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Everything Pertaining to Hungary’s Covid Operative Board Unavailable to the Public for 10 Years

Péter Cseresnyés 2022.01.14.

Hungary’s Operative Board, created in 2020 with the task of coordinating the response to the coronavirus epidemic, affects the lives of millions as the body often proposes epidemiological decisions, sometimes even restrictions, to the government. But the basis on which the authoritative body makes its decisions may not be revealed until 2030 at the earliest, as the documents of its meetings will not be disclosed to the public for ten years, news site hvg.hu reported. According to the government, the documents are not labeled as “classified” but instead as unavailable to the public, since documents related to the logistics of decision-making have never been made public for decades.

“The government is at the helm, the Operative Board is working, and continuously analyzing the situation. The best minds, leading healthcare experts, are working around the clock; and when we agree that a decision needs to be made, the government will make the necessary decisions with focus, speed, and determination,” Viktor Orbán said last July when he talked about the working relationship between the government and the Operative Board.

Coronavirus: Operative Board Set Up
Coronavirus: Operative Board Set Up

Commenting on preventive measures against the coronavirus, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said that an “operative board” — a coordination committee headed by Interior Minister Sándor Pintér — had been set up. Steps must be coordinated between, for instance, the immigration police and the border guard, the prime minister said in his regular Friday morning interview […]Continue reading

Since then, the prime minister and members of the government have often referred to the observations, advice, and recommendations of the committee, when making decisions about the epidemic.

Recently, hvg.hu tried to find out exactly what kind of work is being carried out by this group which has been in operation since 2020, and found that it is not at all clear whether verbatim minutes of the operative board’s meetings are kept, nor how many times and on what issues the members voted. In addition, following the news portal’s request for public information, all the documents of the more than 150 meetings held so far suddenly became ‘classified’ for the next ten years.

“I refuse to disclose the documents from the meetings, as they are data created or recorded in the course of the procedure for making a decision by a group with public functions and are not public for ten years from the date on which they were drawn up,” was the reply of Brigadier General Tibor Lakatos, head of the operative board, to the request for public information from hvg.hu. The news site asked for the release of minutes or notes and reports of all meetings of the operative board so far.

Although the documents of the meetings are not officially considered confidential, i.e. they are not classified data according to the law, still only what the group itself or the government decided to publish on information bulletins or on the official koronavirus.gov.hu website is available about their decisions and their background, hvg.hu writes.

The justification of the decision not to disclose the documents is based on a blanket rule of the Freedom of Information Act, according to which all data that can be classified as preparatory to a decision is basically not public for ten years.

However, hvg.hu recalls that the head of the data controller may also authorize the disclosure of such data, “weighing the importance of the public interest involved.”

United opposition demands disclosure of the documents

“Only the guilty keep secrets – Fidesz should disclose the minutes of the operative board meetings to the public,” the opposition alliance demand in a statement released on Wednesday.

Fidesz politicians are adamant that decisions on epidemic management are made on a professional basis, but whether this is the case is unclear because the minutes of the operative board’s meetings have been classified for 10 years, the united opposition said.

Opposition Slams Gov't for 'Failed Epidemic Management' as Hungary's Covid-19 Death Toll Exceeds 40,000
Opposition Slams Gov't for 'Failed Epidemic Management' as Hungary's Covid-19 Death Toll Exceeds 40,000

"After the change of government in the spring, we will build a health service that provides accessible and high-quality care for all Hungarians, and that offers fair conditions for its workers," the opposition alliance promised.Continue reading

According to the opposition alliance, if the government really believes it has done nothing wrong, why doesn’t it come up with tangible information?

“The secrecy is nothing more than admitting that a series of wrong decisions have accompanied and continue to accompany the government’s management of the epidemic. And after the deaths of more than 40,000 of our fellow citizens, the government cannot afford to be secretive,” the opposition said.

Gov’t: not classified documents but publicly not available 

Later, Gergely Gulyás, the head of the PM’s Office, also commented on the issue during his regular weekly press conference.

The final decisions are always disclosed, and the possible options and alternatives leading to them, which are presented at the meetings of the operative board, are documents related to the logistics of decision-making, the likes of which have never been made public for decades, not only by the Orbán administration but also by any previous governments, Gulyás said.

According to the minister, there is no need for classification either, as these are all documents related to the logistics involved in the preparation of official decisions, and therefore would not be publicly available anyway.

In the featured photo: Interior Minister Sándor Pintér (L) and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán during a meeting of the Operative Board. Photo by Zoltán Fischer/PM’s Press Office/MTI