Zülfikar Doğan
Jul 14 2018

Corruption has dogged Turkish politics for decades

Turkey is indeed a very rich country. The Turkish state is also rich. The country is still standing on its two feet despite the many corruption cases, irregularities, profiteering from tenders, and pilfering from banks that I have witnesses since the start of may career as a journalist in 1976.

We have almost reached a stage where we are immune to corruption. Society approves, saying “they steal, but they are hard-working”, so the chances of an end to corruption in the short or medium term are slim.

For youngsters, who opened their eyes to the world under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule, it is hard to remember the past so it might be useful to look at some of corruption milestones of the last 30 years to make sense of what is happening today.

In the 1980s, when Turgut Özal’s Motherland Party (ANAP) dominated government, extra-budgetary funds were created and turned into tools for profiteering. The largest fund was that for the Mass Housing and Public Participation Administration.

Established to provide people cheap and good quality housing, the fund transferred resources and loans to housing cooperatives. But it was soon understood that thousands of dead people were made members of the cooperatives and huge amounts were diverted through the state owned Emlakbank, which provided the loans. Emlakbank went bankrupt and was shut down.

After the corruption scandals broke, Süleyman Demirel, the leader of the rival True Path Party (DYP), became prime minister in 1991 promising he would make those responsible pay. For the first time in Turkey a government established a ministry responsible for investigating corruption cases, but no cases were exposed and no politician was ever charged.

When Özal died suddenly in 1993, Demirel replaced him as president and the prime ministry and leadership of the DYP passed to Tansu Çiller, a professor of economics and Turkey’s first female prime minister, who was called by the Hürriyet newspaper “the blonde, beautiful woman”.

Çiller is now seen as an economics professor who managed to bring the country to economic ruin. During her term, her husband Özer Çiller directed state transactions and tenders behind the scenes.

It was impossible to get a major loan from a state owned bank or win a public tender without the approval of Özer Çiller, who was previously general manager of İstanbul Bank when it ran out of funds in 1983. Tansu Çiller lost the next elections in 1996 after news emerged that she and her husband had used money made in government in Turkey to invest in U.S. real estate.

Next in power was new ANAP leader Mesut Yılmaz. He was brought down by scandals related to the privatisation of Türkbank, a deal linked to a shady construction boss with links to the Turkish mafia.

Though he did not have any children of his own, Demirel’s nieces and nephews were caught up in a series of corruption scandals. Özal’s sons became rich at a young age while their father was in office, as did the Çillers’ son. But none of them managed to protect their wealth, after their protectors lost power.

When Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002, it pledged to end the corruption scandals that had dogged those in power in previous decades with a new brand of pious politics founded on the values of Islam.

Erdoğan, who grew up in the poor Istanbul neighbourhood of Kasımpaşa, in a recent obligatory declaration of his wealth said he had $1.2 million in deposits, a villa worth $820,000 in Istanbul and a debt of $410,000 to a businessman friend.

Erdoğan’s sons, sons-in-law, and brothers-in-law are now among the wealthiest people in Turkey.

Erdoğan’s new cabinet is now made up of businessmen, bureaucrats and close friends of his sons and daughters. How can these ministers, who own companies are involved in tourism, health, trade, and other sectors, be impartial against their competitors and not seek to eliminate those competitors using their new powers?

Most importantly, the state’s public finance, the Treasury, and millions in state-owned banks have been entrusted to Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak. The new executive presidency model does not allow the Court of Accounts to inspect the president and his cabinet’s financial, administrative, and legal practices. When it comes to the remaining tools of oversight, a strong majority needs to be amassed in parliament, and is therefore unlikely.

The president’s chief economic adviser is also in charge of Turkey’s sovereign wealth fund, which controls a portfolio of millions of dollar raised by transferring to it public assets and the state’s shares in banks, airlines, telecommunications and energy companies.

Little has changed since the AKP came to power, only those in power have managed to remain in power for 16 years and therefore protect their wealth.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.