FINALIST: A Civil Campaign to End Abuse of Government Powers

Hello Finalist,
What are your short, medium and long term goals towards your campaign?

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Many thanks for this question. You may find our goals for short, medium and long term in the finalist project page, where every details has been thoroughly outlined. But I would not want to make you surf through all the boxes and paragraphs of our application, so here you’ll see a little digest.

The thing is that we aim to maximise our impact through the targeted use of freedom of information tools. So to say, this is the general goal of our activities. In the longer run, this should manifest itself in more solidified operations, better outreach to our communities and audiences and enhanced constituency building. But this is really long term. And, in an ideal word, our actions would also help rebuild what once has been the region’s strongest rule of law system.

In a medium range, we would like to see ourselves as litigants in sensitive cases related to abuse and malpractice winning in court, as this would mean that our efforts are effectively contributing to more transparency and less shady deals.

However, in the short term, or, with immediate effect, we would like put government secrecy around the management of the Covid-19 crisis to an end, by wisely using FOI tools, which we are doing, currently. Right away we challenge the government before different fora in attempt to have the government’s arbitrary regulation to triple the response deadline (15 days → 2X45 days → 90 days) for freedom of information request revoked. We turned to the Constitutional Court asking for the constitutional revision of this regulation. And, parallel to that, we turned to the ordinary court in a case against the country’s medical oversight agency, which refused to publish the documents related to the authorization of Russian and Chinese Covid-19 vaccines, citing business secrecy.

So, as you may see, we are quite busy in these days.

Hope you find my answer satisfying and informative.

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Hi Miklós,
Do you think the special legislation introduced during the Covid crisis could be somewhat balanced by pushing, campaigning for an enhanced use of online fora open by, for example, local governments? Does lockdown, home office, etc. make transparency worse or could these create new routesm, ways of access to information? (A specific question: could/should I know which teacher at my kid’s school is vaccinated so that I could decide with clear conscience whether to send him to school.) Thank you for your great work in Hungary!

Many Thanks for this specific question.

As regards the first part, concerning potential new avenues of communication / flow on information created by, or, more precisely, created in the Covid-situation, my response may sound as a common place. But the thing is that this pandemic did change our lives and it pressed people, governments and societies to adapt to the immense challenges following from the crisis generated by the global epidemy. Let me give you a concrete example. Years before TI-Hungary turned to one of Hungary’s biggest cities in seek of some reports and drafts paid from public resources. This city’s by-law that governed the servicing of FOI requests expected us to send our very request via registered mail, a solution one could call wit reason somewhat outdated. Now in the light of present days’ experience, no such anachronistic legal requirements are acceptable. If the way Hungary manages this crisis has any positive takeaways, more openness towards digitalisation is one of them. I do not anticipate the return of paper-based communication. Unfortunately, my optimism stops here, as I do not see more proactive disclosure of public interest information. To the contrary, state organs and government agencies use the opportunity created by special legal order to hinder access to information by deliberately prolonging response time limits. TI-Hungary has two ongoing litigations to challenge these obstructive practices, and, frankly, none of the information requests being halted would require more than, let’s say, half an hour of work on the requested organisation’s behalf.

As regards the vaccination of teachers: this is a privacy issue, and in lack of the consent by the person concerned, no such information may be disclosed. On a personal note: I know from experience that institutions of this kind tend to expand secrecy over Covid-19 contamination and over the fact that one or one’s immediate relative has become a close contact or has otherwise been exposed to the disease.

Hope you find my answer satisfying.

Dear Miklos, Thank you for your thorough summary of present developments. I appreciate the work you do in Hungary , how you uncompromisingly push for greater transparency with your team and how you push for the rule of law in general with unmatched professionalism in this increasingly autocratic state. I wish you and TI Hungary best of luck!

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Dear Followers,

Transparency International Hungary would like to inform you about the developments that concern our application and the freedom of information landscape in Hungary, in general. As you know, one of our proposal’s apropos was the decisions by the Hungarian government to triple the response time limit for public interest information requests. TI-Hungary took steps to test the impacts of this decision in practice, therefore we turned to several government ministries in seek of information. Among others, we asked the health ministry to publish the documents relating to the approval of the Russian and the Chinese Covid-vaccines. Besides, we asked for information about the concession by the Hungarian government of an invaluable artefact to the government of Poland. In both cases, the ministries reacted by the prolongation of the response deadline. To challenge the government, we took legal steps.

In case of the transaction of the artefact, we turned to the Constitutional Court, which is the highest forum in Hungary tasked with settling constitutional debates. We presented our arguments to sustain why the underlying regulation which allows for the arbitrary prolongation of the response time limit violated Hungary’s constitution. Recently, the Constitutional Court informed us that it was going to hear TI-Hungary’s case. This does not mean that the Constitutional Court thinks, we are right, but at least, our complaint was accepted at the end of the relevance and necessity test.

In case of the documents relating to the authorisation of the Russian and the Chinese Covid-vaccines, we turned to the law court, arguing that the government’s decision to prolong the deadline for servicing our freedom of information request was wrongful, as it lacked any substantiation. In our writ we explained why we thought the government simply omitted to respond, which is unlawful and opens the requester’s way to the courtroom. The law court accepted our writ and summoned the government agency concerned to a hearing. Surprisingly, the agency, when it realised that the prolongation tactic failed, instead of giving a full response to TI-Hungary, said that the documents we would want to see were under business secrecy.

So, from now onward, TI-Hungary has two battles to win, one before the country’s Constitutional Court, where the acceptability of the response deadline’s prolongation is at stake, and the second before the ordinary law courts, where a government agency will have to prove that all information relating to the approval of some Covid-vaccines may be sealed by reference to business secrecy

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Dear Miklós,

Thanks for the update and congrats on both.

With regards to the artefact: are you referring to the case of returning the child armour of Polish King Sigismund II Augustus to Poland? If that’s the case, are you also planning to address the substantial part of this deal, i.e. why the transaction was approved in the first place? I understand that contesting the arbitrary deadline is the primary target here, but I suspect that’s not the only aspect of this transaction that may be questioned at court.

I would appreciate if you could elaborate a bit more on this.

Thank you!

Dear Dave,

many thanks for your continued interest, this is much appreciated.

The answer is yes, Transparency International Hungary does follow the merits of this very transaction. We hold the transfer of this artefact for unlawful, as the current Hungarian regulations do not allow for the alienation of artefacts, which belong tot he national assets. With regards tot he answer we got from to government to the questions asked earlier, it is clear now that this transaction stands on shaky legal grounds even in the government’s assumption. Therefore, Transparency International Hungary wrote a formal criminal complaint tot he prosecution service, in which we not only asked the examination of this transaction, but also invited the prosecutor to take civil law actions in order to fully recover the artefact from Poland.

At present, we are waiting for the prosecutor’s answer, which should arrive in a couple of days.

Hope, you find my answer satisfactory

best regards,

miklos ligeti

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Thanks a lot, Miklós, I wish you the best of luck with the prosecutor service. :slight_smile: Recovering the artefact might be too ambitious, but demonstrating that the transaction was unlawful would already be a remarkable achievement.