Lack of comprehensive audits casts shadow over security spending

Lawmakers debate Court of Accounts reports during Parliament's Budget Commission meeting. (Photo: Today's Zaman, Mustafa Kirazlı)

November 03, 2013, Sunday/ 17:28:00

As the Court of Accounts was prevented from fully auditing government agencies and ministries for the year 2012 due to a lack of cooperation from the relevant institutions, a spending increase in security services including police, military, gendarmerie and intelligence agencies was left unexplained.

The court, which is similar to the Government Accountability Office of the US Congress, has a legal mandate to review spending by government institutions and ensure compliance with rules and regulations on the spending of budgets approved by Parliament.

Yet the audit reports on close to 150 institutions that the court sent to Parliament did not include detailed balance sheets and lacked comprehensive data Parliament needs to perform its budgetary oversight role.

“It's part of the government's efforts over the past few years to evade auditing and transparency,” Mehmet Altan, a lecturer at İstanbul University, told Today's Zaman.

Many agencies and ministries failed to disclose information specifically requested by the Court of Accounts; in these cases, the court said it couldn't issue an opinion on the institutions' audits.

The court said it couldn't vouch for spending by the National Police Department, whose 2012 budget stood at $5.9 billion (TL 12 billion), not including an additional $495 million (TL 1 billion) in supplemental appropriation, because the agency failed to provide the court the required information and documents.   

The court reached the same conclusion in its audit of the Ministry of Defense, whose 2012 budget was $9 billion (TL 18.2 billion) -- although it actually overspent its budget by TL 300 million. The ministry's budget covers all of Turkey's military forces except the gendarmerie and coast guard, which also failed to provide necessary documents, according to the court.

“The Court of Accounts has now been rendered totally nonfunctional,” Cengiz Aktar, head of Bahçeşehir University's European Union Affairs Program, told Today's Zaman. “Public audits in Turkey have become an exception rather than the rule,” he added.

The Court of Accounts' September 2013 reports show that dozens of ministries and public administrations were not properly audited because necessary documents were not made available to the court.

“It's not possible to submit an opinion on the financial reports and tables for the year 2012 [of the public institution concerned], as the public administration was not able to provide the financial reports and tables necessary to draw up an auditing opinion,” the Courts of Accounts said in several of its reports on public institutions, including the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Energy and Natural Resources, Health, Defense and Science, Industry and Technology.

According to Turgut Dibek, a deputy from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) who has so far submitted three parliamentary questions about restrictions on the auditing capacity of the Court of Accounts, the court is effectively unable to conduct audits. He went on to accuse the government of evading audits.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also showed a lack of transparency in spending, according to reports that said documents and financial tables had not been turned over to the auditors for review. The court nevertheless found problems in the ministry's budget allocations to overseas missions, saying that advance payments made to missions were not in line with government accounting rules.

The report also said that missions in countries where sales tax exemptions are provided to diplomatic staff failed to account for the tax returns as revenue in the mission's accounting books. Some missions unlawfully rounded up figures for fees charged for services provided to consular clients.

It's no longer possible to talk about proper public auditing, Seyfettin Gürsel, director of the Bahçeşehir University Center for Economic and Social Research (BETAM), told Today's Zaman.

Lack of transparency in Turkish state institutions is a long-standing problem. The current Court of Accounts Law was adopted in late 2010 with the hope that it would introduce a more transparent process into the oversight of public institutions and spending, including the military's. The 2010 law, which passed a Parliament dominated by a Justice and Development Party (AK Party) majority, allows the court to monitor all public institutions.

But Parliament made a few major changes to the law last year, curbing the court's independent oversight of public institutions. However, the Constitutional Court annulled those changes in a bid to bring transparency and accountability back into state spending.

Before Parliament took its summer recess this year, the government came under criticism for an additional attempt to amend the Court of Accounts Law.

But over the past two years, the government, seemingly uncomfortable with the court's new auditing powers, has made several attempts to amend the law. This has led to criticism of the AK Party because, under their proposed system, audit reports prepared by the Court of Accounts for public institutions would no longer be sent to Parliament for review.

In the progress report on Turkey released in mid-October, the European Commission (EC) also expressed concern about the proposal to amend to the Court of Accounts Law. The EC report said that the new law could “distort” the court's mandate and that it “raises serious concerns about the independence and effectiveness” of the court.  

President Abdullah Gül said back in May that the planned amendments should not restrict the court's function of auditing the budgets of state institutions. Highlighting the importance of budget oversight in a modern state in remarks to reporters during a visit to Lisbon, he said, “A modern state is a state which can account [for its activities] and whose expenditure of even a single kuruş (cent) can be audited; this is the basic principle of [such] a state.”

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