Turkey learns how to fight against corruption from Singapore

Turkey learns how to fight against corruption from Singapore

The number one item on Turkey’s agenda since Dec. 17 are the massive corruption and graft allegations against senior government members, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his family. Four ministers had to resign after prosecutors argued that they had received bribes from an Azeri origin businessman, Reza Zarrab, who was arrested along with the sons of two ex-ministers.

Although the government is interfering in the judicial process to block further investigation of these suspects, a legal case is still ongoing - though a good majority of Turks are pretty sure it will reach nowhere.

All developments in the aftermath of Dec. 17 are sufficient to prove that the government is in no way tending to fight corruption in Turkey. However, in an ironic development, I have learned that the office of the prime ministry sent a delegation to Singapore in January to study how one of the world’s smallest but most prosperous countries is fighting corruption. With GDP per capita of more than $60,000, Singapore ranked fifth out of 177 countries in the 2013 Corruption Perception Index with 86 points out 100. In the same index, Turkey ranked 53rd with 50 points.

I have also learned that the instruction to establish a team to study Singapore’s experience in fighting corruption was given by Efkan Ala, now the interior minister, during his service as the undersecretary at the Prime Ministry. Ala spent nearly a week in Singapore in late 2013, where he had the chance to see how this island-state had managed to become one of leading economies of the world in the space of the second half of the 20th century. Although ironic given the government’s reluctance in the anti-corruption fight, an attempt to learn from the experiences of countries in becoming more transparent is positive. Under his capacity as interior minister, Ala will surely find more opportunity to educate the entire political and bureaucratic system in fighting against corruption, bribery and other sorts of wrongdoing.

In contrast with the underestimating from government figures about corruption in Turkey, some researches suggest that public opinion sees it as a very serious problem. According to Transparency International-Turkey, 69 percent of Turks believe there is a “widespread and systematic corruption” in the country.

According to the Global Corruption Barometer in 2013, 38 percent of Turks think the level of corruption in Turkey has “increased” over the last two years. Sixteen percent think it has “increased a little,” while another 16 percent say it has “stayed the same.” Some 50 percent of Turkish society describes corruption as a “serious problem,” while 18 percent see it as a “problem” and 21 percent as a “slight problem.” Therefore, a big majority of Turks see corruption as a problem. Twenty percent believe the government’s actions against corruption are “very ineffective,” 18 percent see them as “ineffective” and 21 percent as “neither effective nor ineffective.” Twenty-eight percent of people think the government’s actions are “very effective” and 13 percent believe they are “effective.”

The same barometer also details how corruption hits key institutions in Turkey. Some 66 percent of respondents said they felt that political parties were corrupt; 55 percent felt Parliament was corrupt; 30 percent the military; 34 percent NGOs; 56 percent the media; 41 percent religious bodies; 50 percent business; 43 percent the judiciary; 38 percent the police and 42 percent civil servants.

An overall assessment of this research depicts a rather discouraging picture for Turkey: Corruption is widespread and systematic in key Turkish institutions and no governmental actions are seen as effective in fighting it. 

To the contrary of a common argument, I do not think that corruption is a Turkish tradition. Rather, it’s part of its political culture, which has been systematized because of inaction of the political system, especially in the last three decades. The point we have arrived at today shows that Turkey has unfortunately hit the bottom and turned into a land of corruption. In the absence of a determined political will, a good share of responsibility falls on the shoulders of civil society and the people to force political actors to fight corruption.