Is Ökotárs Foundation really secretive? – the truth about the KEHI investigation
24 July 2014 – On Monday, the Government Control Office (KEHI) sent another request for documents to Ökotárs Foundation, now threatening in bold letters to impose sanctions (fines and/or the suspension of the organization’s tax number) in case of non-cooperation. In our earlier letters to KEHI’s chairman we have clearly stated the arguments and reasons of why KEHI’s investigation is illegal, and this view is shared by the director of the Financial Mechanism Office, the donor’s secretariat, too.
It is outrageous and contrary to all norms of governance that both our and the donors’ letters remained unanswered. Instead, KEHI is coming back with new requests for documents, with a highly questionable legal basis, not only to Ökotárs, but also the NGOs supported from the EA/Norwegian NGO Fund. We do question KEHI’s jurisdiction based on Hungarian legislation, and find their conduct an aggressive abuse of power against which we have no legal remedies at this stage.
Also worrying is that after each such request for documents, information linked to those is published in some media presented in a distorted manner– most recently on Tuesday in Magyar Nemzet (http://mno.hu/magyar_nemzet_belfoldi_hirei/torvenyserto-az-okotars-titkolozasa-1238407). It is unimaginable how information related to an ongoing audit finds its way into the press. Trust and legal protection should be the basis of cooperation, but neither of these are guaranteed in this case.
In order to clarify the situation we list the documents below we supplied to KEHI previously in the spirit of cooperation (questioning their legality though) and which are the ones we do not accept to hand over. In case of these we also question why they would be needed to achieve the stated goal of the investigation (even if the audit is legal), to establish whether the use of the funds was appropriate.
Which materials did we hand over to KEHI?
- the detailed project proposal submitted by Ökotárs to the FMO to operate the Fund and related documents (for both financing periods);
- the agreements between Ökotárs and the FMO their annexes (for both financing periods);
- internal procedural rules and guidelines related to the Fund’s operation;
- all technical and financial reports submitted by Ökotárs to the FMO (for both financing periods);
- audit and evaluation reports prepared in relation to the NGO Fund’s operation (including Ernst & Young’s report regarding the audit of the previous financing period);
- cooperation agreements between Ökotárs and its consortium partners;
- the financial accounts of Ökotárs’s management expenditures related to the operation of the NGO Fund, including work contracts and salaries and overhead costs;
- financial documentation of the final research and case study book prepared at the end of the previous financial period (contracts, invoices);
- the basic data of all projects supported from the NGO Fund, i.e. the name and address of the supported NGO, grant amount, title of project, project status (closed or ongoing) - for both financing periods.
What more does the KEHI demand and why is it unacceptable?
- Data of all rejected (non-supported) applicants: name of the NGO, project title, requested amount (for both financing periods) – According to information received by the operating consortium, governmental agencies have already attempted to find disgruntled organizations willing to publicly condemn the NGO Fund for their lack of success, and „prove” its bias in decisionmaking. Earlier statements of the Prime Minister’s Office point to this direction, too, talking about thousands of excluded applicants. Besides, unsuccessful applicants – unlike the winners – never consented to having their data published or provided to any third parties. We find it worrisome that KEHI under the pretext of auditing the use of the monies, requests data of those organizations in the first place which did not get a dime from the NGO Fund.
- All information related to the projects of 58 NGOs selected by KEHI, including their proposals, the grant agreements and their amendments, the grantees’ interim and final reports and all their annexes, correspondence with the grantee during project implementation, evaluation of the projects and related minutes of the Selection Committees, documents related to the control of the projects. – These documents include such private and sensitive data (e.g. attendance sheets and photos submitted as part of reports, internal communications) which the operating consortium has no right to reveal and which can undermine the further operation of the supported NGOs themselves.
- Personal data of evaluators and Selection Committee members and individual lists of the evaluated proposals. – Lists published earlier in the media and accusations about the bias of the evaluation process clearly show that the goal of obtaining these data is to find basis for further accusations again. (The name of evaluators will remain confidential until closing the evaluation of the last call for proposals, in order to prevent exerting pressure or lobbying on them.)
Furthermore, the „owner” of these data is the FMO, the program operator appointed in the bilateral Memorandum of Understanding (and thus accepted by the Hungarian government) – KEHI or any other Hungarian agency must turn to them with their requests for information. Although the FMO’s director made this clear in several letters, such contact has never been made.
It is our firm opinion that requesting the above – especially documents containing personal data – is neither necessary nor proportional to the goal, and raises the suspicion that KEHI abuses its power, that is, it uses its competence for purposes other than it is legally authorized for, e.g. to collect data of perceived political opponents, for nontransparent political purposes. This all clearly points in one direction: the goal of the investigation is nothing but to discredit the NGO Fund and its operators, to intimidate NGOs and their activists and to map or „list” freely organized civil networks.
Meanwhile, the donors not only repeatedly requested the Hungarian government to stop the investigations, but also made it clear: until this happens, the funds of the „big” EEA/Norway Grants amounting to 140 million € and suspended in early May will not be resumed. Thus, on top of the support to civic actors, the work of which is indispensable in a democratic society, the funding of other, primarily state institutions – in the areas of cultural heritage, health, education, minorities etc. – which have been waiting for months for their applications to be evaluated or their grant agreements concluded, remains uncertain, too.