Parliament passes National Bank bill – Update
Budapest, March 1 (MTI) – Parliament approved on Tuesday legislation to raise the salaries of top officials of the National Bank of Hungary (NBH) and to facilitate classification of data concerning its companies and foundations.
The bill, submitted by Erik Bánki, an MP of governing Fidesz, just a day before, will raise the monthly salary of the NBH’s governor to a fixed 5 million forints (EUR 16,000), as opposed to the current cap of 2.5 million forints.
Deputy governors will make 90 percent of the governor’s salary, while policy-making Monetary Council members will earn 60 percent of that sum.
Under the new law, the central bank will have the right not to disclose information to the public on its companies “if defending the interests of its policy outweighs that of the public’s right to information on publicly-funded institutions”.
The law also allows the assets of central bank foundations to be removed from public scrutiny.
Attila Péterfalvi, the head of the National Data Protection Office, said on Monday that some passages of the proposed legislation were in conflict with a constitutional stipulation that “data relating to public funds and national assets shall be data of public interest”. He noted that a provision under which information could be classified with retroactive effect, would go against the principle of legal certainty. He added that the proposed legislation would overturn an existing, non-appealable court ruling.
The opposition Socialists earlier sued the NBH for failing to comply with a public information request regarding a foundation it established and won the case. The ruling may not be appealed.
Bánki, the proponent of the bill, voiced confidence on Tuesday that the law would stand a scrutiny by the Constitutional Court. He insisted that the central bank’s foundations were not governed by the law on the freedom of information. He noted that the foundations would be re-classified as foundations of public benefit, and as such, would be obliged to publish an annual report on their finances.
Concerning higher pay for central bank management, Banki said that those salaries have so far been “the lowest” among central banks of the European Union, and the hike would put leaders of the bank “in the medium range”.
Fidesz group leader Lajos Kósa was asked at the press conference why the assets of the central bank’s foundations would no longer be considered as public funds. He said that the funds donated by the founder would “lose their earlier character” and become “foundation money”. “Money is public funds up to the point when the founder contributes it to a foundation”, he insisted.
Kosa also added that information on foundations of public benefit could be requested and the new law “does not mean that we have shut off the information”.
The opposition Együtt (Together) party called on President János Áder not to sign the amendment, which they said was an “openly unconstitutional” legislation designed as a cover for the National Bank’s “looting public funds”. In a statement, Egyutt demanded that Ader veto the law and send it back to parliament. The central bank’s profits are public funds, and voters should know what those funds are spent on, the statement said.
The Liberal Party addressed a similar call to Áder, and suggested a constitutional scrutiny of the amendment. Liberal executive Zoltán Bodnár told a press conference that the amendment contained “quite appalling” stipulations, and noted that it had been passed despite detailed objections by the Data Protection Authority. Bodnár said that the central bank would restrict access to public data on “obscure grounds” and added that those restrictions are “unnecessary and run against effective regulations”. He also noted that strategic information supporting central bank decisions has always been handed confidentially.
Removing the National Bank’s foundations from public scrutiny is a “single move to turn public funds of 250 billion forints (EUR 806m) into private assets”, Bodnar said, and insisted that in the future central bank governor György Matolcsy and his deputies would personally make decisions concerning those funds.