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Anti-corruption programs and whistleblowing in Hungary - what does the law say?

Contents:

Which laws does Hungary have?

 

Hungary is a country that is always included in the list of EU member countries with comprehensive legislation. And that's for a reason — many provisions from the Hungarian Act on Complaints and Reports of Public Interest resemble the newest proposal from the EU.

Whistleblowing regulations usually go hand in hand with anti-corruption initiatives and their enforcement - we will cover both and describe Hungarian legislation's main attractive sides for whistleblowers.

View of the old town and the river near it

The Labor Code represents the history of whistleblowing protection in Hungary, the Act on Protection of Fair Procedures (2010), and the Act on Complaints and Public Interest Disclosures (2013). Hungarians could always blow the whistle considering that Act I on public whistleblowing dates back to 1977.

The new version of protected disclosures was reflected in the 2010 law. However, the Act was still too narrowly formulated and covered only public sector employees who report exclusively on public importance matters. The final stage of developing whistleblower protection legislation is the Act on Complaints and Public Interest Disclosures, adopted in 2013. It does have to be amended according to the EU requirements - still, the Act is interesting with its requirements for the whistleblower's identity protection. 


 

The Act on Complaints and Public Interest Disclosures

 

Speaking about the law - what are the general provisions and requirements for reporting?

The law clearly states that anybody can report on misconduct - this is the widest scope of reporting persons currently available among European laws on whistleblowing. However, this applies only if the whistleblower files a complaint to the public entitled body. As for sector coverage, reporting mechanisms primarily exist for the public sector. Private companies are also encouraged to have whistleblowing hotlines - if they do so, the law regulates their operations. 

Important (1): the Act obliges compliance officers to assess the report within 30 days and inform the whistleblowers about the investigation result. This is a usual requirement for whistleblowing procedures, but EU member countries often fail to mention it in the legislation. 

Anonymity and confidentiality: only the latter is available for those who report on misconduct in the public sector (and private if the company doesn't receive anonymous complaints). The entitled authority will not consider reports from unidentified persons and reveal the whistleblower's personal data if the report is false and made in bad faith. Since there is no definition of good faith in the law, it might be challenging for the whistleblower to remain confidential.

Important (2): Hungarian legislation is strict about data: only the authorised person will obtain the whistleblower's information. The accused person should not be informed about the investigation and shouldn't request the whistleblower's information. This regulation is not the same in all EU member countries: the accused person should be informed about the accusation in some laws. 

Important (3): the state should provide legal aid to whistleblowers free of charge. Legal costs often discourage whistleblowers from reporting, and legal aid from the state can help protect whistleblowers.

 

Electronic reporting system

 

Hungarians go digital - the law explicitly states that certain complaints can be processed through the electronic system. The whistleblower submits a complaint, receives a unique code for communication with an authorized investigator, and the process has been started.

The electronic system doesn't seem to be an innovation until we compare the Hungarian system with other legislative initiatives. European laws in whistleblowing don't mention it at all or have a system of simple request registration. Even the EU Whistleblowing Directive will not change this area, since each country will decide on implementation details. The electronic system may be omitted. 

The benefit for the whistleblower using the electronic system is still significant:

  • Compliance officers can consider anonymous complaints. 
  • No need for personal communication, the whistleblower receives the follow-up conveniently. Whistleblowers use a unique code and password for the account for communication.
  • Contact with whistleblowers can be established exclusively through the electronic system.

The system's design should protect the whistleblower's identity, so only compliance officers could identify him/her. The unnecessary investigation information should be deleted immediately. We do like a precise approach to data and Hungarian legislation is a good example of careful data processing. How data should be stored, for how long, and who has access to it - these details are specified in the Act on Complaints and Public Interest Disclosures.

 

Anti-corruption?

 

The perspective of whistleblowing in Hungary, as in any other country is difficult to evaluate unless corruption watchdogs are working properly. Only if the investigation of fraud in public spending leads to perpetrators' punishment, do whistleblowers feel encouraged to report. The Hungarian corruption index worsened over the years despite multiple governmental initiatives to prevent corrupt activities. 

Hungary anti-corruption rating

(Image: Transparency International, Corruption Perception Index Report 2020)

 

Legal prevention mechanisms are not working because the government is reluctant to follow the recommendations provided by Transparency International, OECD as a critical evaluation. The EU's evaluation is rather positive - Hungary has implemented a wide variety of anti-corruption initiatives and set a good basis for improving prevention measures in public institutions.

True or not, the Hungarian anti-corruption program of 2015-2018 (NAP) did revise public institutions and intervened with compliance requirements in institutions with a high risk of corruption. There is no similar strategy for 2021 (or not yet), but the focus will shift to monitoring institutional internal procedures. A whistleblower may be a good help in reporting misconduct within the institution and criticizing the work of anti-corruption controls.

 Whether it will be done depends on the continuation of the anti-corruption program (with a punishment of prosecutors) and amended whistleblowing legislation. If whistleblowing results in public awareness of corrupt activities and potential whistleblowers see that corruption is investigated, the country is on a good path. With its comprehensive law, Hungary has a chance to lead the list of EU members who strengthened whistleblowers protection.

 

Images:

By Krisztian Tabori 

By Joseph Sun 

By Kate Kasiutich