Jai Bhim Network

Theft of electricity and the life style of romanies in rural Hungary

2009.03.26. Categorized: Uncategorized   

(Photo: © Fazekas István)A proposal by the Jai Bhim Network which runs the Dr Ambedkar High School that prepayment meters for electricity supplies to Romany families in Sajokaza has revealed the life threatening poverty of a thousand gypsies who have been accused of stealing electricity. This situation is further complicated by the economic crisis affecting public funds.

In Sajokaza Sólyom Terrace was built for coal miners in 1900 with twenty housing units. There weren’t any public utilities then and there still aren’t. The housing units are now in very poor condition. The layout of these houses is rudimentary: a small hallway leading to a dark room. Most of this tottering row of housing had no wiring to install electricity. At head level a mass of tangled wires can now be seen outside where electricity is being stolen. In 1986 another terrace was built It was called Ch Housing meaning cheap housing. They had no water pipes, no tarmacadam on the roads leading to them and it’s ankle deep in mud whenever it rains.

(Fotó: © Fazekas István)Altogether there are 119 housing units of these only 17 have electricity meters; however these meters have now run up a debt of 1.28 million Hungarian Forint. These figures were issued by the electricity supplier ÉMÁSZ. If the debt is not paid these meters will be removed. The whole debt of 25million Forint is a result of the theft of electricity by 97 households. If ÉMÁS wants to recover this debt they have to take court action against these households. If they acknowledge these debts they are liable to have to pay off large mortgages to settle these debts. One of the villagers Dénes Varga, 27, has six children and he will be imprisoned for theft of electricity in March 2009 if his estimated 150,000 Forint debt is not paid. He had no meter. In part this situation arises because he already has a conviction carrying a suspended sentence. This previous conviction arose because he gave false evidence to the bank saying that he was employed. He only reached grade 2 in school and he is second generation unemployable. His entire family is dependent on benefits. They supplement their meagre income by manually scavaging the local rubbish dump. Tibor Derdák, the Director of the Dr Ambedkar High School made a statement saying that Varga and those in the same circumstances should be given employment by the local council. With this income they could pay off their debts if they were also given prepayment meters. If he is imprisoned his children would be taken into care and this would be more costly for the government. A petition of 900 signatories has been presented to the Prime Minister. The local community was awarded 2.5 million Forint from the national film preview in Budapest towards the cost of installing these prepayment meters. This is the first time such a large amount of money has been awarded to a local cause like this one.

„We need special deficit funding to treat these kinds of debts” said Tibor Derák. However the problem is, according to the Social Act, only communities up to over 40,000 are eligible under this legislation. This does not reach the poorest people living in small communities like Sajokaza. Of this deficit funding the local council would have to pay a quota of ten percent. The Mayor of Sajokaza László Stefán said „This would bankrupt the local council of Sajokaza which only has a population of 3,700.” The Social Act also stipulates those who are without electricity and gas supply because of these debts incurred are entitled to get a prepayment meter if they are covered by this deficit funding provision and they get a contract with the electricity suppliers paying a year’s supply in advance. Housing benefits could be used towards this cost as well.

There is a precedent. In 2005 Tatabánya received deficit funding and installed prepayment meters for 40 households and received 2.5 million Forint from the Social Ministry. Afterwards 25 families have been using these meters since then and with the help of the local council more households were included in this scheme. „If people pay in advance for electricity they can manage their household budgets properly” said Ilona Mecsei, Head of Social Services in Tatabánya. Approximately 40 to 50 families could get out of this type of debt using this method. However this prepayment method is not obviously beneficial because in 1994 the gas company Fővárosi Gázművek which gave out 1, 000 of these meters which they withdrew in 2006. All these families changed back to the normal payment system according to the Head of Marketing of Fővárosi Gázművek in Budapest.

Under popular pressure the goverrnment had passed an Act that compelled gas amd electricity suppliers to offer the option of installimg prepayment meters. This law also stipulates that supplies can be cut if they do not accept these meters, in other words, they cannot be cut until these meters are offered. This can be offered to families who have already been cut off and those who have normal meters. and not those who have been stealing electricity so it doesn’t apply to the people in Sajokaza. The electricity supplier ÉMÁSZ has asked the council to make the occupantancy of property transparent so that new contracts could be offered. Furthermore ÉMÁSZ has offered one million Forint to build a grid.

Faced with the prospect of slum clearance the Jai Bhim Network office has pointed out that some of the property owners have never even been to Sajokaza. It also said that these people asked for more than 1 million Forint Social Housing benefits on the basis of their property deeds. Some of these housing units are owned by as many as ten people and also ÉMÁSZ has mortgages on some of these housing units. As a result it will take months to unravel these complicated ownership issues so that the first prepayment meters can be installed.


Translated by Saul Deason


1 | boydelect

March 27th, 2009, 5:54 pm

This story is crazy, I know it is not the richest country in the world and the gypsys don’t do there name any good at times but they are just doing what they need to do to survive, most of the time anyway, could the big <a href=”http://www.southern-electric.co.uk”>gas and electricity supplier</a>’s just not set up electricity for them?

2 | Saul Deason

March 31st, 2009, 10:38 am

When I was translating this with Kata I had not realised that when 2.5 million Hungarian Forint was raised at a recent Budapest film festival this was this was historical in two senses. Firstly the size of the sum itself. Secondly it was the first time that there had been such a big response to a Gypsy issue among non-Gypsies here in Hungary. The effect on morale in the remote rural Gypsy community of Sajókazá has been enormous. We would like to thank of you who have supported us. Jai Bhim!

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