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AKP gov’t criticized for seeking to establish company-like foundation under foreign ministry

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Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has attracted ire for proposing the establishment of a new foundation under the foreign ministry that is envisioned to function more like a company and further damage the prestige of the ministry, the Gazete Duvar news website reported on Tuesday.

The bill to establish the “Foundation for Strengthening Foreign Ministry Organization” was submitted to parliament on Tuesday. The proposed legislation states the aim of the  foundation as “enhancing the effectiveness of the ministry’s structure.”

The bill will be discussed by parliament’s Planning and Budget Committee on May 15.

The proposed legislation lists activities that the foundation may undertake such as buying, selling and leasing movable and immovable property in Turkey and abroad to generate revenue for the foundation and for its use toward achieving its goals; purchasing and leasing all types of vehicles; establishing institutions of higher learning; and establishing and operating companies and commercial enterprises.

The proposal also states that the foundation will be exempt from inheritance and property transfer tax, all kinds of title deed fees, real estate tax and other expenses related to the immovable properties it owns and will own.

Inheritance and property transfer tax is paid by foundations in Turkey for up to 30 percent of the value of a donated piece of a property.

Namık Tan, Turkey’s former ambassador to the United States and current İstanbul lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), spoke to Gazete Duvar about the proposal, saying the planned foundation is envisioned to act more like a company.

He said the proposal would pave the way for the inclusion of numerous commercial activities in the foundation’s operations, which would be incompatible with the culture and custom of the ministry, as well as diplomatic etiquette. Tan said even if the foundation operates properly, its commercial activities would still be considered “controversial.”

“Given that our foreign ministry represents our country worldwide, [its foundation’s] engagement in daily commercial relations in different countries … is unacceptable from the perspective of our state tradition,” the lawmaker added.

Tan also noted that the foundation could be an attempt by the AKP government to turn the ministry into an “ideological apparatus” for AKP leader President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, thereby removing the ministry from its supra-party status and turning it into a party organization.

Ahmet Kamil Erozan, a member of the nationalist opposition İYİ (Good) Party who deals with the party’s international relations, also told Gazete Duvar that everyone who has served in the foreign affairs community is aware of what a “strange” text the proposal is.

He recalled the existence of a social solidarity foundation called Foreign Ministry Members of the Social Security and Solidarity Foundation (DİVAK) within the ministry, while explaining the AKP’s move to establish a new foundation with its desire to “have everything in its own hands.”

He said the foundation described in the proposal sounds more like a commercial enterprise. “It rents and buys cars; it rents, buys and sells real estate. … It’s almost like a real estate brokerage,” he added.

The foreign ministry, known as the most prestigious state institution in Turkey, has suffered a decline in prestige over the years due to what many say is a lack of merit-based appointments.

The ministry lost hundreds of its personnel through government decrees following a coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016, when the government launched a purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.

Employees were selected from among successful graduates of well-known universities who received the highest scores on the central state personnel exam in addition to interviews conducted by the ministry.

Now, the ministry’s diplomats frequently come under criticism due to their poor language skills, lack of professional credentials and controversial acts in diplomatic settings.

Former foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu revealed in October 2022, in response to a parliamentary question, that 662 ministry employees had been removed from public service since July 20, 2016, when the government declared a state of emergency. The minister did not reveal how many of the purged personnel were career diplomats and how many were civilian employees.

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