The illegal stuffing of party bank accounts is a breeding-ground for corruption. But the problem has remained unaddressed since the regime change. It is enough to remember how, in the Tocsi and Postabank cases, or in the broker scandal, how many politicians' names cropped up - yet not one of them was indicted. Politicians have told that money is critical in their profession.

A law currently before Parliament would require that parties be subject to the same bookkeeping requirements as companies. The most important new measure is the so-called "campaign account." If the law is passed in a week's time, then payments could only be made from this account. Advertising agencies would have to be identified by number, making it possible to establish how many posters and leaflets a given party has been responsible for. Transparent payments will make it possible to see how much parties spent on campaign events. The existing upper limit of HUF386m for the 386 MPs will be abolished, since parties have claimed that this money has been useless for effective campaigning.

All four parliamentary parties accept the need for these rules. The MDF would like to change the rules dramatically, while the Socialists would focus on transparency regarding party accounts and would raise MPs' pay. Fidesz sees the proposals as a weak apology, while the Free Democrats would raise the permitted campaign budget.

Gabor Fodor said recently that the existing budget ceiling of HUF1m per candidate should be increased in line with inflation since 1994.

According to the Central Statistical Office, prices have risen 344.7 per cent since 1994. In that light, Fodor's desire to see the ceiling raised to HUF2-2.5m seems modest. The liberal politician said: "During election campaigns, the commercial TV channels charge astronomical sums for political advertising. The biggest multinationals pay less over six months. We would like to see at least the public channels offering free advertising time to the parties."

But Fodor thinks the latest change to the law a huge improvement, one which will highlight every transaction, giving the State Audit Office more room for manoeuvre.

Beyond this, the Free Democrats want eligibility rules for MPs to be tightened, so that, once elected, they must resign not just commercial roles, but membership in local councils as well. There are 200 MPs in Parliament who also serve as local councillors or mayors, which leads in Fodor's view to "an unhealthy concentration of power." Until 1994, it was impossible to serve both as mayor and as MP, and it was the Socialist-Free Democrat coalition which changed the rules.

The Socialist Tibor Kekessy agrees with the junior coalition partner's proposal for cost cap of up to HUF2.5m per candidate, but he added that costs were different in cities and in rural areas. Tightening up on eligibility would require that MPs' pay be increased, however. He

said: "If our development level is at 60 per cent of the EU average, then our pay should be at 60 per cent of the EU average. This would represent a monthly wage of HUF800m, which would make it unnecessary to hold more than one job." (Currently, there is no employment category in which salaries are at 60 per cent of the EU average). MPs today earn HUF220,800 a month. Though he serves both as councillor and MP, he would also abolish parallel service.

Fidesz believes the proposals are a whitewash unless the National Electoral Commission is involved. Zsolt Nyitrai, a Fidesz MP, said:

"The Commission has the competence to audit party transactions. There is only one proposal before parliament that would change both laws, but this would make little different. Laws on party management and on electoral procedures are a thing of the past. If we vote for the original law, then we would squeeze commercial organisations out of the advertising media during campaigning periods. This is absurd, since politics cannot push commercial advertising into the background.

He thinks it important that governing parties should not be allowed to campaign using public money, and that party foundations should not receive lucrative local authority and government contracts. He said:

"If we send our accounts to the Electoral Commission every month, then they will be examined jointly by party delegates and experts. It would be more logical to send these documents to the Audit Office, where they could be examined impartially."

The most radical proposal comes from Zoltan Hock, an MDF MP. He said:

"We'll wait in vain for the parties to open up and show who stands in the background. Only the State Audit Office has enough light to shine onto the money from the shadows. To do this, we would need to give the Audit Office a broader remit, allowing them to penalise abuses. I would even allow them to unseat MPs if it turned out that certain political forces had built up their electoral image using dirty money."

The opposition politician called for an honest debate about whether the HUF386m ceiling is enough to cover campaigning costs. He said:

"The Hungarian electricity distribution company MVM spends several billion forints on campaigning each year. Nobody truly believes that membership levies cover the parties' campaigning costs. We should treble the size of state subsidies, because only with such a solid base could we expect above-board behvaiour."

A. Sipos

HVG English version

"We are too dependent"

Janos Koka, Hungary's 34-year-old minister for economics and transport wants to both deepen and weaken Hungary's dependence on Russian gas. He hopes that Hungary can become Europe's centre for gas distribution.

HVG English version


The Hungarian treasury account is fluctuating every more violently - a sure sign of poor budget planning. English version

Quality or quantity?

The summer often begins nowadays with a sigh: yet another education reform! More classes, tuition fees, Bologna... Each week, a new plan for education is born. There are piles of papers, all of which aim to prove that a given institution of higher education is capable of offering both BA and MA degrees. In the name of speed and efficiency, institutions are trying to squeeze what once took five years into just three. At the same time, humanities and sciences students are beginning to envy lawyers and doctors, who are not obliged to follow the 3+2 system. Let there be no misunderstanding: it is not 3+2 which is the problem - the routes of the problems run much deeper. English version

What if?

Let there be no mistake: Hezbollah's aim is not an independent, democratic Palestine, nor a multicultural, multiparty Lebanon. It seeks the kind of cruel, bloody tyranny, the worst kind of eastern dictatorship, that exists in the two countries financing its actions.

English version

Gyurcsany Package Meets Strong Opposition

Opposition parties and interest groups in Hungary are questioning the direction of the government's reform policy and resisting the announced budget cuts. Political analysts cannot rule out social unrest and economic turmoil in the coming months. English version

Political Parties Want More Money

Illegal political financing has consistently been at the root of Hungary’s corruption problems, but even after numerous scandals few politicians had been held accountable. English version

How much do stallholders make at the Sziget?

Entrepreneurs are queueing to set out their stalls at the popular summer festivals. But is it worth renting a space at the Sziget Festival or in the Valley of the Arts given the fixed prices? Is it about prestige or profit?

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