The title is not at all original. Tamás Bauer, an economist and publicist, wrote an opinion piece with this title in Népszava (July 1, 2010). Bauer began his piece by recalling an exchange in parliament (June 22, 2010) about a Fidesz-KDNP proposal that will allow civil servants to be dismissed without justification. Erika Szűcs (MSZP), former minister of social services and labor, rose for a five-minute speech in which she pointed out that the proposal was unjust and most likely against European norms. She suggested that perhaps "there are too many hungry mouths" around Fidesz-KDNP whose appetite the party leaders want to satisfy with government jobs.
So far, so good, but then came the bombshell. Miklós Soltész, undersecretary in the Ministry of National Resources, answered Szűcs and reminded her that after her dismissal as minister on April 15, 2009, she signed a contract with the ministry she had earlier led to the tune of nine million forints. Her work as an independent contractor lasted nine months. Therefore the additional income of one million a month over and above her salary as a member of parliament can be considered pretty substantial. Sure, Soltész continued, "there are a lot of hungry mouths and I think it was [MSZP] that filled these mouths." Not only members of the government party but also those of LMP and Jobbik clapped.
Szűcs at that point asked permission to speak out of order, and she tried to explain that she was asked by Gordon Bajnai to help the ministry with a program that she herself had initiated while she was minister called "Road to Work." She claimed that she earned every penny she received and placed volumes and volumes of material in the hands of the officials of the ministry. It didn't help. On the other side one could hear people saying: "Shame! Shame!"
Tamás Bauer saw this exchange and found it disturbing, just as I did. Yes, there is nothing illegal about the transaction, but most people would consider it inappropriate and offensive. This kind of behavior made MSZP unacceptable in the eyes of many people. They lost credibility. And the trouble, says Bauer, is that some of the MSZP leaders, including Erika Szűcs, don't even see what the problem is with such behavior.
After reading Bauer's article I was inclined to agree with him. My opinion didn't change after reading Erika Szűcs's communique on the subject on the webpage of MSZP. In it she explained that she "did a necessary job as a result of a public and legal contract." To prove her point, she included a picture of five thick volumes that proves that she actually worked for her
money. She complained that Bauer's piece and others give the false impression that she got nine million forints for nothing. (I myself heard a Fidesz politician talk about Szűcs's work as consisting only of reading newspapers. And the reporter didn't correct the individual.) Yes, yes, she did the work and it was legal, but still, it looks very, very bad. It is impossible to get out of this situation gracefully.
But then the more I thought about it the less I thought that this was really Erika Szűcs's fault. Before Erika Szűcs became minister in April 2008 she was an unknown entity to me. The MSZP delegation was large and naturally I didn't know all of them. Only those who appeared frequently in the media. Erika Szűcs wasn't one of them. As I learned later, she was among the founders of MSZP and was active first in local politics (Miskolc) until 2002 when she became a member of parliament. After her appointment, I heard an interview with her and was impressed. My first thought was that this woman knows what she is talking about. This woman has ideas. That it was a good appointment. That's why I was surprised and disappointed when Gordon Bajnai didn't take advantage of her services and instead asked the long-time undersecretary of the ministry, László Herczog, to take over the affairs of the ministry. After his appointment I saw Herczog a few times and was anything but impressed.
So, after a lot of thinking I decided that it is highly unfair to blame Erika Szűcs. Gordon Bajnai for reasons of his own decided to drop her from his cabinet. But four months later he discovered that the program that was initiated by Szűcs and was very important for trying to get some long-time unemployed people back to work had stalled. And Bajnai, perhaps realizing that he made a mistake, turned to her and asked her to come to the rescue. Thus if anyone made a mistake it was the prime minister. Well, we all make mistakes and unfortunately this mistake cost the ministry 9 million forints. But that is not Erika Szűcs's fault.