Corruption is a feature, not a bug

What’s the point of resisting freedom of information requests if they can just release false data?

The last digit of every daily passenger number of Orbán’s EU-funded mini railway is zero. And it ran empty for 17 days last year – even according to the same official numbers.

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Fake Banksy street art referring to Orbán’s costly mini railway project. Photo: index.hu 

News about authorities resisting freedom of information requests is nothing new. Resisting requests, going to court, tying down lawyers and journalists fighting for its release, defying court decision to release it, paying fines for not releasing it (from the pockets of taxpayers), then releasing it only for money, then fighting another court battle to release it for free – the farce is an every day reality of Hungarian citizens, civil society and journalists.

In fact, we get surprised when they comply. Just take the occasion when the central bank released data admitting that it funnels money into private hands. One billion dollars worth of it (at the time of the release) and counting.

But even when they release outrageous information, no consequences befall them. In the above case, for instance, the parliament tried to push through a bill to legalize privatizing central bank money. The constitutional court found it too much (even for them) and trashed the bill. And yet, nothing happened.

Hungarians protested a little, and then some, and then some, then they gave up. Why wouldn’t they? Nothing ever comes out of protesting – or any other form of dissent for that matter – that’s the whole point of autocracy: to teach you that you are helpless and make you bend your will to the inevitable.

For all we know, the siphoning off of public money keeps happening to this day. Maybe some journalist would submit another request for information about central bank foundations awarding the friends and family with public money, but what’s the point of knowing?

This is why I’m always surprised when authorities try to resist FOI requests. Why? YOu can just release that you are stealing and be done with it. Even when OLAF or the American DoJ investigated a Fidesz crony, there won’t be any investigation at home, so what is the bloody point? Just release it and rub it in!

Or fake it, if you’re shy.

Do you remember those Russian elections when a mathematician proved that the results were falsified simply by pointing out that the last digits of the official district results are not of random distribution – proving that they were made up? Well, the same can be done by any ordinary mortal with the latest data released by Orbán’s regime: the number of travelers on Orbán’s toy railway line built by two million euros of EU money in Orbán’s birth village, connecting nothing with nowhere, with no relevant stations in between. The tracks are some six kilometers in length and the train was planned to carry 2560 to 7080 passengers every day – according to the application for funding. Felcsút’s entire population is little more than 1,800.

That means that EU taxpayers are now also bitches to Orbán and suckers to fund his childhood dreams, aborted ambitions, and compensate for his personal neuroses.

Anyway, the mini railway is operated by the Foundation for Felcsút Football Development (FUNA) wich belongs to the Puskás Football Academy, both founded by Viktor Orbán, and chaired by Lőrinc Mészáros, childhood friend and top crony of Orbán and the richest man in Hungary. The foundation is receiving billions in public funds under the so called corporate tax support system (tao), introduced in 2011, and also runs a hugely unsuccessful and monumental stadium next to Orbán’s birth house. You’re welcome.

An investigative site, átlátszó.hu, asks for the operating losses of the mini railway every year. In 2019, FUNA disclosed that between June 2018 and July 2019 the toy trains train made 14.85 million forints (EUR 45.000) income from ticket sales against the operating cost of 20 million (EUR 61.000). This means the light railway lost 5.1 million forints (EUR 16.000) in the past year, which brings the total losses to 17 million forints (EUR 53.000) since 2016, the year it was completed. But that’s nothing.

FUNA also disclosed that trains ran empty on 17 whole days.

Which is not news either, there were 10 completely empty days during the 12 months before. Even according to their own admittance which, as we will see, is dubious at best. 

The really doubt-inducing bit about the truthfulness of even this embarrassing data comes in the daily passenger breakdown numbers.

According to the FOI data, FUNA sold 24,220 tickets on the toy railway in this same period. But those numbers also include the daily breakdown of ticket sales and this is where the whole story turns into a farce:

Every single daily passenger number ends in 0 – that means it is divisible by ten – except of course the days when it is zero.

It doesn’t take a mathematician to smell a rat.

It also raises the question why they ever bother to withhold data from journalists. You can just make up whatever you want. And even if it’s embarrassing, illegal or downright catastrophic, there will be no consequences. It is more important to the regime to teach you submission that to fix issues. Also, they don’t know how to fix them.

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Featured image: Fake Banksy street art referring to Orbán’s costly mini railway project. Photo: index.hu 

 

 

 

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