Purge at civil bureaucracy rings alarm bells

Purge at civil bureaucracy rings alarm bells

“Nothing has worked since Dec. 17 [2013]. We just cannot have anything moving,” a business friend of mine told me, complaining about the ministry reshuffles, which were part of the government’s plan to “clear the state” from the parallel state, meaning those known to be followers/sympathizers or opportunists who tried to act close with the Fetullah Gülen movement.

I had already heard from diplomats of the European Union how the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) “purge” against the Gülenists had directly affected their contacts and daily workings with state institutions. They first lost their counterparts in the security institutions, then in the judiciary. Some cooperation schemes between Ankara and member countries in the framework of Turkey’s accession process were suspended or came to a total halt.

“The newcomers not only don’t know anything, but they don’t look to be fast learners. If this government will ever fall down it will be because of the incompetence of these cadres,” the businessman told me, who, despite his Western life style, has been very appreciative – until recently – of working with the ruling AKP.

It seems there is no state institution or ministry left untouched by the “operation.” Even the Foreign Ministry, whose more or less untouched immunity to domestic politics, which was eroded during the course of the last decade, is said to take its share of the toll. Some diplomats who had made huge leaps forward in their career were believed to be F type. Now there are rumors that the last decree, which included several new appointments, was also affected from the fight between the government and the Gülenists.

But some of the European countries remain more concerned about the reshuffles within the police than among Turkish diplomats. Recent advances by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has been recruiting from Europe, have become so worrisome that one European official even told me that cooperation on counterterrorism – in other words preventing some European citizens from joining ISIL – recently became a central theme in bilateral relations. And as the police force plays a key role in that cooperation, there is impatience to see things settle down too quickly.

Any official who acted with a separate agenda than the one set by the government needs to be held accountable for his/her actions. No one should expect tears for those who have allied themselves with the AKP to advance Gülen’s agenda. Yet, whether all the reshuffles are done with that criteria remains to be seen.

Looking at what has been happening to civilian bureaucracy since Dec. 17, one sees how building trust in Turkish institutions remains an important challenge, if the country wants to fulfill its ambitious target to be among the 10th biggest economies by 2023.