PP awarding authorities are already registered in a uniform way, and (2) the proposed budget visualisation tool does not go beyond the central governmental level. Not to mention that as these data sets have been public for a while, as of now two different NGOs are operating visualisation tools based on central budgetary data ( see eg. amipenzunk.hu). The incorporation of the anti-corruption program is only a formal enrichment of the action plan, since these measures had already been introduced before Hungary joined the OGP procedure. Only commitments focusing on anti-corruption and FOI education are represented in a satisfactory way.

Although it is considered a step forward that Hungary decided to join the OGP, the actual commitments or the lack thereof provide no guarantee for the government being more open and transparent. While NGOs became involved from the very beginning and the draft action plan is based on their recommendations, the overall process cannot be regarded as a real dialogue since civil actors never got any feedback or explanation on why some of their suggestions were left out or watered down. During the consultation sessions, NGOs took the chance to explain how their recommendations would contribute to open government and to the fight against corruption. When the government side indicated that they did not intend to implement thorough transformations, CSO actors reconsidered and reformulated their suggestions in order to remain at feasible and implementable measures. By the end of the procedure (last consultations before the publication of the draft took place in mid-January) NGOs became quite disappointed, especially compared to the promising atmosphere of the first consultations, where government officials seemed to have deep knowledge and expertise in their fields, and were open to incoming ideas. As the procedure went on, the consultation process rather became a series of listening sessions without real steps moving towards a strong and coherent action plan. As of now it is hard to define the factors leading to this weak and rather symbolic action plan.

It is highly probable that the Hungarian government’s commitment towards the OGP process and transparency issues as such is not truly serious – which is particularly unsatisfying as the current government – having regard to its overwhelming authorization – missed a unique chance to introduce effective reforms for a more open government, and address corruption challenges that have poisoned public life for 20 years. It is obvious that the OGP – as it lacks strong eligibility criteria and a sanctioning system – cannot really force countries to be more transparent, but OGP is a very good chance to take steps towards these goals. We saw countries like Chile, Georgia that took this opportunity. And we know dozens that were less successful. It is a disappointment to see Hungary among the latter.