A strange agenda for democracy

A strange agenda for democracy

When I read it, I was actually angry at myself. If it wasn’t for the European Union Progress Report, we would not have even remembered how the auditing powers of the Court of Accounts (Sayıştay) have been castrated. 

As a matter of fact, we are talking about democracy day and night in this country. Well, can we become a democracy without auditing how those who rule us spend the taxes they collect from us? 

We should be able to comprehend that in a modern democracy the right to budget is the essence of democracy.

Governments make a “budget” on how they will spend the money collected through taxes and Parliament accepts the priorities in this budget or changes it. 

In other words, the budget is not the administration’s or the government’s, but it is the Parliament’s budget. The power to release money to be spent and to audit whether the spending is done according to its aim belongs to the Parliament. 

In our system, Sayıştay audits the spending in the name of the Parliament; it prepares its reports and submits them to the Parliament. The Parliament reviews these reports and reviews whether or not the funds allocated one year ago were spent accordingly. 

A while ago, as a result of the principles of modern budgeting and modern governance, Turkey started trying a new auditing system called “performance auditing.” According to this, when a government agency asks for funds, it does so by explaining, “I want this money to reach this and that targets.”
Based on these demands, performance criteria are set. Later, the Court of Accounts audits whether or not the relevant government agency accomplished the targets set, in other words it makes “performance auditing.”

Turkey, after testing this auditing method in several pilot practices, wanted to move to a more general practice and added the “performance auditing” to the Law of Court of Accounts. 

While the addendum was being completed, for example, the Turkish General Staff objected to performance auditing; it even objected to the Court of Accounts auditing the Turkish Armed Forces. The ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) government first exempted the General Staff from these audits. 

Later, demands started arriving for the exemption from performance auditing from the remaining public agencies and these demands were found reasonable. 

Then the government issued a law that not only closed the door of performance auditing for the Court of Accounts but at the same time, trimmed the auditing powers of the high court. Fortunately, this law was annulled by the Constitution Court. 

I am explaining the whole history because even this rough summary, I know, is actually brand new information for the newspaper reader. 

The reason for this is obvious: The topic of the right to budget and budget auditing which constitutes the essence of democracy finds very little space for itself in the debate arena. Our newspapers and TV stations do not show adequate interest to such topics, and neither does the public. 

And this indifference leads to this; as I said, if it weren’t for the EU report, I would not have thought about it. 

We generally focus on corruption; papers regard corruption as newsworthy and the public perceives it accordingly.

Indeed, corruption is news. But as one sees corruption as news, then it should also be news when public money is thrown away (even if nobody steals it). 

Here, performance auditing is mostly about this throwing away. 

One example is the 3rd Bosphorus Bridge, the construction of which is continuing. What did the administration aim when the tender for the bridge was opened; to what extent will these aims be reached when the bridge is opened; how much money will the Treasury have to transfer to the tender-winning company each year according to the “toll collecting or passing guarantee” it has given?

The same questions should be asked about the 3rd airport. Has the number of passengers been calculated correctly? If the calculation is exaggerated, isn’t it “throwing away” the money that the managing firm of the airport is paid extra? 

Here, we need the Court of Accounts exactly for such kind of things. 

İsmet Berkan is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on Oct. 22. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.