Turkish Parliament drops the ball on oversight of defense budget

Türkiye Materials 15 December 2011 04:16 (UTC +04:00)
As usual in past practices, the military and defense establishment in Turkey was able to steer their way through budget deliberations on Tuesday night without much scrutiny and transparency concerning the military expenditure in the national budget.
Turkish Parliament drops the ball on oversight of defense budget

As usual in past practices, the military and defense establishment in Turkey was able to steer their way through budget deliberations on Tuesday night without much scrutiny and transparency concerning the military expenditure in the national budget, Today's Zaman reported.

To the dismay of political and military analysts, discussions in Parliament were sidetracked by other issues amid political bickering and personal feuds in general floor debates. Instead of talking on the specifics of the TL 18.3 billion budget, deputies locked into heated debates over the NATO missile shield system and a newly introduced paid-military service exemption scheme.

This year, the Defense Ministry's budget reflects a 7.4 percent increase from TL 17 billion last year and represents 4.8 percent of the overall budget. Funds earmarked for the Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM) in the 2012 budget (TL34 million), for the Gendarmerie (TL4.9 billion) and for the Coast Guard (TL376 million) are extra budgetary items and were not reflected in the Defense Ministry's budget.

Ümit Cizre, professor at Ankara-based Bilkent University, who specializes in civilian-military relations, told Today' Zaman that transparency in the national defense budget should have been the first priority for parliamentarians to discuss. "We were shocked to learn that the civilian oversight of defense expenditures has gone from bad to worse, while we were thinking it would be improved. Opposition deputies should have taken the government to task with regard to examining the defense budget, but they focused on other issues. This was terrible," she lamented.

Cizre also suggested that the Parliamentary Defense Committee should be the first institution to review the budget expenditures in detail. "Unfortunately, the committee members do not have enough knowledge of defense and military matters. They do not have enough support and experts," she added.

Those who advocate strict supervision of civilians over military affairs like Cizre were recently dismayed by reports that the draft version of a new regulation on procedures concerning audits of military spending prepared by the Court of Auditors was revised to strongly guard the military's expenditures from being shared with the public after the court received threats from the military. In addition, it has been claimed that the document was revised to intimidate inspectors from carrying out audits of military expenditures.

In 2004 Parliament amended Article 160 of the military-dictated Constitution to increase transparency and improve the auditing of state property that belongs to the military. This amendment was not enforced until a law was passed by Parliament six years later on Dec. 3, 2010, which mandated transparency for the Court of Auditors to examine military property.

This process still lacks key mechanisms that would make the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and civilian institutions more accountable. For example, although inspectors will be allowed to audit expenditures in line with internal criteria, they will not be able to question the policies that underpin these expenditures or decide whether or not a particular expense is necessary. The inspectors cannot question expenses that may be unnecessary or run contrary to the public interest. Neither defense expenditures nor those of other institutions can be audited in any real sense.

The controversial revised version has reportedly been sent to the legal department of the Prime Ministry for examination. Analysts hope that the PM's legal department will now correct the revisions that have been made to the draft directive by the court under alleged illegal pressure from the military and make spending more transparent.

Retired military judge Ümit Kardaş also shares Cizre's frustration. He told Today's Zaman that concessions were given to the military on the oversight of military and defense expenditures. "There is no mental preparation for this. That is why deputies in Parliament do not talk about the real issues with regard to defense expenditures. None of them raise the issue of tying the Chief of the General Staff to the Defense Ministry instead of to the PM's office. The ruling party tries to manage relations with the military by negotiating deals on the fly. The opposition does not pay any attention to these matters. They talk about unrelated issues on the floor when the defense budget comes up for discussion," he explained.

Kardaş warned that to refrain from institutional change in order to reflect the diminished role of the military is the biggest danger for the government. Noting that the Defense Ministry is still weak under current laws, Kardaş says the autonomy of the General Staff still continues. "The General Staff should be attached to the Defense Ministry rather than to the office of the prime minister," he said.

Kardaş also raises other issues that need to be addressed immediately to curb the military's power over politics. "For example, the curriculum in military schools where young cadets are trained must also be changed to have future officers respect the rule of law, believe in democracy and accept the civilian will," he said, lamenting the fact that he did not see any discussion this year on these issues. "With the absence of institutional change, the process of normalization will not have long-term results," he cautioned.

During his speech to Parliament, Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz talked about the modernization of the TSK and defended the privileged position of the huge military-run economic enterprise, the Turkish Armed Forces Assistance Center (OYAK), which has been subject to growing complaints that the institution is replete with anti-democratic practices and enjoys rights that run contrary to commercial law. Originally established by military officers who had overthrown the government on May 27, 1960, with a view to provide additional income to members of the TSK, OYAK is now one of the largest conglomerates in the country. It has 60 subsidiaries in various sectors and controls many profitable companies. It can easily participate in public tenders and is exempted from a number of taxes and levies. Unlike other companies, OYAK does not pay corporate tax, inheritance tax, income tax or stamp and excise duties. Yılmaz said if change is needed to OYAK's privileged position, a new legislative amendment is required.