Nyírmártonfalva is a small Hungarian village, 16 km from the Hungarian-Romanian border and 260 km from Budapest. It's almost a three-hour drive from the capital to visit the famous investment of Mihály Filemon, the local mayor. Using the power of the internet, we bring the attraction to everyone: in this article, we invite our readers to take a virtual tour. Let's walk along the canopy promenade in Nyírmártonfalva together!
As you digitally roam, you will see how much each element of the investment cost EU taxpayers. It was already known that Mihály Filemon received a gross of HUF 64 million in EU funding (approximately 170 thousand EUR with May 2023 exchange value) under the Széchenyi 2020 Rural Development Programme, to which the mayor added a gross of HUF 16 million of his own resources. After our article on 23 March, Filemon sued Átlátszó for not complying with his request for rectification, and on 12 May he lost this case in the first instance. In order to prove how long the canopy walkway actually is, the mayor used as evidence in the lawsuit, among other things, the tender's supporting document and the invoices issued by the winning bidder, HCInternational Ltd (hereafter HCInternational). Thus, the documents sent to the court were willingly/unwillingly shared with Átlátszó. These documents contain details of the costs calculated for each of the buildings of the project and the price at which the contractor built them. Therefore, it is from these documents, obtained by Átlátszó, that the itemised costs of the project first become known.
During the project, they were thoughtful of the cyclists hiking in the area, who would like to visit the installation built on the mayor's private, currently unforested land, open to the public. Ten bike racks have been built next to the canopy walkway. This was the cheapest item of the project, costing a gross of HUF 189,230.
For the younger visitors, some playground elements have been installed: a two-tower castle with a swinging bridge (gr. HUF 1,239,139) and an obstacle course (gr. HUF 787,400). For those who want to do sports and exercise in nature, the forest station includes a combined fitness line (gr. HUF 662,686) and a combined stretching bench (gr. HUF 683,895).
There are also two covered structures for visitors wishing to relax. Despite their similar appearance, they have different functions: seen from the canopy path, the left building, which ends in a peaked roof, is a 27-square-metre country house, while the right building, with a flatter roof and benches and tables, is a 32-square-metre shelter. In addition to their appearance, their prices are also similar: the country house cost a gross of HUF 2,742,184, while the shelter cost a gross of HUF 2,840,609.
The mayor has also provided for visitors wishing to stay longer. He also had four fire pits (gr. HUF 789,178) built behind the shelter and the country house, with additional benches (gr. HUF 1,194,308) around them, so that the site is also suitable for outdoor barbecues or warming up by the fire in colder months.
Two toilets are also part of the site, although they were only recently completed, well after the construction deadline. According to the Contractor's Agreement, HCInternational was to complete construction by 9 December 2022. In contrast, at the time of our first visit, on 23 March, the stalls were still empty and had no toilets.By 13 April, this was mostly fixed: "they installed a potty toilet and a urinal. There is a big twist here too, as the toilet door cannot be locked from the inside but only from the outside. In addition, because of the slope of the stall, the door does not close, which means that you can still see the trees from here. Once they have grown, of course." - we wrote then. The budget for the toilet was a gross of HUF 474,910 by piece.
At the end of the virtual walk, the only thing we didn't mention was the canopy walkway. This 80-metre-long structure accounted for 80 per cent of the tender costs, costing a gross of HUF 64,434,714, of which the EU grant was a gross of HUF 51.5 million. The biggest cost in the price was carpentry, grossing HUF 26,347,016, 40 percent of the cost of the canopy promenade. The budget for the installation of joinery was a gross of HUF 22,242,931, for door making, cold and hot tiling a gross of HUF 13,279,366, and for clearing, earth and rock work, and flatwork a gross of HUF 2,565,400. For certain items, the cost of materials was also included in the price.
In knowledge of the price and the dimensions, it is finally possible to calculate how much one metre of this completely pointless unforested canopy walkway cost EU taxpayers: a gross of HUF 644,347 (approx gr. 1711 EUR). So be careful how big you step here, because a bigger step (which is about 80 centimetres) already comes to half a million forints.
After our first visit, the mayor planted new saplings, now averaging two metres in height, to replace the previously felled forest. In ten years' time, they could grow up to 10 metres tall. By then, the canopy walkway will once again be true to its name, and you can see real foliage as you walk along the path. However, the mayor is only obliged to maintain the project for five years to avoid having to repay the grant. And after that, if the path starts to deteriorate due to weather conditions or if the timber fails to stand up to the strain of disaster tourists, he can even dismantle it and give space again to the trees growing around the promenade.
The same net contractor fee of HUF 60,266,377 is also included in the contract with HCInternational (gr. HUF 76,487,499), which is also indicated on the website of the Public Procurement Authority. The contract also specifies that the contractor may submit 3 phases (25%, 50%, 75% of the net value of the contract reached) and a final invoice for the value of the total works. These invoices were also submitted to the court by Filemon - at least some of them. The documents received include, among others, an advance payment invoice, a 25 percent phase invoice and a 50 percent phase invoice. The most recent invoice, which was a correction to the 50 percent phase invoice, is dated 2 February 2023, so it is possible that the mayor has not yet received the 75 percent phase invoice or the final invoice because of processing time.
The invoice detailers of the phase invoices show the order in which each item was constructed. According to the list, the canopy walkway was not completely finished until the 50 percent completion: the trail's walking surface and railings are not mentioned in any of the papers, presumably they were put in place later and invoiced later. However, the other structures included in the project were completed at the beginning of the construction works and the construction cost of these works is therefore fully certain.
The itemised costs of the works listed in the project's supporting document - construction of a forest hiking trail: gr. HUF 5,987,009; construction of a country house: gr. HUF 2,723,855; toilets: gr. HUF 471,170; shelter: gr. HUF 2,807,975; canopy promenade: gr. HUF 64,434,714 - are all in all roughly equal to the total cost of the items listed in the invoices. That said, we did notice a few interesting discrepancies. According to the invoices, the total cost of the elements included in the construction of the "forest hiking trail" was a gross of HUF 5,527,040, which is gr. HUF 459,968 less than the amount specified in the supporting document. In addition, in the supporting document, one toilet was given a separate line in the costs, but if the price of the second toilet is added to the "construction of a forest hiking trail" item, we reach the same approximate price specified in the supporting document (with a difference of gr. HUF 14,941).
The supporting document describes in its technical requirements that the construction should include 4 pieces of forest furniture and 4 benches. If we do not include the invoices issued by HCInternational for the benches (gr. HUF 1,194,208), there is no significant difference between the costs described in the supporting document and the invoices: a gross of HUF 76,424,723 according to the tender's supporting document, while HCInternational's contractor fee was a gross of HUF 76,487,499 (gr. HUF 62,776 difference). This can be stated with certainty, even without the invoices for the second half of the work; only the construction of the canopy walkway is missing some itemised invoices, while the price of all other works is known: a gross of HUF 12,059,653. If we add the price of the canopy walkway to this, as stated in the supporting document (gr. HUF 64,434,714), we get the contractor's fee of HCInternational almost to the nearest forint (with a difference of HUF 6867).
The question is, then, how did Mihály Filemon pay for the 4 sets of forest furniture and the 4 benches? This is interesting from several reasons:
- First, the benches are included in the tender specifications, so to get the grant the mayor needed to purchase them.
- Secondly, in the procurement notice, which already lists HCInternational as the winning bidder, the benches are not included in the contract description, the gross amount of HUF 76,487,499 was given to the company for the construction without benches.
- Thirdly, the benches are physically there at the canopy walkway, as many as listed in the supporting document.
- Fourthly, all this was invoiced to Mihály Filemon by the same HCInternational that did the rest of the construction.
We can assume that the mayor forgot that the benches are part of the tender, then during the construction, he realised that the benches are missing (almost a year later than the advance payment was invoiced by HCInternational) and, in compliance with the tender specifications, he bought the missing furniture at his own expense from the contractor who was already under contract.
In the image and chart below, we show the costs calculated from the invoices where possible. We also show the amount of money approved by the EU in 2021 for each element of the project. For the invoiced items, we have not found any significant increase in cost compared to what was submitted for the tender.
Átlátszó wins a landslide victory in the first instance in the canopy press trial (article in Hungarian) | atlatszo.hu
In March, we presented the canopy walkway built on an unforested area with a gross of HUF 64 million EU funding. Mihály Filemon, the builder of the bizarre installation, sued for correction, but the Metropolitan Court of Budapest ruled in our favour in every respect on the first instance: Átlátszó informed the public accurately and in accordance with the truth, and the court rejected the action of the mayor of Nyírmártonfalva in its entirety.
The timeline of the canopy walkway in Nyírmártonfalva, Hungary
Call for proposals
An EU call for proposals is published, aiming to develop the public amenity functions of forest ecosystems.29 March 2017
The first applicant
The leading Fidesz politician in the region, László Tasó, applies as a private citizen for a canopy walkway. Image source: Facebook / László Tasó1 January 2018
The second applicant
The next day, agricultural entrepreneur Mihály Filemon submits his application to build a canopy walkway in his own forest. Image source: Google Earth, 20212 january 2018
Fidesz's Mihály Filemon is elected mayor of Nyírmártonfalva. Image source: Facebook / Mihály FilemonOctober 2019
Two walkways for politicians in Nyíradony
Two canopy promenades could be built in Nyíradony: besides Tasó, Sándor Tasi, the Fidesz deputy chairman of the county assembly, also wins a gross of HUF 60 million on the same day. Image source: Facebook / László Tasó29 January 2021
Grant money won
In Nyírmártonfalva, Mihály Filemon wins a gross of HUF 64 million grant for the canopy promenade. Image source: Átlátszó20 May 2021
Mihály Filemon and László Tasó sign the contract with the same contractor on the same day. Filemon says the tenders have nothing to do with each other. Image source: Átlátszó27 September 2021
Deforestation in Nyírmártonfalva
The forest in Nyírmártonfalva, which is ripe for felling, is being cut down to the ground, the mayor says "something had to be done" to finance the canopy walkway. Image source: Átlátszó1 June 2022 – 31 August 2022
The deadline for the construction of the canopy promenade in Nyirmártonfalva is approaching, the wooden structure of the canopy promenade is not treated, and the toilet is not ready. Image source: Átlátszó9 December 2022
The scandal of the canopy walkway, exposed by Ákos Hadházy and Átlátszó, is breaking out. Image source: Átlátszó23 March 2023
The mayor says: "It was not a condition of the project that there should be a forest around the canopy walkway." Image source: Youtube / ATV24 March 2023
The EU investigates
Hadházy and Donáth turn to OLAF (European Anti-Fraud Office) about the canopy walkways. Image source: Facebook / Anna Donáth31 March 2023
Transparency International Hungary is taking the matter to the Integrity Authority, as the grant will only be paid to the mayor afterwards. Image source: transparency.hu6 April 2023
😂 😂 😂
"You should take off the laughing emoji" - the mayor calls a public worker into his office for an emoji. Image source: Youtube / Ákos Hadházy9 April 2023
Saving what can be saved
The mayor is trying to save the situation, not wanting to lose the grant, and plants saplings around the promenade. Image source: Átlátszó12 April 2023
Inexplicable and indefensible
According to Tasi, it is indeed "inexplicable and indefensible" that the wooden structure is standing in the middle of an empty area. Image source: HBMO13 April 2023
Threatening with a lawsuit
The mayor goes on the offensive: he threatens to sue all the newspapers that he says have ridiculed him. Image source: Facebook / Mihály Filemon19 April 2023
Closed off for a paint job
The mayor is trying to cover up the scandal: the wooden structure of the canopy promenade is painted over, and the road leading to the promenade is temporarily closed off. Image source: Youtube / Telex4 May 2023
Átlátszó 1:0 Filemon
Filemon loses the press case against Átlátszó in the first instance. Image source: Átlátszó12. May 2023