Central Europe Review: How would you characterise your relations with the two other Ombudsmen?
Katalin Gönczöl: They are completely sovereign in their respective fields, presenting independent reports to the Parliament. We share the same office premises, which in itself stimulates co-operation, and we operate from the same budget. This is merely the technical side, however. Thankfully, our co-operation is harmonious and, although prior to our appointment we had not worked with each other, all three of us have become friends in the meantime. I am very proud of this, because it enriches a person's life and I can rest assured that if I am faced with any problem, irrespective of whether it is professional in nature or not, I can turn to either of my fellow ombudsmen. This knowledge alone is a source of strength, particularly in circumstances where I am deprived of a deputy.
Turning to professional relations. We have on occasion carried out investigations together with the Ombudsman for the National and Ethnic Minorities. We jointly submitted the request to the Constitutional Court for it to make a pronouncement on the subject of the right to housing. There have also been occasions where the Ombudsman for the National and Ethnic Minorities has received complaints which either do not fall within his sphere of responsibility or go beyond it, because he had managed to clarify the aspects linked to non-discrimination, and he has subsequently passed them on to me so that I can examine the other relevant aspects.
Similarly, if the Ombudsman for Data Protection feels that a given case does not fall within his sphere of responsibility, he passes it on to me. This happens about once or twice a month. I have also examined cases together with the Ombudsman for Data Protection because they have implications for data protection or freedom of information. In such instances, I sign the report with the findings together with the Data protection or the Minority Rights Ombudsman depending. The addressee is required to respond to both of us.
We enjoy sovereign rights in our respective spheres, which means that we give our approval separately. I can approve of what belongs to my sphere of responsibility, whilst my fellow Ombudsman is free to reject the part which belongs to his. Last year, there was a case where I was satisfied with the result, but he was not, which means that I am ultimately not completely reassured since that particular section was closely connected to the substance of the issue.
What is your success rate?
We have conducted 1513 investigations and in 552 of these we unearthed problems which called for a reaction, as they involved breaches of the constitution. We attempted to resolve 1737 such irregularities within the 552 cases in the form of 1217 recommendations.
This means that grounded suspicions existed in almost a third of the cases investigated and that many of the cases involved fairly serious breaches as shown by the fact that more than two recommendations were made at the end of certain investigations with a view to remedying the 1737 constitutional irregularities thereby exposed.
What kind of cases elicits the biggest response from citizens?
When I took up office, we hardly had to deal with a single environmental protection-related case. Now such issues occupy a prominent place both in the ex officio investigations and in the complaints arriving from the public. The population at large is becoming increasingly sensitive to the damage done to the environment by a prospering market, but also to the environmental time bombs we inherited from the old regime. Industrial sites, abandoned Russian firing ranges and barracks.
Then the question of the threat posed by electromagnetic emissions from radio transmitters, electric cables, transformers and substations. I have examined complaints concerning relay antennae for mobile phones. Newspaper reports reveal that the mobile phone companies themselves always strive to reach agreement on where such antennae should be placed and generally select public spaces. As a general rule, the proprietors on whose property the antennae are erected do not object, but the occupants of neighbouring buildings do.
Since the law changed in 1999, planning permission to build the transmission and relay towers has been the jurisdiction of telecommunications supervisory authority. The local town clerk has to be consulted as the specialist authority and the local government body must also produce an official statement in the course of the permit being granted. The local authority is informed of the decision and can appeal against it. Throughout the local authority is bound by law to defend the interests of the resident population. Before the final adoption of the proposal a meeting has to be held to give local residents an idea of where they can expect the various towers to be located.
As of yet no ministerial decree has been issued to regulate the parameters of the allocation of radio frequencies. In taking their decisions the telecommunications supervisory authorities are not compelled to determine whether existing towers and antennae had been erected with permission, nor must they check up on whether the placing of antennae lower than four metres—for which no permits are required—has been agreed to by the owners of the buildings on which they are situated. The telecommunications authorities assured us that they were making every effort to secure such permission to avoid proceedings later on, but at least a dozen complaints have been sent to us on the issue.
The dramatic increase in road traffic and ensuing environmental problems have marred the lives of