Government attacks the independent Hungarian civil sector with investigations
Contrary to prior notice, the Government’s Control Office (KEHI) visited Autonomia Foundation and Foundation for the Development of Democratic Rights on the morning of the 2nd of June1 instead of the Ökotárs Foundation, which is the lead partner of the consortium responsible for the operation of the EEA/Norwegian NGO Fund. Similarly to Ökotárs, these foundations question the legal ground of the investigations as well., as it is still unknown what the purpose of these investigations is. The consortium agrees to undergo any legitimate audit but these can be ordered or done only by the Brussels-based secretariat, the Financial Mechanism Office, which is responsible for the management of the Funds.
“The organization should handle Hungarian public monies in order to receive investigation justified by the Public Finance Act cited by Nándor Csepreghy, communication secretary of development policies” - emphasized Veronika Móra, director of Ökotárs.
But this is not the case, as the EEA/Norwegian NGO Fund is spending the money of three EFTA2 member states: Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein. The Hungarian government has accepted this fact, when signed the Memorandum of Understanding about the funding.
KEHI can not investigate the funding system and accounting of the NGO Fund or any other foreign governments or private foundations that supports Hungarian NGOs. The condition of a true democracy is an independent NGO sector that can also accept legitimate resources not related to the government.
It is most likely that nobody would be happy with the visit of their mayor wanting to inspect how you spend your taxed incomes in your home. Simlar to the KEHI investigation on the NGO Fund, it is not the business of a town leader nor has he he grounds for such inspection.
What is the purpose of the illegitimate inspection and listing?
To intimidate NGOs and undermine their operation, acquire sensitive, personal data, justify assumptions and accusations and to hinder the NGO Fund. However, the NGO Fund will continue its work despite government pressure.
EEA/Norwegian NGO Fund is the most succesful
The NGO Fund is still the only slice of the total EEA/Norway Grants which the donor is fully satisfied with. Repeated checks and audits are proving that both the grantmaking and the accounting is in line with the rules and standards.
At the same time, the disbursement of the bigger part of the EEA/Norway Grants - amounting to 140 million €, a tenfold sum compared to the NGO Fund - is suspended by Norway and the other donors to the Hungarian government. The reason is that there are insufficient guarantees of transparent tendering in the recently modified distribution system. (As the government terminated the National Develpment Office at the end of last year, a new institution, the Széchenyi Program Office should manage the tenders). We honestly hope that the government will remove every barrier which now makes it impossible that Hungarian citizens and the areas in need of support - e.g. children, healthcare, cultural heritage - could receive the funds they are entitled to.
Seven areas to be strengthened which the government agreed to as well
The donors decided in consent with the Hungarian government about the goals and priorities of the NGO Fund, including human rights - the organizations supported in this thematic area are now listed by the Prime Minister’s Office as politically partisan. The NGO Fund strictly does not support any parties or directly political activities, but on the other hand nor does it list the political preferences or beliefs of people working in or with the supported NGOs. When evaluating project proposals, solely the activities of the applicants and the expected results are examined, whether they are in line with the call of the NGO Fund. The goal of the NGO Fund is to stand by matters which are not represented by the state -such are eg. women rights. Today in Hungary one in every five women experience abuse but even restraining orders are not put into force, although they could prevent immediate life-threat.
What do NGOs do?
The role of the civil sector is to exercise control on the government in power, to represent different groups of the society, to provide missing services to vulnerable groups, and to do all this in a cost effective manner. Therefore it is the interest of any democratic to help the NGO sector. We hope that the Hungarian government continues to accept these principles, supports and not hinders the work of civic organizations even if they criticize them occasionally.
We also believe that civil servants are working for Hungarian people and they are not forced to create black lists, or to stop developments and services provided for Hungarians. As a member of EU we hope that the government respects the independent operation of legitimate interstate, civil and corporate funds.
Further information Veronika Móra, 20/480-4328, firstname.lastname@example.org
1Update: Ökotárs was also visited by auditors later in the day, in the afternoon.
2European Free Trade Area