British and Turkish taxpayers' money

Published in Turkish Daily News, 28 October

Nowadays, the words “tax payers’ money” seem to be used in every third sentence in the British media, right after the words “credit crunch”. The over use of the word signals an important element of British politics for those of us who are denizens of Her Majesty’s country.

There is not a single sacred cow in the UK that cannot be challenged by British citizens. Whether it is the royal family or the government, the houses of Parliament, the armed forces, the British public and the media regularly question how their money is spent and how their country is led. The underlying notion is that the state is there to serve its people and it is accountable to them for its performance.

British armed forces have been publicly challenged all throughout their Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns on everything from how many troops were deployed to where and to what kind of boots, uniforms and gadgets were provided to soldiers. Similarly, the royal family and politicians have been continually and decisively challenged on their spending of public funds. This challenge is beyond simply being freedom of expression. It is a binding and quite powerful pressure on the state to behave properly.

Although this is an honourable notion, it can also open the door for absurdity. For example, since the start of the collapse of Northern Rock bank and the growing damage the credit crunch is causing to British banking, the British media has played the populist card of accusing the Labour government with wasting tax payers' money to cover up the greed and luxurious gains of city bankers. The news clips included huge amounts of cash that the government was getting ready to spend alongside lucrative bonuses received by bankers and comments of random people on the street who are being led to react to the government’s efforts. Of course, the same media would crucify the weakening Brown government if they did not take this massive economic crisis seriously.

Public Accountability in Turkey

Public accountability is in its foetus stage in Turkey. Our beloved Prime Minister is renowned for filing libel charges against anyone who says not so lovely things about him. He is also a master of insults, heavy accusations and condemnation to anyone who exhorts him to act as a Prime Minister.

For example, he has just condemned business patrons and journalists who are urging Turkey to take serious economic measures as people who are trying to gain benefits from a crisis, rather than acting like the leader of a mature democracy and showing us his plans to protect our country from disaster. This he did alongside his under-the-belt threats to the Dogan media group, which has stepped on his nerves by raising some questions about corruption in AK Party circles.

However, things in Turkey have come a long way, much to the dissatisfaction of the likes of Mr Erdogan. Recent criticisms of the Turkish armed forces and accusations of negligence in protecting Turkish soldiers would have led to disappearances, indefinite detentions and heavy sentences just 10 years ago. The main reason why the military chiefs have engaged in extremely angry verbal exchanges with the Turkish media is not that our national security has been jeopardized by debates in the media. They are simply angry because the Turkish public no longer accepts its ascribed place; sheepish and humble subjects.

The Turkish armed forces still spend the biggest cut of the Turkish budget, and no one except itself knows where the money goes and no civilian authority is in place to keep it accountable. In a funny twist of the story, Mr Erdogan has gone to their aid and joined the chorus of asking the critics to return to the place they belong to.

Dear pashas and sultans, I got bad news. It is you that needs to get used to this new place, as there is no going back for us to the old shoebox. You need to be able to learn how to relate to increasingly educated, sophisticated and independent Turkish public. We, your humble subjects, the Turkish intellectuals and media, are increasingly confident of using our freedom of expression and thought and you should increasingly internalise that you are there to serve and protect us.