24.hu summarized the growth of the number of Hungarian government officials (threefold) as well as their salaries (fivefold) since 2011, the year Orbán came back to power and promised a small and cheap state.
The number of government officials on the highest levels grew from 181 in 2011 to 596 in 2020 (red dots, left axis), while their combined wages grew from 1 billion forints in 2011 to 9 billion in 2020 (green bars, right axis). Source: 24.hu
Cutting back on red tape and downsizing bureaucracy is the favorite promise of every government. Yet, bureaucracy tends to grow with every cutting effort.
Orbán also made a spectacular (fake) effort in 2010, when he came back into power. First, he made the headlines with a spectacular announcement to reduce the number of ministries from 12 to 8. You would assume that it comes with a reduction in personnel – but seasoned bureaucrats know better. Centralization is the opposite of downsizing when it comes to the number of workers and the costs – and synergies never occur when bureaucrats are tasked to create them. Ask Max Weber.
Approximately one in four workers in Hungary earn taxpayer money and the number of public sector workers keeps growing every year.
After the reduction of the number of ministries (we have no finance minister, by the way, the field is somehow split between two other ministers, constantly at power fight with one another) they actually fired everyone, down to the last driver, due to political loyalism. They filled up the positions with their men – and it took time.
Then they proceeded to hire dozens and dozens and dozens of new state secretaries, deputies and commissioners. By 2014, there were 102 deputy state secretaries (up from 54 in 2010) and government commissioners. The number of state secretaries went even further, to 150, by 2016.
By 2020, we had 2018 deputy state secretaries.
Certain positions are funnier than others (but all are expensive). Take, for instance, government commissioner #65. He is called RBHADLMSEVVHVJTJÖTEVHSFHPMLELEBÖFKF for short, and his task is to look after the Hungarian segment of the frontier of the Roman Empire (limes).
Commissioner #66 is tasked with making people cycle and use narrow-gauge railways.
There is a government commissioner dedicated to the creation of toll highway system in Indonesia, a corruption-looking project if there ever was one.
They all collect fat salaries and perks.
Spending on ministry workers went from 7 to 12% of the central budget between 2010 and 2017. The bureaucracy reduction backfired spectacularly, which is really not a surprise if you’ve read your Max Weber.
In 2013 the government tried again and announced a reduction of the number of “background institutions of ministries” with the same goal: to reduce the horrendous, top-heavy bureaucracy. By 2017, they ended up with 7000 more people working for them than before the cuts – and complained about the lack of clerical workers. Which does make sense, as they prefer to create leadership position to cronies – rather than effective work for skilled bureaucrats.
After the new parliamentary supermajority was secured in April 2018, the government announced yet another cut in the number of public servants. Fidesz even had majestic ideas like retraining surplus paper-pushers to healthcare. As if it was the party’s job to decide whether someone works as an office worker or a nurse. The spirit of communism and central planning have never left us in these parts. At any rate, the shortage of healthcare workers was not cured by surplus ministry bosses, and not just because of the pandemic.
The 2018 bureaucracy reduction resulted in the biggest ever rise in bureaucrats’ numbers and yet another doubling of their salaries.
The hiring and appointing frenzy clearly got worse after the dubious 2018 election results and accelerated after Orbán was fired from EPP and defeated in Brussels. It looked like it was the last time they could pull their trick. They got down to shovel as much money out of state coffers as possible. While the new method of stealing taxpayer money was invented (they call them “foundations”), bureaucrats were also making sure to milk their positions for every last dime. Just look at the Völner-case, the highest-ranking government official ever to be let go by Orbán.
Whoever comes after this government, it will be the smallest government in one sense: it will have the least amount of money to dispose of and the biggest severance packages to be paid.