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December 05, 2012, Wednesday

Unaudited democracy

Turkey’s past is rife with debate on “democracy that cannot govern” due to fragmentation in Parliament.

So, in the past, people felt as if they were being governed by several ruling parties as a result of coalition governments that were made up of incompatible parties. The governments established after a lengthy formation process easily collapsed, and the system of unfavorable bargaining employed in these processes further eroded the system. Then, Parliament would dispense with its review functions. Instead, it would use implied threats against certain politicians but rush to acquit them after an agreement was reached in the government formation process. All of this undermined Parliament’s prestige.

Parliament’s loss of prestige could also be seen in the general public’s ridicule of its commissions for quickly clearing politicians who faced grave charges. In 2002, the public put an end to this farce. The country hailed the coming of “democracy that can govern” the country with a powerful single-party government. But Parliament’s failure to supervise the system lingered.

Thus, our system is a parliamentary system, but Parliament is still not given a central role. With the addition to the mix of certain components that tend to hamper deputies and force them to conform to the system, Parliament emerges as a completely ineffectual component. For example, the electoral system, the Law on Political Parties and the Election Law, which include some worrisome conditions for the closure of political parties and the 10 percent election threshold. Small parties have no chance of winning seats in Parliament because the prescribed limit does not allow them to send deputies to Parliament.

In this picture, I find it hard to understand those who perceive the parliamentary system as untouchable or undisputed. In previous articles I suggested that we might discuss the presidential system in order to have a parliament that can exert its “checks and balances” functions properly.

Continued lack of accountability

A recent development that added to the ongoing dysfunction of Parliament has made me ponder this matter. I am talking about the news stories of how the 2011 Court of Accounts reports were nullified and how the state apparatus that we finance with our taxes is now unaudited. The first news story came from the Zaman daily on Sept. 17, and the Radikal newspaper has been trying to raise public awareness about this matter for the last two days. But their voices are lost after hitting the wall of deadening silence.

Parliament’s most important duty and power is to prepare the state budget, and as a natural consequence of this, to supervise whether this budget is implemented correctly and for the common benefit of the society. This duty is entrusted to the Court of Accounts under the constitution. The Court of Accounts, which is supposed to perform this duty of supervision on behalf of Parliament, will not be able to conduct the audit of the last year. There are reports, but they mean nothing as they cannot be submitted to Parliament. We were complaining that the military institutions are hiding from supervision behind thick veils, but apparently this applies to the whole state apparatus.

The government made a mountain out of a molehill by passing a new bill on the organization and functions of the Court of Accounts, which had been hailed as a reform in 2010. The partial amendments introduced in 2012 triggered chaos. First, the section on “examining whether public resources are used effectively, economically and efficiently” was deleted, and the court’s audit was restricted to “targets and indicators as determined by the administrations.” The reliability of an audit that does not examine effectiveness, efficiency or economy is dubious. Actually, it does not have any reliability.

An amendment inserted into the omnibus bill on Sept. 7, 2012, furthers this agenda of disabling the auditing of state institutions. It was based on the previously mentioned criteria and seeks to prohibit the Court of Accounts’ auditors from “preparing audit reports that can be considered as an assessment of appropriateness because they suggest that the audited matters are not found appropriate in terms of their necessity, proportionality, effectiveness, economy and efficiency or for similar reasons.”

Furthermore, the Foreign Ministry, the Secretariat General of the National Security Council (MGK), the Defense Ministry, the Gendarmerie General Command (JGK), and some other state institutions are exempted from auditing on the basis of targets and indicators because of the “delicate nature of their services.” Thus, these institutions are granted the right to say “give me the money, forget the rest.” What this means can be seen in the following example: The police department, which is not exempt from this audit, makes a 28-page budget presentation while the JGK’s presentation is just two pages.

The final blow to the process is that upon objection from the audited institutions, the commissions that are set up to re-assess the audit reports will consist of three members from the Court of Accounts and three from the audited institution. It is very controversial to make audited institutions part of the audit process. Worst of it, this process will make it impossible for the reports to be approved during the legally allotted time. And instead of attempting to do the impossible, the Court of Accounts justifiably chooses to archive the reports.

Most importantly, no one knows how this deadlock will be overcome in the future. We would be happy if just one year is left unaudited, but we threw the baby out with the bath water in trying to empower the Court of Accounts with an effective and modern auditing mechanism. With the last-minute changes, we are left with a system that is worse than the old one.