“These proposals would prevent the collapse of the state system that the government has attempted to do away with by crumpling the judiciary,” Mehmet Altan, a professor of economics at İstanbul University, has said.
At the main opposition party's parliamentary group meeting during the week, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People's Party (CHP), called on the government to work together on an 11-point package to eradicate corruption from Turkish political life.
The CHP leader's 11-point solution proposal is as follows: To remove legislative immunity in bribery and corruption cases and send suspects to the Constitutonal Court for trial; bring the Public Procurement Law in line with European Union standards; draft a law on political ethics; draft a law on political parties to bring transparency to parties' accounts, thereby rendering financing of political parties transparent; draft a law for the establishment of a judicial police unit in an effort to render the judiciary independent from pressure by the executive; reinforce the Court of Accounts to give it more authority to audit public spending while ensuring that audit reports prepared by the court are sent to Parliament; redefine the legal concept of trade secrets so that companies, in the event that a parliamentary commission would feel the need to investigate an issue related to a given company, would not have the possibility of hiding behind the pretext of business secrets to keep some facts from such a commission; establish a parliamentary commission to audit public spending; draft a comprehensive anti-corruption law; give autonomy to the Revenues Administration (GİB) to prevent politically motivated tax audits; strengthen the autonomy of institutions such as the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) and free autonomous public institutions from political interference.
According to Altan, the 11 proposals, which he thinks are no different to EU standards, would help Turkey become a democratic country immensely by paving the way for the actions of the government to be properly supervised. “These proposals would [if adopted in Parliament] put the government and those who are close to it under [proper] judicial control,” Altan told Sunday's Zaman.
Turkey was recently shaken by a graft probe in which four government ministers and the sons of three of those ministers were also involved. The four have since resigned. Out of the 52 people initially detained as part of the probe launched in mid-December, the sons of two of the ministers, those of former Interior Minister Muammer Güler and former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, together with Süleyman Aslan, general manager of Halkbank, a public bank, are currently among those arrested by a court.
Prosecutors sent a summary of the graft probe proceedings to Parliament, asking for the legislative immunity of the four ministers of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Güler, Çağlayan, Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar and EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış, to be lifted. The ministers have been accused of taking bribes or, in the case of Environment and Urban Planning Minister Bayraktar, of paving the way for building contractors to obtain unlawful profits.
Seyfettin Gürsel, director of the Bahçeşehir University Center for Economic and Social Research (BETAM), also finds the proposals to eliminate corruption in Turkey very positive. “Corruption [in public institutions] should be taken seriously. That's an important topic for Turkey,” Gürsel told Sunday's Zaman.
According to the main opposition party, the recent alleged corruption represents a huge loss in public money. The CHP leader claimed in his speeches during the past week that the latest cases of alleged government corruption represent a sum as big as TL 247 billion ($113 billion). According to Kılıçdaroğlu, who criticized the prime minister for attempting to block the corruption probe, it would be possible to pay a minimum wage to all those unemployed in Turkey, the number of whom is nearly 3 million according to official data, for eight years if the recent corruption did not exist. Or, it would, alternatively, be possible to carry out 30 transportation projects as expensive as Marmaray, a recently launched commuter train line that stretches under the Bosporus, connecting Asia and Europe under the sea. “It is because the corruption is so huge that Erdoğan is so scared [by the investigation],” claimed Kılıçdaroğlu.
The government also initially blocked a second corruption investigation in which Bilal Erdoğan, the son of Prime Minister Erdoğan, was also involved, as well as the owners of some of Turkey's leading construction companies that have won public tenders in recent years.
Prime Minister Erdoğan dismissed the corruption scandal, putting the blame on a “gang within the state” that worked with foreign powers to unseat the government. The prime minister, seemingly seeing that he himself would be a target through his son Bilal in the second graft probe, and possibly others in the government, did not allow the police to go after the suspects in the second phase of the graft probe that was supposed to take place about a week after the first.
For Ayhan Kaya, director of the European Institute at Bilgi University, the CHP's proposals do not actually represent anything new, considering that the coalition government in power before the ruling AK Party had already put in place, in line with EU norms, a considerable number of regulations and institutions that were expected to ensure transparency and proper auditing in public works. Criticizing the government for having amended the Public Procurement Law many times since it took office in 2002, Kaya told Sunday's Zaman: “The government, by interfering in the autonomy of institutions such as the BDDK, Turkey's Capital Markets Board [SPK] and the Court of Accounts, has aimed to distribute public resources to people close to it,” Kaya maintained.
Prime Minister Erdoğan described the graft probe as a foreign plot and removed from their positions hundreds of high-ranking police officers, including those conducting the investigation. And, by amending a regulation, the government forced police chiefs to inform their superiors before acting on prosecutors' orders in investigations and appointed two additional prosecutors to supervise the ongoing corruption case, a move described, by almost all accounts, as a blunt intervention in the graft investigation.
At the end of last month, European Union Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Füle urged Turkey to ensure the country's ongoing corruption investigation is carried out in a transparent and impartial manner. “I urge Turkey, as a candidate country committed to the political criteria of accession, including the application of the rule of law, to take all the necessary measures to ensure that allegations of wrongdoing are addressed without discrimination or preference in a transparent and impartial manner,” Füle said in a written statement.
Transparency and accountability are the best measures to stifle corruption in public institutions, but analysts are also concerned that transparency and public accountability have been in decline in recent years. “Turkey has become a country where auditing is now an exception,” Cengiz Aktar, a senior scholar at the İstanbul Policy Center of Sabancı University, recently told Sunday's Zaman.
The lack of transparency in Turkey's state institutions is a major problem. The current Court of Accounts Law was adopted in late 2010 in the hope that it would introduce a more transparent process for the oversight of public institutions and spending, including military expenditure. But the government, seemingly uncomfortable with the court's auditing capacity, attempted several major changes to the law in 2012, with the aim of curbing independent oversight of public institutions. However, the Constitutional Court annulled the changes at the end of the same year, reintroducing transparency and accountability of spending for state institutions.
Analysts are not hopeful that the AK Party will agree with the proposals of the main opposition party to do away with corruption. “The AK Party would oppose [the establishment of] a [public] auditing system of EU standards. Then, it will be easier [for the public] to see the ruling party in its true colors,” Altan of İstanbul University commented.
In a progress report on Turkey released in mid-October, the European Commission also expressed concerns about a proposal to amend 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.
“The AK Party would not lend support to these proposals,” commented Gürsel of BETAM, who believes that out of the 11 proposals of the opposition, the first article on the removal of legislative immunity for those involved in corruption may be a little extreme as a measure to fight corruption.
According to Gürsel, corruption should also be expected to have an adverse effect on development. “It increases the cost of investment for investors, while at the same time causing unfair competition [for those businesspeople who have not benefitted from the corruption],” he said. “It would also have an adverse effect on foreign investments,” he said.
A recent report released by Transparency International revealed that the country is only slightly above the global average in terms of government corruption. According to the results of a survey released at the beginning of December, Turkey ranks 53rd out of 177 countries and territories around the world. Turkey's 2012 ranking was one notch below this year's mark, sharing the spot with Malaysia. The index measures the perception of corruption in the public sector. The survey of 177 countries is based on local and international experts' opinions of public sector corruption.