Presenting in one concise package the week’s most important and fascinating national stories, whether they be economic, political, cultural, sporting or among the hundreds of other happenings that go on daily.
Budapest’s new Spanish trams have been presented to the public. Built by Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF), they will now have to receive the go-ahead from authorities and are expected to start service in autumn. “We cannot maintain the public transportation of a metropolis with nostalgia trams,” Kálmán Dabóczi, the CEO of Budapest Public Transportation Centre said, adding that despite the 47 brand-new vehicles the average age of Budapest’s trams will still remain above 30 years. The extended version – 56 metres – will be the longest tram in the world, just surpassing the Combinos roaming the capital’s scenic 4-6 line.
Low oil prices excite Varga
Low oil prices could add as much as half a percentage point to Hungary’s economic output growth, Minister for National Economy Mihály Varga says. The government is still standing by its projection of economic output growth of 2.5% this year, Varga told a forum of Hungarian business leaders. After data released in February showed that GDP in the fourth quarter grew faster than expected, Varga said his ministry would decide whether to change the official projection based on first-quarter data. He said the 27% value-added-tax rate could be lowered and a single-digit personal income tax rate could be introduced before the end of the government cycle. The government would like to see the two corporate tax rates moved closer together, closer to 10%. Varga said the time was ripe for credit rating agencies to consider an upgrade for Hungary given that the current account balance has been positive for years and the budget deficit has been below 3% of GDP for several years as well. The government planned to reduce public debt and push the budget deficit down further, even to 0% of GDP in the coming years.
Civil groups have held a commemoration by the Holocaust memorial on the Danube embankment over an insult by an MP of radical nationalist party Jobbik. The leftist opposition Democratic Coalition had turned to the chief public prosecutor over an email from five years ago that revealed Gergely Kulcsár of Jobbik spat into one of the memorial’s bronze shoes, placed in honour of Jews who were shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen during the Second World War. Nearly one hundred people lit candles, laid flowers and stones by the memorial and said Kaddish (Jewish prayer) before singing the national anthem. Imre Mécs, a 1956 veteran and former MP, told the gathering every respectful and well-intentioned person must stop the strengthening of Jobbik. The party’s leader, Gábor Vona, said he had told Kulcsár he must clearly express regret over his actions, and demonstrate “there is no room in Jobbik for insulting the deceased”. Kulcsár later put a flower into one of the bronze shoes, Vona said.
S&P upgrades rating
Standard and Poor’s has raised Hungary’s credit rating for long-term foreign currency and forint debt by one notch to “BB plus”. The international rating agency said Hungary’s problems related to its external economic balance had significantly eased over the past few years. The conversion of foreign-exchange mortgages and the government strategy favouring lending in local currency have dampened Hungary’s vulnerability to potential external shocks, including the US Fed’s tightening cycle, S&P said. Governing Fidesz said the upgrade is a sign that Hungary is stronger and is among the best performers in ever more areas. Since the government took office in 2010, Hungary has been financially stable and has stuck to its budget goals, Fidesz said.
A Buddha statue found to contain the 900-year-old mummified remains of a monk has been withdrawn by its owner from an exhibit in the Hungarian National History Museum, the museum’s spokeswoman has said. Mónika Kiss-Stefán confirmed that the owner had the statue removed, without explanation. Under the lending contract the owner may recall the object at any time, she added. The removal came around the time reports in the Chinese press suggested the statue may have been stolen from a temple in Fujian province in 1995. A paper in Fujian said local officials will seek the statue’s return if the suspicions prove correct. Acquired by a private collector in the Netherlands in 1996, it was to have been on display in the Natural History Museum’s “Mummy World” exhibit until May 17. Chinese news agency Xinhua, citing the local Cultural Relic Bureau, said the statue was stolen from the village of Yangchun in Fujian province in 1995.
NAV may prepare tax returns
The National Tax and Customs Administration (NAV) is considering preparing personal income tax returns for private individuals. Minister for National Economy Mihály Varga said the possibility of transferring this task to NAV is being examined. Since NAV already has extensive data about companies and their tax returns, it would only be a technical step to prepare individuals’ tax returns by matching up the data with payments and salaries transferred to them. News website origo.hu said NAV could start preparing tax returns in two years. Daily paper Magyar Nemzet said the option is increasingly popular. Citing NAV figures, the paper said 317,000 people requested it last year, up from 290,000 in 2013 and 231,000 in 2012. A NAV spokesman said 375,000 requests had been received so far this year.
State lottery company Szerencsejáték saw sales of its popular weekly pick-five game reach levels unmatched for years as the rollover jackpot hit HUF 3.23 billion, business daily Napi Gazdaság has reported. Szerencsejáték said sales were nearing 7 million before the draw last Saturday, and this is likely to grow even higher this week as nobody guessed the right numbers and the jackpot now stands at HUF 3.4 billion. Foreigners, mainly Romanians and Slovakians, bought 6-8% of the tickets. Weekly pick-five ticket sales climbed a little over 7 million three years ago, when the jackpot reached HUF 4.11 billion. But the record for sales was 14 million in 2003 when the jackpot rose to HUF 5.09 billion. Pictured is László Andraschek at his new café in Győr, which the former homeless man just opened after winning the HUF 600 million jackpot on the pick-6 lottery about a year ago.