Turkey must upgrade Court of Accounts to curb secret use of public funds

Gaps in Turkey’s legislation are allowing government-linked institutions to spend huge amounts of public wealth without any oversight by the country’s top auditing body, the Court of Accounts.

Wealth that is created by society and transferred to the government through legal means like taxation is referred to as public wealth. A large portion of these funds is transformed into public services through the budget.

Both the making public and the expenditure of these funds must meticulously and transparently follow the principles of a democratic state of law.

This is one of the basic and indispensible principles of today’s democracy that was set in the Magna Carta, the great charter of rights agreed to by King John of England in 1215.

Let us take a look at the expenditure and inspection of public wealth in today’s Turkey.

Turkey’s public wealth is spent through the central budget, local administrations, the social security system and public economic enterprises.

These expenditures are financed with public wealth. The Turkish parliament and the Court of Accounts oversee the usage of public funds. Up until here, everything is as it should be.

But strange things are happening in Turkey. We are seeing the use of these public funds being removed from auditing by the Court of Accounts.

New institutions such as the Turkey Wealth Fund (TVF), a sovereign wealth fund whose large portfolio of public companies includes part ownership of Turkish Airlines, have been established as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan tightened his grip on the country since 2015. The money spent by these is shielded both from the court’s oversight and from the usual laws governing tender processes.

What is interesting is that while most of these practices do not comply with the law, they are supported by recently passed legislation.

I am penning this article to make a recommendation. The Court of Accounts is a supreme court, which inspects, on behalf of parliament, the compatibility and performance of public expenditures in accordance with the constitution and laws.

The Law on the Court of Appeals – Law no. 6085 – lists one by one the state institutions which the court is authorised to audit. These include the central budget, local administrations, the social security system, funds and public economic enterprises and others.

But I believe there is a problem here. Instead of limiting its scope to a single list, the Court of Accounts should be granted the authority to oversee all public funding down to the last cent, and no public funding should be left outside the scope of its authority.

It is unacceptable that the TVF’s spending falls outside the court’s authority to audit.

And the TVF is not alone, it seems. There are other institutions being established, such as the Tourism Agency, which is also reportedly going to be free from the court’s oversight.

This effectively pushes Turkey further back in time than the Magna Carta peace treaty of 1215.

Another area where the legality of public expenditure enters murky ground is the Treasury-guaranteed payments to contractors who built infrastructure under the public-private-partnership model. While the law says these payments will be subject to auditing by the Court of Accounts, this model, which guarantees that the government will pay companies a foreign currency-indexed amount that depends on the level the infrastructure is used, is bound to be vague and contrary to the theory of public expenditure.

It is impossible to understand or accept secrecy around institutions that are at least partly publicly owned and which spend public money.

Turkey must place the notion of public wealth in its laws and inspect every last cent of public funds, which are collected by the law.

The Court of Appeals Law and others should be included among the basic laws in the Constitution, as in the case of France, and no legislation should contradict these basic laws.

There is also a human dimension to this matter.

The Court of Accounts officials, too, should consider interpreting their own laws according to the basic principles of democracy.

If Turkey is able to place the idea of public wealth on solid grounds, then it will be able to leave behind some of the significant problems that are now weighing it down.

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