I already wrote a post on the escalating cost of hosting the Aquatic World Championship. I collected a few figures, going back to 2014, on the estimated cost of the project when the organizers assured the country that only 23 billion forints would be needed for the whole project. A year later, in May 2015, Magyar Közlöny, the official government gazette, revealed that the government had put aside about 50 billion forints to cover the cost of the two-week event. So, within a year, the estimated outlay doubled. The swimming center that was supposed to be “the new miracle” and “the jewel” of Budapest and that was originally estimated to cost 8 billion forints turned out to be a 33-billion “depressing parking garage,” to quote László Szily of 444.hu. By mid-2016 expenses had reached 90 billion forints.
In May 2017 Miklós Seszták, minister for national development, who is in charge of the project, came out with a new figure. The cost of hosting the Aquatic World Championship will actually be 130.6 billion forints. Index described this announcement as a “bombshell” since no one had dared to contemplate a price higher than 100 billion before. Seszták insisted, however, that, despite that enormous amount of money, the actual staging of the event will cost Hungary only 43.36 billion. How did he come up with that figure? No one really knows, but he refused to include about 85 billion forints in the total cost because, according to him, several big projects, like the rebuilding of the lower wharf on the Pest side or the reconstruction of Margaret Island would have been done sometime in the future anyway.
That was the situation at the beginning of May, but as of yesterday the cost went up a tad more, like by another 35 billion forints, because the figures Seszták revealed at his press conference didn’t include two important items: the technology necessary to broadcast the world championship and the installation of powerful broadband interconnectivity. According to people in the know, these two projects are actually among the most expensive. In addition, the organizers will provide 1,400 cell phones and 600 laptops for use by the athletes, representatives of FINA, and volunteers.
Antenna Hungária, a state-owned telecommunication company, was the “contractor” for these jobs. It hired, without any competitive bids, four Hungarian and two foreign companies to provide the necessary software and hardware for the event. The 35 billion forints didn’t come from the sum put aside for the project but was given, somewhat surreptitiously, to Antenna Hungária outright. Yesterday I detailed the way in which the Orbán government helped ORÖ (Országos Roma Önkormányzat) cover its debts at the end of last year when it gave away 300 billion forints to its favorites. As far as Index knows, Antenna Hungária was also on the receiving end. It got a “gift” of 23 billion so it could hire domestic and foreign companies with a knowledge of internet technology to undertake these jobs.
The people of Budapest and Balatonfüred, one of the other venues, will be the beneficiaries of the free wi-fi which is being installed all along the Danube between Batthyány tér and Margaret Bridge. This will be a permanent installation with long-lasting benefits. But, as usual, there are some questions concerning this project.
Installing the system is WandaFi, an Azeri company with headquarters in Baku. Two Azeri businessmen, Rafik Abasov and Anar Aligioulov, established it in March 2016. WandaFi, according to the promotional material available on the internet, is “an automated engine designed exclusively for hotels, restaurants, and cafes.” A rather strange choice for this particular job because it is supposed to be “a unique marketing tool” that allows hotel and restaurant owners to “get to know” their customers. It collects data that in turn allows the owners to offer personalized services and promotions. In brief, the software is capable of collecting personal data on those who happen to be in the area being monitored. This particular capability worries the opposition parties and the socialist chairman of the parliamentary committee on national security.
Why the organizers could find only a very young Azeri company to do the job I can only guess. One possibility is that one of the satisfied customers of WandaFi is Buddha Bars, a chain of restaurants in Hungary. The Budapest Buddha Bar is owned by two Jordanian investors who are on excellent terms with Viktor Orbán. Or perhaps the ministry of foreign affairs and trade in its eagerness to develop good relations with Azerbaijan, a country Orbán has been courting for some time, looked specifically for an Azeri company capable of doing the job. Anar Aligioulov, the co-owner of WandaFi, was formerly co-chairman of the board of R.I.S.K. Co., which is described as “one of the leading IT companies in the Central Asian and Caucasus markets.” President Ilham Aliyev and Aligioulov know each other. So, it is possible that the Azeri government called the Hungarians’ attention to WandaFi.
The other foreign company is a Russian startup called Marsatpro, which produces software designed to organize sports events. It handles the registration, arrival, departure, and lodging of the participants. But, if Index is correct, this time Marsatpro is responsible for navigation software to be installed in the Audis that will be provided to representatives of FINA. At least Rashit Khairullin, the 31-year-old software designer and head of the company, does have some experience with large sporting events. Apparently, he was involved with the 2013 Summer Universiade in Kazan. This was indeed a large event: 10,400 university athletes from 162 countries participated in 13 mandatory and 14 optional sports.
Still, both are odd choices for the jobs they are ostensibly responsible for. Index tried to find out more about these two foreign companies as well as the four Hungarian ones, but no one is willing to talk.