Turkish opposition hits COVID-19 donation campaign’s lack of transparency

Turkish opposition hits COVID-19 donation campaign’s lack of transparency
People wear protective face masks against to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Kizilay Square, in Ankara on June 24, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 27 June 2020

Turkish opposition hits COVID-19 donation campaign’s lack of transparency

Turkish opposition hits COVID-19 donation campaign’s lack of transparency
  • Money collected by the campaign totals $306 million so far
  • Former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu also hit donation drive

JEDDAH: The recent National Solidarity Donation Campaign launched by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came under fire by Turkish opposition parties over an alleged lack of transparency.

Alpay Antmen, a lawmaker from Mersin province representing the main opposition party, the CHP, submitted a question to the vice-president, asking how the money collected by the campaign — which totals 2.1 billion Turkish liras ($306 million) so far — was reimbursed to needy people.

However, he was advised to direct his request to the family, labor and social services minister, whose only response was advice to “check out the ministry’s website,” which did not provide any details about the campaign or its recipients.

Erdogan donated seven months of his salary to help fight COVID-19 on March 31, the day he launched the campaign. Cabinet members in the government and some parliamentarians also donated 5.2 million Turkish liras ($791,000) to the campaign.

The initiative was designed to provide support to low-income people facing economic hardship following lockdown measures.

“We will follow hard after this issue. They are obliged to reveal where this money was spent. It is the parliament’s responsibility to be held accountable for money-related issues,” Antmen told Arab News.

“The state should be managed in a serious way. When a parliamentarian asks where this money was spent, a strong presidency should be accountable for the spending. If they have concerns about disclosing this basic information, then we can assume that they have something to hide,” he added.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, municipalities headed by mayors from opposition parties were prevented from organizing online donation campaigns, where funds they had collected were blocked by the Interior Ministry, over concerns that it “may create a state within state.”

Fundraising campaigns launched by mayors from cities such as Istanbul and Ankara just before the presidential campaign were quickly declared illegal on April 1. It was not an April Fools’ joke.

“They excluded municipalities from fundraising efforts, although they were totally accountable until the single penny of their citizens. But now they don’t give us any single answer about the details of their own nationwide campaign” Antmen said.

The presidential fundraising campaign was also criticized by former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who formed the Future Party last year. He said it was a waste of time and resources.

“There can be nothing more absurd than state bodies being involved in such an aid campaign. You are just taking money out of one pocket and putting it in the other,” he said.

The CHP is set to launch a parliamentary probe if information about money spent under the fundraising campaign proves unsatisfactory.

Following constitutional changes made last year, opposition members of parliament lost their right to submit censure motions in these cases.

An April report by the CHP estimated pandemic-related job losses in the Turkish labor force to be around five million.

The figures highlight the need to support low-income households with money collected under the fundraising campaign.