It was on August 5, 2007, that I wrote in glowing terms about the government’s decision to construct an environmentally friendly building complex to house ministries currently scattered all over downtown Pest in buildings not originally designed as offices. High ceilings, huge rooms, useless corridors, and many other drawbacks made their maintenance very expensive. I was enthusiastic about the plan although a lot of people–and not just the Fidesz–felt that, given the present economic and political situation, it was perhaps not the best time to undertake such a project. The answer to the criticism was that the government didn’t have to invest any money into the project because private individuals/companies would build and own the buildings and the government would rent them for twenty-five years after which the ownership would be transferred to the Hungarian state. In the meantime the government would save a great deal of money by moving out of the old buildings. Moreover, the Hungarian state would receive cold hard cash for the valuable real estate the ministries currently occupy. The design was modest and environmentally friendly. So, all in all, I was enthusiastic.
Then came one piece of bad news after another. The grounds where the complex was to be erected belonged to the MÁV (Hungarian Railways) and the government had to purchase this property. This was not really an added expense because the state simply took the "money" from one of its pockets and put it into another. However, the more the experts looked at the grounds the more it became obvious that the area surrounding the government buildings would have to be transformed in order to make the complex a logical part of the whole. However, the government stated that only a certain amount of money could be invested in the project; as the project expanded it became increasingly obvious that major cost overruns were inevitable and that the private developers could expect no help from the government. Therefore, the real estate developers (originally there were about a dozen companies interested) changed their minds, save one.
Moreover, it was also likely that the project would not be finished by 2010 (the year of the next national election) and, as the government spokesman said, they didn’t want to have another "hole." This was a reference to the original site of the National Theater in downtown Pest. The construction began in the last year of the Horn government. The foundation was dug but then came Viktor Orbán who decided that he liked neither the plans for the building nor its location. He also objected to its price tag: too expensive. The site was abandoned and only a hole remained smack in the middle of Erzsébet tér. The building that was eventually erected elsewhere cost more than the original estimate. As for its artistic merits, experts were horrified.
In the last few days there were rumors that the government would scrap the project. This morning the decision was made: the project is "suspended." Not "abandoned," only "suspended."
Most likely this is a good financial decision under the circumstances, but I think that it is a setback for the government. The reference to the "hole" was also unfortunate because it was almost an admission that the government parties are afraid of losing the next elections. Admittedly, as things stand right now, this might be a real possibility, but a politician should never show fear of his opponent.
Although the Fidesz should be happy with this decision, they want to know exactly how much the government spent on this useless project. Here we go again.