News Column

Turkish finance minister admits 'temporary mishap' in rule of law

May 8, 2014


Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek has said the government's steps to stifle the recent corruption allegations should be seen as a "temporary mishap or hiccup," and once the presidential elections are over, the government "will go back to basics" in the rule of law.

As for immediate measures to protect and solidify the rule of law, the minister said an overhaul of the public procurement law is imperative, especially through revoking all exemptions and privileges and harmonizing it with the EU acquis. "Once the dust settles, we should definitely address political financing and we should improve the system in terms of campaign financing," he said.

Simsek was answering questions from Financial Times Turkey correspondent Daniel Dombey at the Financial Times Turkey Summit in Istanbul on Wednesday.

Dombey's question concerned worries about a deterioration in the perception of the rule of law in Turkey in the face of the government's response to corruption investigations by means of massive purges and reassignments in the police and judiciary.

Simsek responded by saying the rule of law is still regarded as something of the utmost importance for Turkey in terms of its long-term plans. However, he admitted that the government's steps may have contravened this principle, as "extraordinary measures" were required to tackle "the rogue or parallel state." The incidents in the last couple of months, after the eruption of the corruption investigations on Dec. 17 and Dec. 25, 2013 into a group of businesspeople, politicians and bureaucrats known to be closely affiliated to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), were unprecedented, the minister said, claiming that these probes were apparently politically motivated as an explanation of why the government had been left with no option but to stifle them through mass purges in the police and demotions in the judiciary.

He said the police chiefs, prosecutors and other top-ranking state bureaucrats appeared to have been receiving orders from places other than the normal state apparatus. When Dombey asked whether Simsek had purged bureaucrats from his own ministry on the grounds of their connections to the Hizmet movement, Simsek answered in the affirmative without hesitation. He said he had done what was necessary. This movement has been infiltrating the bureaucracy since the mid-1970s and everyone knew of its presence, Simsek asserted, without elaborating on why the government had not taken any earlier measures against what it calls "the parallel state" if it had known about it before. Simsek himself had served as a columnist at Today's Zaman, a member of the Zaman group, a media conglomerate that is closely affiliated with the Hizmet movement, until he was nominated as a deputy in the AK Party list for the 2007 general elections.

Simsek admitted that Turkey is a corrupt country, as it ranks in the middle of some independent international surveys on corruption, such as Transparency International's, and there is still a long way to go before it rids itself of corruption, he said. Still, he noted that there has been progress in the last decade.

In the process following the corruption probes of Dec. 17 and Dec. 25, the government has learnt the significance of the rule of law and the need to consolidate it very well, Simsek asserted. But this has to be done in full compliance with the rule of law, he added.

The minister pledged allegiance to European Union standards, saying the source of inspiration for the government is still the EU in terms of cementing the rule of law and advancing towards a better democracy. "We cannot look to the North, South or East. Definitely the West is the direction that has to be looked at, and this is our fundamental point of reference," he said. The minister also added that new steps should be taken to curb corruption in politics.

Twitter should have never been banned

When Dombey asked to what extent avoidance of the law could be tolerated, Simsek answered with a claim that the judiciary has been politicized. On the other hand, he said the government does respect court decisions, although it doesn't like them. Dombey then brought the topic to the banning of access to popular social media platforms, such as Twitter and YouTube.

The government blocked these platforms in the run-up to the latest local elections on March 31 a move widely perceived as an attempt to prevent the spread of corruption assertions about some government members and an assault on freedom of expression. The government, however, defended the bans on the grounds that Twitter's lack of a local office in Turkey aimed to evade taxes and YouTube was permitting content that defamed Mustafa Kemal AtatÜrk, the founder of the Turkish Republic.

He said he was an active Twitter user and that he was sad to see the site closed down, adding that it should have respected the court orders.

The ban on Twitter was removed after the Constitutional Court ruled it to be unlawful, which the government criticized harshly, accusing the highest court of not respecting national values. Simsek said the government's compliance with the Constitutional Court decision was indicative of its respect for the rule of law, which Dombey rejected, asserting that the government had ignored the decision of the administrative court to revoke the Twitter ban prior to the Constitutional Court's decision.

Dombey mentioned the recent debate about the very low income tax paid by Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, who was implicated in the graft probe with assertions that he had bribed certain government officials with tens of millions of dollars in total, despite Zarrab's claims in a number of interviews last month that he had helped the country remove a sizeable portion of its current account deficit (CAD). Simsek said Zarrab was a gentleman and defended him on the grounds that there was no tax on the gold trade and that all taxes on exports are returned. Simsek also attacked claims that the recent list of the top 100 income tax payers did not include the names of businessmen known to be closely connected to the government. The minister said, "We don't classify people as pro-government or opposed to the government," adding that the government treats anyone who creates financial value with respect. (Cihan/Today's Zaman)


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Source: Cihan News Agency (Turkey)

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