After a 2013 marked by massive protests, Turkey’s 2014 has begun with a major corruption scandal that has engulfed political and business leaders and the judiciary. Reaction from the government has been a crackdown on access to information, most recently with new laws restricting internet access.
On 17 December 2013, police detained 52 people – some with links to senior politicians – following a 15-month-long investigation into corruption of state construction projects.
The scandal raises deep questions about the independence of the judiciary, the accountability of politicians and the transparency of their relations with business, especially when lucrative construction contracts are involved.
The Turkish government should respond to the crisis by bringing more transparency to public life, not less. In the short term, Turkey should uphold freedom of press and access to information, including internet access and information about investigations into corruption.
Here are five more long-term steps the government should take to fight corruption.
As we have underlined many times in the past, this investigation has again shown the need for a more transparent and accountable administration bound by rule of law.”
– Transparency International Turkey
1. POLITICIANS SHOW THE PUBLIC WHAT THEY OWN
Allegations of dodgy dealings between politicians and businesspeople can do lasting damage to faith in politics. One way to restore trust is for all elected officials, ministers, high-level bureaucrats and leaders of political parties to disclose their assets to the public and put asset declarations online for all to see.
In an online petition, Transparency International Turkey is calling for public disclosure of assets held by politicians and high level-bureaucrats.
Wherever you live, you can add your voice to their fight against political corruption by signing the petition here.
2. MAKE POLITICAL ETHICS THE LAW
To move towards more accountable politics, Turkey should also set down standards for political behaviour. To do this, a new Political Ethics Law should be passed to ensure the integrity and ethical behaviour of members of parliament.
Such a law would introduce codes of conduct, rules on gifts and hospitality, post-employment restrictions, requirements to record contact with lobbyists and conflicts of interest policies.
Today there are no rules that establish what Turkey’s lawmakers can or cannot do.
The importance of ethics in government is well understood and good practice laws already in operation in other countries can act as a guide in preparing new legislation. But it requires political will to draft, pass and then implement the laws.
3. NO IMPUNITY FOR CORRUPTION
Corruption-related crimes must be excluded from the scope of the immunity granted to members of parliament. Turkey, like many countries, grants MPs immunity from prosecution for a range of crimes, including corruption-related ones. This results in a lack of accountability and a licence to act with impunity.
There are good reasons why politicians are granted immunity from prosecution. This can prevent purely political attacks from opposition politicians. However, if corruption is proven, immunity needs to be lifted, particularly when citizens’ money is at stake.
Politicians should not be allowed to use their power to seek personal gain, something that is more likely to happen if they are completely immune to prosecution. In Romania recently, the government tried to increase politicians’ immunity from prosecution to avoid corruption investigations.
4. MAKE POLITICAL PARTIES SHOW THE SOURCE OF THEIR MONEY
Today, there is nothing to stop political parties taking massive sums of money from donors without the public knowing about it. Registries of donors and asset registers for politicians allow people to see how their elected officials make their money and what might influence their decisions. Access to information like this is an important tool for civil society to hold government to account.
In Argentina, for example, this information is now online, enabling citizens to chart the wealth of their elected officials over time. In many cases, the jobs they have do not correspond with the wealth they have accumulated. This kind of red flag can alert people to possible corruption.
66 per cent of Turkish people think their political parties are corrupt, more than any other public institution.
5. MAKE SURE THE LAWS ARE ENFORCED
Turkey needs to do a lot more to make sure its justice system can investigate complex white-collar crime.
A 2013 Transparency International report on fighting bribery warned that Turkey’s judicial system lacks resources and needs stronger legislation that requires detailed accounting and auditing procedures.
Corruption cases can be long and complex. Turkish officials and investigators need more training and resources to tackle sophisticated economic crimes.
There should also be more protection for individuals who come forward to blow the whistle on corruption.
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