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Turkey breaking own corruption record?

Are the people of Turkey going to parliamentary and presidential elections with the public sector of an incumbent government that is perceived to have never been so corrupt before? How has there been this significant decline in combatting corruption in the past years? Why?

According to the latest Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perceived Index (CPI) report, Turkey has taken five steps back and ranked 101st among 180 countries with a score of 36 out of 100, the lowest in 10 years in 2022. Turkey, which was ranked 96th in 2021 with a score of 38, has lost two points. It has dropped 48 places in the index since 2013 when it scored 50 points and was ranked53rd.

TI Turkey representative Oya Ozarstan says “Turkey’s downhill was associated with the fact that there are no concrete steps being taken to fight corruption in the the country. Global money-laundering watchdog the Financial Acton Task Force (FATF) put Turkey on its grey list of countries under increased monitoring due to strategic deficiencies in their regimes to combat money laundering and terrorist financing in late 2021 and that the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption group, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) was routinely urging Turkey to implement its anti-corruption recommendations.

“We have problems in compliance with all the contacts we are party to. In other words, warnings are constantly coming from international institutions. The decline is because of this. Another reason was the situation of the press in Turkey. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says 90% of the national media in Turkey, which was ranked 149th among 180 countries in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index, is owned by pro-government businessmen.”

TI study can be considered proof that the Turkey’s backsliding started in late 2013 when the country was shaken by two corruption investigations implicating then prime minister and current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s inner circle. AKP government subsequently suppressed the corruption scandal by managing to control the judiciary through the creation of special criminal courts headed by a single judge and jailing all the police and prosecutors who had conducted the 2013 investigations.

Immediately after the controversial July 2016 coup, at least 1,684 judges and prosecutors were placed in pretrial detention. Jailing judges without even the pretense of due process took place. The rule of law was bypassed in every way possible. Within two weeks the court had decided to freeze the assets of 3,048 judges and prosecutors under investigation. Then the purge. The government embarked on dramatic moves to demote and discharge alleged followers of the Gulen movement in the judiciary, police and bureaucracy.

 Sedat Peker, the head of one of Turkey’s most powerful mafia groups and once a staunch supporter of Erdogan, now living in exile in the UAE, has revealed cases of arms trafficking to Syria that was allegedly carried out under the guise of humanitarian aid. Among his shockwaves revelations are drug trafficking and murders implicating former and current officials and their family members. Four months to the parliamentary and presidential polls, Peker has expressed his readiness to expose more of AKP government “dirty laundry”, only if the opposition could seek his clearance from the UAE government from digital isolation.

Taken at one time as Europe’s biggest theme park, Turkey’s Antapark, located in northern Ankara housed on a piece of land bequeathed by the Father of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, provides a typical example of the country’s ten-year trek of mismanagement and corruption. Originally planned in 2013 to attract 5 million visitors, it has instead attracted lawsuits shrouded in a political scandal. Built at an estimated cost of $801 million, Antapark has been under investigation amid allegations that it has been used to funnel public money into companies with close ties to the AKP. One Ahmet Asian was quoted by Al-Monitor as telling a local newspaper that it’s in a truly disgraceful state when you consider the money spent… An unbelievable theft … In my opinion, this is a project made to transfer money to friends and acquaintances.”

After their victories, Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş and Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu claimed a number of public works projects were outsourced to pro-government firms, resulting in unnecessary public expenditure. “Antapark is the concrete version of all the corruption and waste that has been carried out in Turkey to date”, Meral Ahsener, leader of the opposition Iyi Party, said as she toured the site with Yavaş. “I never understood why there was such a curiosity about dinosaurs.  We should not let Ankapark be forgotten so that we can prevent similar things from happening again.”

At the same time, a snapshot in the very immediate past of Turkey leaves one wondering as to what went wrong for Turkey to be where it stands of all today in terms of corruption control. In 2007 we read about a project on “Ethics for the Prevention of Corruption in Turkey” (TYEC) coming on board with financing from the European Union (90%) and the Council of Europe (10%) to be implemented by the Economic Crime Division of the Council of Europe’s Directorate of Cooperation – the project’s main counterpart institution being the Council of Ethics for Public Service at the Prime Ministry of Turkey.

The Turkey government took a number of important steps in combating corruption. The country ratified the Council of Europe’s Civil and Criminal Law Conventions against Corruption in 2003 and joined the Council’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) in January 2004. Moreover, in June 2004 the Council of Ethics for Public Service was established and in 2005 the Regulation on the Principles of Ethical Behavior for Public Officials (the Code of Ethics) was adopted.

The TYEC had four main aims:

         * support the implementation of the Code of Ethics across the public administration in line with GRECO recommendations;

         *develop codes of ethics for other categories of officials or holders of public office;

         * develop systems of monitoring the effectiveness of prevention and other anti-corruption measures, and

         * ensure and enhance coordination of anti-corruption measures.

Despite all this, corruption has remained a serious concern for the people of Turkey.  The Turkish authorities, on the one hand, acknowledge that corruption is a priority issue requiring comprehensive and serious counter-measures. On the other, they practice the opposite. What went wrong?

Fundamentally, the whole blame can be traced to the switchover from the parliamentary to the presidential system, which translated in the death of the TYEC process. Erdogan’s office could not play the role of the project’s main counterpart institution. This would have been a contradiction.  This fully illustrates how Turkey, over the past decade in particular, has literally been on a downhill scandals race to break its own corruption record, gathering all the moss we see at the doorsteps of the coming elections.

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Felix Kaiza is a Tanzanian journalist with more than 50 years of experience currently working as an independent media consultant. Learned in agriculture, journalism, political science and international relations, his main fields of consultancy, besides the media, are good governance, nature conservation, tourism and investment. He was the first Tanzanian Chief Sub-Editor of an English daily newspaper in 1970, he has been behind the establishment and growth of the national independent media since the early 1990s. He is UNFAO Fellow Journalist since 1975 and has wide experience on regional integration. He worked on the Information Directorate of the original East African Community on whose ashes survive the current one. His ambition is to brand Tanzania in the inbound market with made-in-Tanzania brands, including information, almost all of which is currently foreign brewed.

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