ANKARA: Opposition MPs in Turkey are questioning the veracity of recently released economic data from the state-run Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK), claiming the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has exerted an unfair influence over the institute.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently dismissed 10 of TUIK’s regional chiefs and, in late May, appointed the husband of his wife’s private secretary as president of the institute.
In a statement to the press, Ali Babacan, Turkey’s former economy tsar and an ex-ally of Erdogan, questioned the reliability of the statistics.
“There is a problem of trust over the official data in Turkey,” he said. “It is a fact that there is political pressure on TUIK (as there is on) all other independent institutions. There is a difference between the figures released by the government and (those) felt and experienced by the citizens.”
Wolfango Piccoli, a co-president at Teneo Intelligence in London, agreed with Babacan. “TUIK has been undermined for a long time, just like most of the supposedly independent regulatory bodies and authorities,” he told Arab News. “Merit has not been the criteria for appointing people in the administration — regardless of the seniority of the job — for a long time. It is all about partisanship. Turkey’s strong institutional capacity was something that positively differentiated it from other emerging markets. That is no longer the case.”
According to TUIK’s data, the unemployment level in Turkey dropped to 13.2 percent in March — down 573,000 year-on-year to 3.97 million. But critics are skeptical, particularly because the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic was, by March, making an impact on the country’s already deteriorating labor market, especially in the construction and industry sectors.
Babacan — who founded the breakaway Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) in early March — highlighted the fact that TUIK’s data is not consistent since it claims that there was a significant decrease in both employment and unemployment simultaneously.
He also criticized the data for not including those he classifies as “desperate job seekers” — people who either have not applied to the Employment Agency or have withdrawn their applications and are therefore not registered as being unemployed. He claimed there are 3.7 million such people and added that the figures also fail to cover those who have lost their jobs in the country’s vast informal sector.
TUIK’s figures also do not cover those who have been shifted to part-time work or have been put on unpaid leave during the pandemic, something that applies to many employees in the aviation and tourism sectors.
“TUIK takes a narrow approach when preparing these figures and does not include those who are ready to work but who … have lost hope of finding a job,” Babacan said.
In a new report, the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DISK) also disputed the official unemployment rates and claimed that only those officially recognized as looking for a job in the relevant four-week period have been designated as unemployed in the numbers. DISK claimed that Turkey’s actual unemployment figure stands at 39 percent, with 13.3 million people out of work — not the 3.9 million mentioned in TUIK’s data.
Ibrahim Halil Canakci, former administrator at Turkey’s Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency and now DEVA’s Economics and Finance Policy Director, emphasized the importance of non-partisan statistical agencies for the economic landscape in an exclusive interview with Arab News.
“The independence of TUIK is more important than all other agencies, because if people cannot (access accurate) data, there is no way to develop policies to tackle unemployment,” Canakci said.