A few days ago Ernst & Young made public its latest survey on corruption in Europe and came up with the startling result that Hungary is the most corrupt country within the European Union. It can be compared only to Russia. Transparency International last October released its Corruption Perception Index (CPI) for 2010, and it turned out that Hungary instead of improving its standing on the corruption scale is actually sliding backward. The drop is substantial: 4.7 points. With this change for the first time since surveys have been conducted Poland and Latvia are doing better than Hungary.
Of course, it is possible that Gyula Budai's steadfast witch hunt against political opponents may have helped to give the impression that Hungary is a corruption-ridden country, and in that respect the Fidesz government's zealous search for corrupt officials may have backfired. Fidesz, which portrayed itself as the guardian of honesty and the greatest enemy of corruption, ended up in the inglorious situation that in the first year of the new government corruption grew in Hungary.
In today's Galamus there is a very interesting article by Ferenc Krémer about the causes of corruption. He reminds his readers that in the last few years the socialist-liberal governments set up all sorts of committees that were supposed to battle corruption but there were no tangible results of their activities. Thus, Fidesz came to the conclusion that the government shouldn't bother with committees but "following the Bolshevik tradition" should attack the problem by "launching a total war" against corruption. They tightened the criminal code, they use entrapment methods to uncover corruption in the police force. They believe that fear will put an end to corruption among individuals.
But, Krémer continues, Fidesz politicians are dead wrong. Corruption is not necessarily the result of human failing. The most dangerous form of corruption crops up as a result of rigid, overly regulated relations between public and private institutions. In simple language, the more difficult it is to conduct business because of a burdensome, complicated, over-regulated bureaucracy the more likely is widepsread corruption. Centralization within the public sector further feeds corruption. When a decision depends on very few people the tendency toward corrupt business practices grow. Thus, the Orbán government that swore to stamp out corruption will most likely fail in this endeavor. In fact, it is possible that corruption will grow because of Fidesz's belief in centralization. As Krémer puts it: "Fidesz wants to fight corruption with the institutionalization of corruption."
Centralization is certainly one of the chief aims of the new administration. Everywhere one looks the central government's power is expanded. There was a telling interview with one of the new undersecretaries who is in charge of local governments. As far as one can see, the independence of the local governments is in jeopardy and there is the likelihood of the nationalization of schools currently under the jurisdiction of the cities and towns. The reporter expressed her doubt that by nationalizing schools one can save money. Our undersecretary couldn't convince either the reporter or me that indeed running schools from Budapest would be a money saver, but his answer which was beside the point was telling. He used to be the mayor of a smaller city and then he had to deal with six or seven school principals. One wanted this, the other that, the third something else. It was a cumbersome and irritating affair. But once there will be only one person in charge, everything will go smoothly. Brave new world or back to the Kádár regime.
Thus it will be impossible to handle business locally and most likely for every little thing one will have to go to Budapest and all the way to the minister. A friend of mine whose family was originally from Transylvania was telling me about the infamous corruption in interwar Romania. Her older sister and her family remained in Romania; the rest of the family in Budapest visited them during the summer. The Romanian authorities gave a visa only for a short period of time and if one wanted to renew the visa one had to go all the way to the minister of the interior in Bucharest. And pay him for the privilege.
The Hungarian situation soon might be even worse than that. The trade unions of the firemen, policemen, and army have been negotiating with the minister of interior for at least two weeks. Until it became clear to the trade union leaders that the minister has no decisionmaking power. Eventually, they demanded to speak with the only man who can decide: Viktor Orbán.
A couple of days ago a man tried to hang himself in front of the parliament building. They cut him down and he is fine. He has been battling in court for something or other for over a decade. At the end he had enough. Things are not bad enough yet that he could pay off the judges. But let's just wait.