This morning I read a comment by a journalist who announced that it is no longer worth listening to the Friday morning radio interviews with the prime minister because by now the reporter can’t ask any questions, even friendly ones, about the political events of the previous week or fortnight. At the last interview not a word was exchanged about the teachers’ strike, and this time the Hungarian National Bank’s foundations proved to be too insignificant to mention. Nonetheless, I managed to find an exchange at the very end of the interview that I believe merits comment.
Orbán outlined all the positive changes his government has been introducing of late that are making the lives of a large number of Hungarians more economically secure. First, the government raised the salaries of the policemen and soldiers. Then, a year later, they increased the salaries of the teachers, although naturally he neglected to say that for the higher wages the teachers had to work longer hours. The next task will be an improvement in the lot of doctors and nurses. Moreover, the government will find money to raise the salaries of people working in the cultural and social spheres– like librarians and social workers. Everything he promised was or soon will be fulfilled, he added triumphantly.
At this point the reporter chimed in, quoting a statement from the State Audit Office that pointed out “great management shortcomings and public procurement anomalies.” Viktor Orbán interpreted these words to mean that there is not enough money being spent on healthcare. (I guess something must have been lost in translation.) He immediately began talking about the amount of money that is being allocated to healthcare which, as we all know, is much less in Hungary than in other countries in the region. But it seems that Orbán has an entirely different definition of healthcare and, therefore, of the amount of money a country allocates to it. Let me quote the most important part of what he had to say here.
My thinking is a bit broader on that topic than the ideas of health experts. Because the budget of healthcare is not really the budget of healthcare but the budget of healing. I don’t mix up healthcare with healing. These two things overlap somewhat, but one of them is bigger than the other. So, we spend more on our health than the sums allocated to healthcare in the budget because in reality these are sums for healing the sick. Sports, daily gym classes, our investments in infrastructure that are necessary for healthy living all serve our health needs. So, in a more comprehensive way of looking at things, we could easily add these items to the healthcare expenses. We don’t calculate that way in Hungary, but I always like to put the budget together this way.
Well, let’s see what all this means in black and white. It is very difficult to find out exactly how much money is allocated to healthcare—healthcare in the commonly accepted sense, not in Viktor Orbán’s definition—because even economists specializing in healthcare issues can’t quite figure out the final amount for 2017, for example. However, according to Bence Rétvári’s announcement, which must be viewed with extreme caution, the Hungarian government will spend 500 billion forints on healthcare in 2017.
And figuring out the amount of money spent on sports and infrastructure for football stadiums, swimming pools, sport stadiums of all sorts is even more difficult. However, here are a few figures that might give you some idea of the lavish spending on sports-related items. In two years (2012-2013) the government spent 142.6 billion forints on sports of all sorts. In 2014, they spent 168.6 billion. But direct government spending is only a part of the whole sports package because companies can offer billions of forints for different sports, mostly football, which means that yearly at least 50 billion forints never reaches the central budget. This money goes straight to sports clubs, mostly to the Ferenc Puskás Foundation in Felcsút.
A more recent assessment predicts that tax-free gifts for sports will be about 90 billion forints in 2017. This means that since the introduction of the system, more than 400 billion forints has gone straight to sports clubs instead of to the central budget. In addition to the 90 billion forints in “charitable contributions,” it is projected that the government will spend 223 billion forints next year on sports. Others estimate government expenditure on sports in 2017 to be as high as 400 billion forints. Thus, we are getting close to the amount of money the government ostensibly spends on “healing the sick,” to use Viktor Orbán’s expression.
These figures do not include the construction and renovation of soccer stadiums. Atlatszo.hu estimates that the seven stadiums that have already been completed cost 42.11 billion forints. And this is just the beginning, a very small beginning. Practically peanuts, because in the next three years 32 new stadiums will be built or renovated to the tune of 215 billion forints. Thus, I estimate that the Orbán government actually spends more on sports than on healthcare. I can say only one thing: “A crime against the Hungarian people!”