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Turkish center-right opposition Good Party leader Meral Akşener wants immeaidate compulsory quarantine and cash aid to citizens. (Photo: Ece Oğultürk)

Turkish opposition Good Party (GP) leader Meral Akşener has criticized the donation campaign launched by President Erdoğan over his donation campaign that gathered some 550 million liras, roughly $83 million dollars in three days against the Covid-19 outbreak, questioning whether the state could not possess such an amount of money to spend on its citizens. In an interview with YetkinReport, Akşener said that the governments of Italy and Spain, to which Turkey has sent aid, have not asked money from their own citizens by giving them bank accounts. “You cannot beg for money at the gate of a mosque and donate it at the gate of another,” she criticized President Tayyip Erdoğan.
The GP leader also slammed the Erdoğan government for halting campaigns launched by the Ankara and Istanbul mayors, both from the opposition parties, recalling that she had donated her own pensions salary for the initiative. “If the Istanbul and Ankara municipalities were run by the ruling AKP (the Justice and Development Party), Erdoğan would hail these campaigns and built his own campaign on them instead,” she said. “Citizens are paying the bill for Erdoğan’s anger that he cannot overcome,” Akşener added.
She also called for compulsory quarantine practices and direct cash aid to citizens.
Below are Akşener’s responds to YetkinReport.

Health Minister is well-intendioned but…

Mrs. Akşener, what does your current information tell you about the spread of Covit-19 in Turkey? Do you find statements by Mr. President and Mr. Health Minister satisfying?
I think that Health Minister [Fahrettin Koca) and his efforts are well-intentioned. I can observe that steps are taken in many fields to take the spread of the virus under control. Some right steps are being taken in the right time but malfunctioning and disorganization marks some moves in fields such as economy, agriculture and social aid.
Besides, we can speak of a resistant approach by the government on implying quarantines and curfews.
At this point, I would like to share my observations with you. Developing solutions and implementing them rapidly at a time of crisis requires harmony and coordination within the government. The Health Ministry should have been the authority to lead the coordinated efforts thanks to the expertise of its resources and due to the definition of its responsibilities, but Mr. President is trying to lead it and the ministry is positioned as one of the other ministries that contribute to it.

Fight against outbreak shouldn’t be partizan

This is an important aspect as it points to a major structural problem of the presidential administration system, which hands all the responsibility of having the final say in all decisions to the president.
Because questions remain on the personal specialization of Mr. Erdoğan or the consulting mechanisms in making of such decisions during the time of a multi-dimensioned crisis such as the current Covid-19.
Thus, the suggestion to citizens to practice their “own state of emergency,” an expression used by Health Minister Koca and scientists at the science board founded against the outbreak, implies the need for quarantine, but the government avoids taking the right step in this issue and instead hands the initiative to the citizens, which is a reflection of its “politics have the say” approach.
In this regard, the process of struggle against the outbreak should be free from political concerns and a scientific and society-focused approach should be adopted.

The opportunity that the government missed

Scientists demand limitations on going out in a bid to reduce social contact. How do you consider such a call?
I care about the statements by the scientists. The GP has advocated a three-week compulsory and urgent quarantine since the moment that the virus was spotted in the country, in line with the suggestions by the scientists it consulted.
But, as we observed, the government is positioning itself according to the developments and implementing a reactive crisis management strategy, instead of taking sharp, bold and, most importantly, proactive steps to keep the outbreak within a manageable size and avoid an even bigger social and economic crisis. We think that this is not sound.
Of course, reacting rapidly to the developing dynamics of the crisis during the outbreak process is important but if you haven’t outline a crisis management strategy at the start, then you cannot avoid the need to manage a new crisis every day.
The government did not do enough planning and make preparations, and missed an administrative opportunity that emerged from the fact that the outbreak reached Turkey later than many countries across the world.

More credits mean indebting people

Why do you think that the AKP government is avoiding limiting people from going out? Are the reasons political and economic or are there any other reasons for that?
This is a question that I frequently come across nowadays. According to my evaluation, the primary reason is economic. If the government itself declares a compulsory quarantine or curfew, then it will have to afford the economic burdens of it on the shoulders of the citizens and ease the difficulties that will follow. This is a judicial obligation.
But we can see that the government is carefully trying to avoid the economic burdens of the crisis. Many countries across the world have declared aid packages that compares to some 5 to 10 percent of their national income, but the package announced by the Turkish government stands at around 2 percent of the national income, which is an indicator.
We should also see that credits, which means indebting the tradespeople, employees and family holds, stand for the biggest portion of the cash aids in the package, which should also be seen as another indicator of the government’s such approach.
On the other hand, there is still something odd: Turkey is a big country. It has resources to manage this crisis without putting the burden on its citizens. At least, it possesses such resources on paper.
It has the unemployment fund, the wealth fund, the resources generated by the additional taxes and other implementations recently.
Turkey spent some $4 billion buying S-400 missile systems from Russia and more than $40 billion on Syrian refugees. Mr. Erdoğan had said that “we can look after the Syrian migrants for another 10 years, if need be.”
Under the current circumstances, and if the government is not taking the necessary steps in economy, this means that these resources have been thrown away or the government does not want to spend them for its citizens for another reason. Unfortunately, this hurts the belief and confidence of our citizens in the state. This should urgently be avoided.

Begging in front of a mosque and…

Many countries have allocated cash aid to their citizens who have been affected by the crisis, but the Turkish government has decided to collect money, naming it “strengthening the national unity.” Would you agree with that?
The donation campaign launched by Mr. Erdoğan and the 550 million liras [roughly $83 million] collected within the scope of it are some other indicators that show that the government faces economic difficulties.
Doesn’t the Turkish state have some 550 million liras to spend for its citizens and it is trying to collect it from the citizens themselves? This question has no answers.
Mr. Erdoğan says that we have sent aid planes and ships to Italy and Spain but neither of these countries have sent account numbers to its citizens and collected donations. You cannot beg for money in front of a mosque and donate it in front of another.
Of course we are self-sufficient but first, the state should be powerful enough to help its citizens. If there is a hardship at this point, then the representatives of the government should honestly tell it to citizens and take responsibility.

‘Citizens pay the bill for his anger’

The donation accounts of the Ankara and Istanbul municipalities have been frozen and this came after you announced that you donated your pension salary to these campaigns. How do you evaluate this? Is it right to distribute these donations via some particular foundations as it is said?
I think that it is rather relevant to run aid campaigns via municipalities. Because local administrations have the resources to spot the people in need and contact them directly.
But since the local administrations in Turkey have already be facing economic burdens and since the government raising many difficulties for the mayors that are not from its ruling party ranks, the mayors of the biggest two cities in the country had launched social solidarity campaigns. I personally donated my three-month pensions salary to these campaigns by Ankara and Istanbul municipalities.
However, Mr. Erdoğan chose to launch an alternative campaign and freeze the campaign accounts of the Istanbul and Ankara municipalities with his accustomed antagonist attitude, instead of supporting these beautiful initiatives and collaborating with them.
Mr. Erdoğan does not like those who do things for the citizens. Because he doesn’t want to compromise any possible political benefits. On the contrary, I am sure that if the Istanbul and Ankara municipalities were held by the ruling AKP, Erdoğan would praise these campaigns and built his own campaign on them instead.
I am not surprised at such behavior from him anymore, but citizens are paying the bill for Erdoğan’s anger that he cannot overcome. This is what upsets me.

People want to see the state standing by

For weeks, you have been raising questions on the Unemployment Insurance Fund, the contingency reserve of the government, the S-400 purchase and the aid for Syrian refugees. Have you received any answers to your questions from the government?
Managing a crisis is of course a difficult process and both GP and I in person are actually supporting the government with our suggestions. They have partially listened to some of our advices, bun unfortunately have not taken any steps about some of them.
On these issues, I tell the government what to do in a time of crisis and where to find the resource for that.
Until now, no statements saying that “we do not have such a resource” or “sorry, we spent away all that money” has been made.
Thus, if that cash remains in that funds, I expect the government to immediately support the citizens in dire straits instead of hoping to develop resources by launching aid campaigns via the ministry.
Citizens want to see the state by its side in difficult days, they want to feel that confidence and see that they are not alone in the middle of the crisis. This is one of the most important tasks of the people who run the state. The seriousness of being a state requires this.

Compulsory quarantine and direct cash aid

What do you think should be done now?
1-A compulsory quarantine should be declared immediately, and simultaneously the declared economic support package should be extended to at least some 7 percent of the national income to include direct cash aid to citizens who are directly affected, prioritizing the unemployed citizens, casual employees and owners of small businesses.
2-A more intense scanning campaign should be launched during the quarantine, a detailed mapping of the Covid-19 cases should be made and thus, the spread of the virus should be taken under control after the quarantine period.
3-A scientific mobilization campaign should be launched to develop treatment methods and vaccine developing to cut the death rate.
4-The current devotion and solidarity of the citizens should be supported with steps that will ease and promote staying at home. In other words, the state should stand by its citizens.