LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY OF THE GRANTS – A FEATURE, NOT A BUG
Orbán’s government tends to disregard democratic principles in general, and transparency and accountability in particular. The grants provided to Hungarian communities outside of Hungary by the Bethlen Gabor Fund are no exception. The fund’s public information on grant decisions and their payments is a maze of confusing and often contradictory information.
This regional team of journalists used two data sources for the project Hungarian Money, Orbán’s Control.
The first source were the decisions to award grants to minority organizations by the four-person Executive Committee of the Bethlen Gabor Fund (BGA). The second source was BGA’s public database of grant payments which is published by the Fund.
We found that none of the public sources of information are sufficient or comprehensive enough to paint a complete picture of the Hungarian government’s support for activities of its national minority through grants for projects, programs, investments and day-to-day operations.
Reporters found great discrepancies between the databases.
For example, in the period 2011-2019 the award decisions – including their modifications and totals of several special programs – amounted to 1,35 billion EUR (428,51 billion HUF). But during the same period the total sum of contractual grant payments reached only 62 percent of the decisions’ total (or 266 billion HUF).
The grant decisions as well as their annexes were printed by the fund’s employees then scanned and uploaded in pdf format here. This team of journalists scanned those with an OCR program, and manually verified grant information for each of the countries covered by this project.
We found dozens of serious issues which affected the team’s ability to thoroughly analyze the data: missing grant decisions, repeated modifications of certain grants, low quality or non-machine-readable scans, calculation mistakes, and even badly copied pages which rendered entire pages dark grey and unreadable.
BGA’s Executive Committee regularly modifies its grant award decisions. Sometimes the project’s content changes but more often than not the awarded amounts change, sometimes years after the original decision was made. This also made it difficult to fully grasp the scope of BGA minority financing and to independently verify the donations financed with Hungarian taxpayers’ money.
Reporters could not find explanations about the content, methodology and limitations behind these public databases and BGA’s decisionmaking. We couldn’t find these answers in the Fund’s annual reports either, and this team’s questions to BGA about it were ignored.
The grant award decisions amounted to 1,71 billion EUR (almost 600 billion HUF) in the period between 2011 and 2020. This total includes data about decisions, including all modifications thereof that the team was able to identify, and totals of several big BGA programs.
This team also scraped the database of actual payments of grants to minority and other organizations which is published by BGA on its public tenders’ website. While this database has much more information than the one containing grant decisions and is also more user-friendly, we found it had a number of issues.
The most obvious one was that the totals of actual payments simply didn’t match the total of awarded grants, and not in small terms. We thought the difference of about 38 percent was too great to account for possibly cancelled or underperformed grants. Thus, it is quite probable that some grant payments are missing from the database.
Finally, the data is current only until 2019, last year is entirely missing from it, while the total amount in 2018 is small compared to the rest of the period and to corresponding grant award decisions.
The BGA does not have a dedicated press department. This team sent questions to BGA about various issues including the databases, reporting and discrepancies in awarded amounts on several occasions in January and February. There was no reply.
Reporters also requested copies of dozens of final project reports via freedom of information requests but the fund only provided approved documentation.