Gov’t extravagance under spotlight as election approaches

As the June 7 parliamentary election draws closer, debates on the extravagant spending of the government and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have heated up.
In early May, a report published by the Meydan daily showed President Erdoganand’s budget for the year 2015. According to the report, Erdogan has set aside approximately TL 2.8 billion, most of which can be spent without public knowledge of the details as it is a discretionary fund, similar to his budget fund while in office as former prime minister. That same month Erdogan, who has been widely criticized for an alleged lack of the constitutionally required impartiality while campaigning across Turkey for the ruling party, was recorded as saying: and”Are you asking with whose money I am holding rallies? I am holding [them] with state money. It is my legal right.and”
Mentioning that the total expenditure of former President Abdullah Gandul over seven years in office was approximately TL 700 million, the report compared Erdoganand’s budget since he took office last August until the end of 2015 to Ganduland’s total spending. Erdoganand’s budget for 16 months is more than four times what Gandul spent in seven years.
Erdoganand’s presidential palace, which is described by several authorities as illegal, is seen as the clearest example of the extravagance of the ruling party and its former leader, Erdogan. Most recently, the Council of State confirmed on Tuesday once again that Erdoganand’s palace, known as Ak Saray, was built illegally, as the land on which it was built has not lost its environmentally protected status.
The total cost of Ak Saray and its annual expenditures has been greatly debated, with politicians and experts pointing to the lavishness of the palace from top to bottom. The Turkish Union of Engineers and Architectsand’ Chambers (TMMOB), previously estimating the costs of a number of items in the presidentand’s illegal palace, calculated that the city roads alone that were built for access to the palace cost around TL 60 million, while the palaceand’s window panes — which were reportedly imported from the US — cost an estimated TL 701 million.
The TMMOB lists the estimated cost of the wooden flooring at TL 3.2 million the cost of the specially woven 4,000-square-meter wall-to-wall carpeting at TL 1.2 million the cost of toilets at up to TL 10,000 and the cost of spas, steam baths and hot tubs as being TL 8,400 per square meter.
In a country where the minimum monthly wage stands at TL 949, the prices of such luxury items have sparked reactions. While all the major parties criticized the high cost of items for Ak Saray, Erdogan, who on another occasion could not even recall the exact minimum wage, responded to such criticism with a misused proverb that roughly translates to there is no need to be thrifty when oneand’s and”reputationand” is in question.
Ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) officials had previously criticized the opposition partiesand’ election pledges, some of which promised to increase the minimum wage. Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek was one of those who said if an increase in the current minimum wage is attempted it would negatively affect the state budget.
In response to questions and criticism on how his party will be able to implement its economic pledges, Republican Peopleand’s Party (CHP)hairman Kemal Kiliandcdaroilu said his party can create adequate funds to finance its election promises by avoiding extravagance in state institutions.
During an interview on Fox TV in mid-May, Kiliandcdaroilu, who criticized the lavishness of the ruling party, referred to Deputy Prime Minister Bandulent Arinandc, who had said: and”Our [ruling partyand’s] record is poor on extravagance. We would not need taxpayersand’ money if we had prevented extravagance.and” Kiliandcdaroilu also pointed to the contradiction in the AK Partyand’s previous attitude and its current extravagance. He pointed out that when the AK Party came to power in 2002, party officials had announced that they would sell the official residences and luxury cars allocated for party deputies, declaring such allocations excessive.
Most recently, the debate on the governmentand’s extravagance heated up over Religious Affairs Directorate President Mehmet GandOrmezand’s official car. In early May, GandOrmez announced he would return his new official car, a luxury model which was criticized for its reported cost of TL 1 million. Upon GandOrmezand’s statement, President Erdogan expressed his displeasure over the return and a few weeks later, announced that his office would give GandOrmez a new armored car. Erdogan even said he found it appropriate to give a private jet to the religious institution, a possibility which Defense Minister ismet Yilmaz later approved of.
While the public and the media were discussing how much the current government is spending on official cars, Simsek said luxury cars used by state leaders and bureaucrats cost TL 3.3 billion. Simsek described such an amount as not even amounting to and”peanutsand” in the context of the Turkish economy. Simsekand’s depiction of such a large figure as peanuts was greatly condemned, as an ordinary citizen earning the minimum wage might not even have the money to spare to buy peanuts, a kilogram of which is equivalent to 2.5 percent of the monthly minimum wage.
Speaking to Todayand’s Zaman, Faik andOztrak, deputy chairman in charge of economic and financial policies at the CHP, said government officials are unable to hide their extravagance. Mentioning the quotes from Arinandc and Simsek, andOztrak added, and”AK Party deputy Burhan Kuzu, who serves as the parliamentary Constitutional Committee chairman, was incapable of expressing how huge the extravagance within the government is. He could only say, andlsquoOh myand’.and”
andOztrak, who served as a treasury undersecretary when the AK Party came to power in 2002, has experience with financing a raise for retirees. and”It is not difficult for us [the CHP] to turn the extravagance [of the AK Party government] into dignified state assistance. Our social state assistance project is not without a tangible source.and”
The CHP estimates that the AK Party government has spent TL 100 billion on items such as the lavish presidential palace and fleets of luxury vehicles for ministers since it came to power in 2002. While mentioning that the AK Party has lost its credibility in the eyes of the public because of such profligacy, the CHP has pledged in its election campaign to increase the minimum wage by more than 50 percent just by cutting this luxury spending.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman