Hungary law shielding central bank from scrutiny struck down

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary's Constitutional Court on Thursday struck down a law meant to shield the central bank from scrutiny over the use of public funds while letting through similar amendments regarding the state-owned postal services.

The amendments approved by lawmakers March 2 had not yet gone into effect because of a legal challenge by President Janos Ader. They were criticized by corruption watchdogs for weakening transparency and democratic checks and balances.

The Constitutional Court said in a ruling that the amendments to the central bank law were unconstitutional because all funds used by the National Bank of Hungary are public money.

Critics' concerns have focused on some 250 billion forints ($908 million) spent by the central bank to set up foundations and large outlays on real estate and art works. Parliamentary deputies from the governing Fidesz party had argued that funds transferred by the central bank to its foundations "lose their public nature."

In a separate ruling, however, the court rejected Ader's objections to similar amendments to the law on the state-owned postal services. The court said that the new legislation considered public disclosure to be the norm while also clarifying when exceptions limiting access to information could be made.

Investigative reporters said the decisions were a "mixed result."

"The court decision on the central bank law is positive," said Andras Petho, editor at the investigative reporting center. "But on the government side there is a constant effort to make it harder to access public records."