The Constitutional Court has ruled that amendments to the law governing the National Bank of Hungary that give it the legal power to decline public information requests concerning companies that support its activities, or to classify such information with retroactive effect, are unconstitutional.
In its ruling the top court noted that the central bank does a public service and the funds it manages are all public, therefore, under the Constitution, it is obliged to keep its operations transparent and account for those funds to the public. The court also noted that the bank can only set up foundations or companies such as ones that are connected to its primary function, therefore the funds donated to those organisations will not cease to be public funds.
The court at the same time declared constitutional an amendment to the postal act that allows Magyar Posta to keep information on its activities on the deregulated postal market confidential. The ruling said the amendment actually allowed for a wider range of public information, therefore it is not in conflict with the Constitution. It is up to a regular court to decide whether publication of particular data would impact the business of Magyar Posta, the ruling added.
Commenting on the decisions, Minister in Charge of the Prime Minister’s Office János Lázár declared the postal law amendment a “success”. He interpreted the decision as the top court’s recognition that in certain cases the state’s business interests have precedence over the right to public information.
As for the other bill, Lázár said Parliament should consider if there is a constitutional way to settle issues around the confidentiality of information concerning the central bank’s business units.
Ruling party Fidesz said it would observe the top court’s decisions. The two decisions “set the boundaries for Parliament when defining the range of public information”, a statement said, adding that Fidesz’s parliamentary group will consider those boundaries in its legislative work in future.
The opposition Socialists welcomed the decision on the central bank amendment, under which “foundations of the central bank can no longer conceal what they spend taxpayers’ money on”. Socialist MP Bertalan Tóth said National Bank governor György Matolcsy “has 10 days left to account for 260 billion forints of public funds hidden in his foundations”.
Regarding the other ruling, Tóth said it was regrettable that the Constitutional Court had given the green light to the postal act amendment, thus “providing assistance to a theft-based government and clandestine privatisation of the Hungarian postal service”.
Radical nationalist Jobbik said the ruling concerning the central bank represented “serious criticism” of the ruling parties. Jobbik hailed the decision as its own achievement, and noted that the party had called on President Áder to send the bill for constitutional review. Jobbik “expects Fidesz to drop its arrogance” and stop obstructing control over bodies managing public funds, a statement said.
The green opposition LMP welcomed the decision, saying it would contribute to greater transparency.
The Együtt party called for Matolcsy’s resignation in the wake of the ruling. Levente Papa, the party’s deputy leader, said Matolcsy considers the central bank’s profits as funds owned by the bank rather than as public assets. He insisted that Matolcsy’s position reflects either his misunderstanding of the central bank’s function or “fraudulence”, and suggested that in either case the governor must step down.
According to the Democratic Coalition (DK), the court decision is an “official certificate” that “Fidesz intended to use the amendment for looting (public funds)”. Csaba Molnár, DK’s deputy leader, insisted that “they passed a law to help themselves put taxpayers’ money into their own pockets”.