Turkey: Widespread nepotism under way in state agencies

Plans by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government to abolish a central examination, the State Personnel Examination (KPSS), a prerequisite in the recruitment process of state agencies, have raised concerns among many who fear that the move is likely to give way to nepotism and lead to preferential treatment for certain applicants, especially those close to the government, and the filling of state posts with unqualified employees.
The government plan to abolish the KPSS was made public last month and is known to be a result of direct orders from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. 

In late April, Labor and Social Security Minister Faruk Çelik briefed Cabinet members on the changes to the admission system in place for employment at state agencies. Currently, the Student Selection and Placement Center (ÖSYM) holds the KPSS annually. The entrants are assigned to positions in state agencies according to their exam score. Çelik said the central examination would be replaced with a new system in which every ministry will have the opportunity to organize its own exam. The agencies will also be able to hold oral examinations if necessary. 

The changes have elicited angry reactions from various circles in society, including applicants for state posts and representatives of education unions, with many expressing the opinion that the new system will make state posts available for only a group of people close to the government and, even though they are more qualified, others will have no chance of getting those posts.   

Move follows purges in state posts

The fact that the government’s plan to do away with the KPSS has come following a purge of thousands of public officials has further raised concerns about the government’s intentions with such a move. 

Following a Dec. 17, 2013 corruption and bribery operation that has implicated members of the government, the ruling AK Party sought to purge individuals whom it claims are supporters of a so-called “parallel structure” in every public agency. Almost 15,000 police officers have been removed from their positions, hundreds of judges and prosecutors have been reassigned and senior officials in state institutions have been dismissed. The purges are believed to be based on profiling those who are said to be part of the Hizmet movement, which the government accuses of having established the so-called “parallel state.” 

There are currently 3 million university graduates in Turkey who are waiting to pass the KPSS exam to be employed by the state. İsa Yılmaz, an İstanbul resident who graduated from university in 2002, is one of those people. After working in the private sector for some years following his graduation, Yılmaz, who studied economy at İstanbul University, decided to take the KPSS. He has been going to a KPSS course since 2011 in order to be employed in a state agency. Although he scored 80 percent in the 2012 KPSS, he was not employed. He was successful in the written examinations of the Interior and Finance Ministries and performed well in the interviews, but he was still eliminated. 

Demoralized by what he went through, Yılmaz now says he will not take any exams in which candidates are selected via interviews. 

“In Turkey, interviews [before employment to state posts] mean the preferential treatment of some. I am a victim of this system. However, the new system according to which every state agency will hold its own examination to select candidates is just disastrous. In such a case, those who are close to the political authorities will be given the state posts. Applicants like me, who passed the examinations, will have no chance. In such a case, I would need to become a member of a political party first,” Yılmaz told Sunday’s Zaman. 

There are currently around 3 million public officials in Turkey: 812,000 teachers, 14,000 prosecutors and judges, 120,000 university lecturers, 200,000 military officers, 384,000 healthcare employees, 103,000 engineers and 107,000 religious officials. There is a need for an additional 127,000 teachers at public schools, followed by a need for additional police officers and doctors. 

Turkey suffered much from nepotism

Ahmet Güzel, a member of the State Economic Enterprises (KİT) commission in 1999, when the Democratic Left Party (DSP) first centralized exams for employment in state agencies, is also critical about the government’s intention of abolishing the centralized examinations, describing the move as “treason.” 

“This draft law aims to foster partisanship, polarization, the division of the Turkish nation and the filling of state posts with unqualified people. This is a cheap and miserable attempt,” he said. 

Explaining the situation in state agencies before the introduction of centralized state exams in 1999, he said only children of senior military and civilian bureaucrats, political party administrators and deputies could find employment in state agencies. 

“We saw that state posts were taken hostage by the children of an elitist minority and they were closed to the children of the nation. Central exams were introduced to give equal opportunity to every son and daughter of this nation to be employed in state agencies,” Yılmaz said in further remarks, adding that the employment of unqualified people in state posts led to a big financial loss in KİT back then. 

AK Party’s plan against Constitution

There is also a legal challenge to the AK Party’s new plan for employment in state agencies. Article 10 of the Turkish Constitution, which is about equality before the law, says: “No privilege shall be granted to any individual, family, group or class. State organs and administrative authorities are obliged to act in compliance with the principle of equality before the law in all their proceedings.” If the AK Party goes ahead with its plans, the practice of this article will not be possible. 

Professor Ergun Özbudun, an expert on constitutional law, believes that holding centralized exams is fairer than any other method for assignment to state posts. 

He said changing to a system that allows every state agency to hold its own examinations for assessing applications runs the risk for nepotism, adding that the plan for the introduction of such a system under the unusual circumstances of today leads to suspicion. 

“I wonder if such a change will be used as a tool to perform a cleansing of the state bureaucracy. It would be more beneficial if such a change were not to take place,” Özbudun said. 

Turkey may become a party-state

İsmail Koncuk, chairman of the Turkish Education Personnel Union (Türk Eğitim-Sen), said the abolishment of centralized exams for employment in state agencies will make Turkey a party-state. 

“With this attempt, the AK Party is saying: ‘I want to have my supporters in state posts. Only people close to me can be employed in state agencies.’ … While there are fair practices in place, an attempt by a party that has justice in its name to degenerate the system, make it open to all kinds of abuse and divide our citizens into groups who support and don’t support it, is very dangerous. It is impossible for us to approve of a system that forces people to become supporters of the government in order to be employed by the state. Such moves show that our country is going towards becoming a party-state and that our citizens are being deprived of their right to work, which is a fundamental right,” said Koncuk. 

Union of Active Educators (Aktif-Sen) Chairman Osman Bahçe voiced concerns similar to those of Koncuk. He said if the central exams are abolished and every state agency holds its own exam, this will make applicants go to political parties and ask for preferential treatment from them. When they are employed, he said, these people will be expected to pay their “debt” to those who made their employment in a particular state agency possible. 

Bahçe also warned that the new system will lead to discrimination against people based on their ethnicity and beliefs.

“Playing with the genes of an exam like the KPSS, which concerns all people and institutions in our country, is like playing with the future of this country,” he added.

To read the full story, click here.


About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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