Court rules bid to stomp on transparency at Hungary's central bank unconstitutional

By bne IntelliNews March 31, 2016

A government bill seeking to close the books of the Magyar Nemzeti Bank (MNB) to public scrutiny is not in line with the Hungarian constitution, the Constitutional Court ruled on March 31. However, the same judges passed similar legislation concerning the country's post office.

The bill on the central bank funds, pushed through parliament by the ruling Fidesz party on March 1, seeked to hand the MNB the discretion to withhold data from public scrutiny, particularly concerning the several charitable foundations through which many purchases of property and art have been made in recent years. The sponsors of the bill claimed that funds transferred by the central bank to its foundations "lose their public nature".

The legislation was sent to the Constitutional Court for review by President Janos Ader. Despite being a close ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, he questioned whether the bill was in line with constitutional provisions on the handling of public funds and freedom of public information.

The Constitutional Court stated that the MNB exercises public functions, and that its foundations and companies exclusively manage public funds. Therefore, information on the use of that money should be available to the public. Hungary’s supreme court - the Curia – cited similar arguments when it ruled on March 30 against an MNB foundation.

In response to the ruling, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office said the government will now "examine the possibility to find a solution in line with the constitution". Clearly not ready to give in, Janos Lazar said "If there is one, we will try this again."

Meanwhile, the Consitutional Court also ruled on a bill that exempts the Hungarian Postal Service from public scrutiny. The changes made to the Post Act were compliant with the constitution, the court ruled.

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