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Hoping to open the world of translation

Since the communist era, one state-approved agency has held an effective monopoly on the translation of officially certified documents, but the country’s private translators would like to see that situation changed.

The Hungarian Office for Translation and Attestation (OFFI) maintains a virtual monopoly in the certified translation industry in Hungary, operating under legislation enacted in 1986. That means that most translations submitted to a government body must be done by OFFI.

Little has changed with legally recognized translations in the past 30 years, even though the private translation business has blossomed into a full-blown industry since then. Many in the private translation world criticize the system, saying OFFI is costly, slow and sometimes even inaccurate in its work. The critics say this is just the sort of malaise a bit of healthy competition could eradicate.

According to a statement sent by OFFI in response to an email query, no other organization that handles certified translations currently has sufficient background and knowledge of Hungarian and foreign documents to be able to guarantee the required level of accuracy on the translation of legal documents, and to be able to prove the authenticity of questionable documents.

Critics have argued that such assertions should be up for discussion, but currently they are not. 

Miklós Bán, chairman of Proford, the Hungarian Association of Professional Language Service Providers is looking to build on cooperation with OFFI in the interest of all parties involved. 

Established in 2012, Proford counts more than a dozen translation companies among its members, including many who were members of the now defunct Association of Hungarian Translation Agencies (MFE). Proford’s mandate is to create a better regulated, more transparent, more mature translation marketplace for all stakeholders including the end users of their translations.

Rather than admit defeat against the all-powerful state entity, Bán and other active Proford members are in continuous communication with OFFI. “We are working with OFFI and MFTE (an association of freelance translators’ and interpreters) on a proposal that will take into account the best interest of all parties involved,” explains Bán.

“We regard the industry as one, and our differences as secondary to our common interests,” says Bán who adds that he is hoping to achieve a better regulated, more transparent and more mature translation marketplace.

Miklós Bán, chairman of Proford, the translator’s association. (Photo: Mátyás Pödőr)

Concerns with OFFI

Critics argue that OFFI’s monopoly gives it the privilege to charge higher fees than the industry standard and maintain a rather lengthy turnaround time of ten days, charging doubled fees for rush jobs. But another concern is accuracy, which a number of private individuals using the service have complained about, according to a report published by online news portal origo.hu in 2014. In that same report, the portal highlighted a high-profile slip up of a Hebrew translation contained on the pedestal of the World War II memorial at Budapest’s Szabadság tér.

According to the 1986 legislation, OFFI has the exclusive right to complete certified translations, the certification of translations and foreign language certified copies unless otherwise stipulated by law. The only documents that do not fall under that jurisdiction are attested translations of company documents – such as copies of the register, and articles of incorporation or disclosure statements, says Bán and in the realm of certified translation that is only a tiny piece of the pie.

The email from OFFI maintains that this situation is normal. “There is no other control-free European model of certified translation where certified translations are carried out without state control or regulations,” it says.

But according to Bán, the level of control here is not in line with European standards. According to research conducted by Proford, among the 12 European countries surveyed, none had a system like Hungary’s. “Nine countries had a central professional register of translators and interpreters who are entitled to carry out certified translations and court interpreting tasks; one country has a chamber of translators that is licensed to attest translations. Other countries have hybrid solutions, but no central state-owned agency exists inside the EU with an exclusive license to certified translation,” explains Bán.

The bigger concern is that Hungary has failed to adapt to market conditions, which have changed considerably in the last 30 years, since the 1986 legislation was passed. 

On the financial end, Hungaryʼs position amounts to as much as one-third of the market share or HUF 1.5 billion, according to Bán. The remaining HUF 4.5-5 bln-translation market is reportedly split among all the translation companies operating in Hungary, but the private translation firms would obviously like to expand their reach.