Turkish opposition takes aim at Albayrak hire in inflation squabble

Turkey’s main opposition party is reviving criticism of a decision by Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak to hire a political ally to the nation’s statistics institute, saying it shows the government is manipulating economic data.

Faik Öztrak, a former Treasury undersecretary now in charge of economic policy at the Republican People’s Party (CHP), said on Monday that the appointment showed the data could no longer be trusted.

Turkey’s inflation rate slid to a two-year low of 9.3 percent in September from 15 percent in August, the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK) said last week. Albayrak, the son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, says the slowdown proves that the government’s economic policies, which economist say lack orthodoxy, are bearing fruit and the worst of a currency crisis is now over.

“There are price rises in the country but no inflation – the palace has found a formula to bring down inflation while pushing up prices,” Öztrak, who served as undersecretary between 2001 and 2003, said at the CHP’s headquarters in Ankara, according to state-run Anadolu news agency. “They shouldn’t make people even more miserable – let them publish the addresses of the shops where the data is collected and allow people to shop at TUIK’s cheap outlets.”

Albayrak appointed Yinal Yağan, who worked for him when he was energy minister, as deputy head of TUIK in charge of inflation data collected in October last year. Yağan got the job after TUIK reported inflation surging to 24.5 percent in September from 17.9 percent the previous month. Yağan is now head of the organisation.

The government, which has sought to drive down inflation by pressuring firms to lower their prices and slashing borrowing costs for businesses and consumers, says the inflation data is accurate and TUIK retains its independence from politicians.

Economists say inflation in Turkey is slowing dramatically – it reached 25.2 percent last October, the highest level in a decade and a half – because of a severe economic downturn that has depressed consumer demand.

Yağan, a former trade attache and international politics graduate, began working at the energy ministry as deputy chief of a state-run mining organisation in 2017. Albayrak served as energy minister between November 2015 and July 2018.

Öztrak was a focus of government criticism last month when he was invited by a visiting International Monetary Fund delegation to a private meeting in Ankara focused on economic developments in Turkey. The government said the discussions were clandestine and aimed at undermining its economic agenda.

Öztrak has been a parliamentarian for the CHP since 2007.