A former mayor of Budapest’s 9th district has written a book about his 20-year experience with systemic corruption on every level – and how he was powerless against it, even in his own office.
Although he tells specific stories he doesn’t mention names. But it’s the mechanics (and the sums) that are revealing.
His stories include:
- Total, the French oil giant inviting Hungarian mayors to a trip to Paris – and later competing at real estate tenders suitable for building gas stations.
- A German entrepreneur offering a Spanish holiday to the mayor and his family – only to ask for a traffic-slowing road junction leading to his new supermarket. This district mayor was in the position to refuse the request because he hadn’t taken the holiday – but the city of Budapest green lighted the project eventually. That holiday didn’t go wasted.
- Countless instances when applicants for local projects have preemptively offered to pay him bribes – a few million forints each. (1 million forint = 3000 euros) Some even sent a prostitute to pay in order to buy a street front store space.
- Local council representatives have also abused their little powers – even when they didn’t have any.
- One local entrepreneur tried to complain to the mayor that a representative had promised to change the amount on the contract once he won the tender with the cheapest offer – but failed to carry out the promise.
- Other representatives approached tender winners after the decision and claimed that they have intervened personally so they deserve a bribe.
- In his 20 years in office only 8 bureaucratic corruption cases have been uncovered in his district. The total sum was only around 100 thousand euros but the problem ran deeper.
- He writes about a 1992 case when the administrator of social benefits started to wire money to his own bank account – but the police stopped investigation “due to the minimal danger posed to society”. All they could do was to fire the public official.
- When a local group organised to buy council flats well under market price and resell them on the market the national police sat on the case for so long that it expired. The loss of the local authority was around 300 thousand euros.
These are old anecdotes, some dating back to the 90s. But the latter type of real estate transaction is ubiquitous under the Fidesz regime. Downtown Budapest and the Castle district is buzzing with blood-boiling cases of real estate fraud and underpiced sales of council flats to cronies – but on a much larger scale.
It appears that the system is so tuned to corruption that no single player can change it alone. Not that there’s serious political will for it as long as resources are notoriously allocated by bureaucratic tenders rather than market logic.
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Featured image: Lőrinc Mészáros, Orbán’s former gas repairman turned chief tender winner judging a local goulash competition. Also, local mayor.