Oversight needed on military spending still far from being settled

March 18, 2012, Sunday/ 14:39:00/ AYDIN ALBAYRAK

Transparency and oversight of military expenditures has been a thorny subject in Turkey. With the introduction of the new Court of Accounts Law no. 6085, which was adopted by Parliament in December 2010, a huge step forward has been taken in this direction.

 The issue is important because military expenditures in Turkey make up around 2 percent of the gross national product, which amounted to TL 26.3 billion in 2011.

The new law has made it possible for the Court of Accounts to carry out monitoring in a relatively proper manner, unlike previous audits that largely dealt only with documents and not on spending on physical assets such as weapons, equipment and military facilities, including officers’ clubs and other recreational facilities. But the issue is far from being settled. There are still problems in the area of parliamentary and public oversight of military expenditures, as well as public participation in defense decisions.

Bülent Kuşoğlu, a member of the Planning and Budget Commission from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), puts it rather bluntly: “In recent years there have been some improvements as regards oversight of defense expenditures. But especially because of the amendments made in some articles of the Public Tender Act and that of the Public Finance Management and Control Law, it’s not been possible to go into detail in the civilian monitoring of military expenditures, and the process has stopped at some point.”

Speaking to Sunday’s Zaman, Kuşoğlu, who worked in the 1990s on the F-16 project in the capacity of consultant to the Defense Ministry, draws attention to the fact that Parliament’s inefficiency in monitoring is not peculiar to the defense budget. “We don’t conduct an efficient oversight in other areas such as education and health, either,” he noted. He believes this particular behavior also has a historical background to it, saying, “Turkish people don’t have a mindset disposed to supervision.

As per Law no. 6085, the Court of Accounts has the right conduct oversight on the military not only on the financial level, but also as regards performance. But oversight in terms of performance is also criticized by some because the Court of Accounts is entitled to monitor a public institution within the framework of the yearly target that the public institution has determined for itself, without investigating if, in the first place, the yearly target fixed by the public body was adequate, if the institution could have performed better.

But as Kuşoğlu indicates, performance auditing should enable us to evaluate the propriety of an investment for Turkey. He therefore feels it necessary that targets for a given institution be fixed first -- before proceeding to performance auditing. “That way, auditing is easily and efficiently done. But we don’t know if the money set aside for investment was spent properly, either. We don’t know our strategic targets,” he says.

The authority the new law offers in the area of performance auditing has been curbed by the current directives in place, keeping some public institutions (except for the Security General Directorate [EGM] and Undersecretariat of Public Order and Security) exempt from preparing a strategic plan. Additionally, it is prescribed by another bylaw which indicates that information on defense, security and intelligence issues that must remain secret will not be included in activity reports.

Şahin Binici and Can Mustafa Türkyener, chief auditors in the Court of Accounts, criticize the law in this regard in an article titled “Oversight by the Court of Accounts of the Security Sector, and Law No. 6085,” which appeared in the January-March 2011 edition of the Association of Court of Accounts Auditors, saying, “For this reason, in defiance of Law No. 6085, and in such a way to weaken the Court of Accounts’ auditing, the performance auditing of Ministry of National Defense, National Intelligence Organization, Gendarmerie General Command, General Secretariat of the National Security Council, and Coast Guard Command doesn’t seem to be possible as was the case earlier.”

Civilian oversight on all matters relating to security forces in general is a prerequisite for democracy. Professor Aytekin Geleri, defense and security coordinator at the Institute of Strategic Thinking (SDE) in Ankara, is also of the opinion that neither the Court of Accounts nor Parliament has succeeded in executing proper oversight on military spending. “I have never heard that Parliament has taken any steps in the area of auditing until now,” he told Sunday’s Zaman, stressing the importance for the laws to be of applicable nature in practice.

If one reason civilian authorities have, up till now, preferred referring final decisions on security matters to the military it is the fact that they have felt themselves pressured by the military; the second is that there have been no civilian experts well-seasoned on security matters. This is the reason why a director of a think tank, who spoke to Sunday’s Zaman on condition of anonymity, finds it an urgent need for Turkish universities to open sections where people can study security, military strategy, weapons systems and the like.

“Turkey must have civilian experts on matters relating to the military, but there are none. Especially in this day and age, security issues are so complex as to make it impossible to leave the decisions solely up to the military,” he noted. The reasoning he follows is clear: When you refer security issues totally to the military, then you get people whose vision is based on the military’s paradigm. But in the 21st century, the security issue also has economic, social, domestic and global dimensions to it; therefore, it can’t be evaluated taking only military concerns into account. And such a vision would require the participation of well-versed civilians in the decision-making process.

Following the adoption of the new law at the end of 2010, the Court of Accounts started work to adapt to the new system. The work on regulatory audit is at the stage of reporting. The results are expected to be presented to Parliament in a couple of months. Kuşoğlu’s words make it clear why Turkey needs to audit all spending closely, including that of the military: “Today, Turkey lives on borrowed money. Of every TL 100 Turkey spends, TL 40 is debt.”

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