Graft, nepotism and illicit gains are all part of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s thirst for infinite power in today’s Turkey, writes Sayed Abdel-Maguid
Every year, Turkish people eagerly await the New Year’s Eve celebrations and the accompanying festivities. But December 2013 brought a shock that stunned public opinion and dampened the holiday spirit for many in Turkey. That was the month that the graft and corruption scandal broke, reaching into the highest echelons of government, implicating persons who claimed and continue to claim to be devout and pious.
As last month marked the first anniversary of the scandal that send tremors throughout Anatolia, it would be difficult to imagine this time of year passing without a ripple. But wonders never cease, for this year too the front pages of the Turkish dailies, especially those opposed to the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP), ran more eyebrow-raisers.
It appears that former defence minister Muammer Güler, who entered office in February 2013 with bank assets of YTL1,874,000, rang in the New Year the proud owner of YTL2,224,000. In other words, he managed to increase his fortune by YTL440,000 ($220,000). A trifling sum, according to some. Perhaps.
But then it came to light that his daughter, Burcu Güler, has two flats registered in her name. She works as a legal advisor for Turkish Airlines and earns YTL4,000 a month. Moreover, his son, Baris Güler, has a bank balance of YTL838,000 ($380,000), plus six flats and 26 plots of agricultural land. How did Güler’s children acquire all these assets?
The surprises did not stop there. Zafer Çaglayan, minister of economy and trade in the same JDP government headed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had cash assets of 228,000 Euros in January 2010. These increased very slightly the following year, to 238,000 Euros, and then to 242,000 Euros in January 2012.
Then suddenly, in September that year, his cash assets soared to 1,409,000 Euros, which is to say that somehow 1,167,000 Euros found their way into his bank account over the course of nine months. According to information revealed by the fact-finding committee, Çaglayan also owns real estate valued at YTL3,100,000 (1,100,000 Euros).
As the JDP takes care of its own, and its network of beneficiaries is considerable, we should probably not be all that surprised by news leaked from banking circles that one of Erdogan’s closest advisors has not paid back a YTL4.5 million loan he obtained from a private bank. Moreover, the bank has not seized the adviser’s assets for fear of incurring his wrath and that if his powerful backer.
But this December packed another heavy-calibre surprise. As revealed by the Republican People’s Party (RPP) vice-president, Haluk Koç, 10,000 people, all connected to JDP members, received civil service appointments without having to take the trouble of passing the required entry exam.
According to RPP parliamentary representative Ali Serindag, the figure Koç cited was only the tip of the mountain of JDP nepotism. “Words cannot describe the situation,” he said. “There was little one could say when the facts stared one so boldly in the face. Millions of people enrol in educational establishments and study hard in order to qualify for a civil servant job or post. But these are filled with relatives of JDP officials without having to exert any effort or even pass the qualifying exam.”
The concept of justice, a component of the ruling party’s name, has become entirely warped under that party. Columnist Bülent Korucu points to further evidence of flagrant JDP nepotism. Elif Ala, sister of Interior Minister Afkam Ala, was appointed chief of cabinet in the governor’s office in Sirnak without sitting an exam. Then, without having to wait, she was transferred to the Ministry of Youth and Sports in Ankara.
Is this not an attack against the rights of three million people who have to prepare for and sit the civil service exam, abbreviated as KPSS in Turkey? Surely this is proof that Turkish jobseekers have been split into two categories: the privileged who have their way paved by dint of their kin connections, and all others who have only their skills and talents to rely on. Once again the JDP has shown its determination to take the steps necessary to lead the country backwards.
The deputy head of the RPP parliamentary bloc, Akif Hamzaçebi, asked: “When everyone who controls some powers of government office uses them for his personal benefit, who are those poor people who are unable to find the right job to put their faith in? Do they have to be connected to the prime minister to get a job? A minister, a high level official? What is the point of the KPSS as long as connections are all that count?”
The government’s wheels of repression quickly moved into action against those determined to defy corruption. A noteworthy example is the investigation launched by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office against the Birgün newspaper in December after it ran a banner headline reading “Hırsız” — “Thief” — in Ottoman script. The headline was the title of a satirical article commenting on Erdogan’s insistence on introducing the Ottoman language into the school curriculum, “whether people like it or not,” as Erdogan himself said.
The daily wrote that if the JDP government insists on teaching the Ottoman alphabet in schools by force, then the first word that should be introduced in the first lesson is “Hırsız”. Naturally, there was no doubt as to whom this referred to, for which reason the newspaper was charged with insulting the person of the president.
Two weeks ago a 16-year-old student was arrested and jailed for the same reason, although he was eventually released following an outpouring of international censure. Even former members of the ruling party have not been spared harassment and brutality.
Former JDP MP Feyzi Isbasaran was arrested and charged with insulting the president several weeks ago. Via his Twitter account, Isbasaran lashed out at Erdogan’s thirst for power and determination to monopolise control over all government agencies, to the extent of presiding over the cabinet from his new presidential palace.