The political ethics law, which will be discussed in Parliament in the coming days, has gained widespread attention. Daily Sabah spoke with lawmaker and Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Deputy Chairman Ayhan Sefer Üstün, who proposed the bill, regarding human rights and the other current issues.
Üstün said that he proposed the legislation in order to implement various control mechanisms that in turn will protect the dignity of Parliament and deputies as well as investigate allegations of unethical behaviors regarding parliamentarians. He asserted that the political ethics law will help preserve "clean" politics.
AK Party deputy chairman Ayhan Sefer Üstün (L) with Daily Sabah's Ali Ünal.
Commenting on the role the government plays in minimizing the number of human rights violations in counterterror operations in the southeast, as the AK Party deputy chairman in charge of human rights, Üstün said that they are taking extra care in the fight against terror to stay within the boundaries of the law and legitimacy.
Regarding recent legislation for the establishment of the Human Rights and Equality Institution, Üstün explained that it will have the duties to prevent violation of human rights in Turkey, inform the public and fight discrimination.
D.S.: The political ethics law will be discussed in Parliament in the coming days per your proposal. Why is there a need for this law in your opinion?
This is a subject I have been a strong advocate for since the very beginning of my political career. I made a similar proposal in 2006, but due to the presidential crisis at the time, we were unable to bring it to fruition.
D.S.: Regarding the current need, politics suffered a significant blow in the 1990s. Politicians' credibility has declined as a result of political and economic crises. If you remember, past surveys found that trust for politicians had hit rock bottom. Moreover, we had seen that there were smear campaigns being aimed at certain politicians.
We are proposing this law in order to implement various control mechanisms that, in turn, will protect the dignity of Parliament and deputies while investigating allegations of unethical behavior by parliamentarians.
D.S.: How will the ethics committee operate afterward if the law is ratified?
There are certain actions deputies must refrain from that are defined by the very same law. We foresee that every party that has seats in Parliament will establish their own ethics committee for intra-party affairs. In addition, there will be a commission of 11 deputies from all the parties in Parliament. They will convene under the leadership of the speaker of Parliament and investigate the complaints they receive. If a deputy has taken unethical actions, they will ask that person to renounce their actions. If the deputy continues to act in such manner, there will be a process that could result in their expulsion. I believe that it won't come to that, as it would be a tragic result. Also, after their unethical actions are ascertained, they will start to pay attention to how they behave. In this sense, we foresee a system that will preserve clean politics and benefit the people.
D.S.: How frequently will the ethics committee convene? Or will it convene on the basis of complaints?
It will convene whenever needed, as this committee will not only investigate complaints, but will also inform deputies regarding ethics. Therefore, they will hold symposiums and publish books.
D.S.: So this committee will not only be for punitive action, but for the internalization of ethical understanding?
Of course, it will contribute to the internalization and spread of this understanding. Moreover, it will relay examples from the world while also explaining our future successes in this matter. Therefore, it will also have educational, investigative and informative roles. However, as this is the first committee being established in Turkey, we are trying to make it as flexible as it can be. We have to see how it is going to function, and then we can develop it in accordance with critiques.
D.S.: The TL 13,000 ($4,560) limit for gifts is the most heavily debated aspect of this proposal. Could you please explain how this amount was determined?
There is a law about the declaration of property, bribery and corruption. This law involves all government officials, including deputies in Parliament. According to the law, officials can accept gifts from abroad that are worth 10-times the minimum wage at most. Therefore, we kept that part of the law, so there is no special treatment for deputies. Moreover, during my 14 years in Parliament, I have neither received such gifts nor heard of anyone receiving one. If this amount is regarded as too much by the General Assembly then it can be lowered, of course. Regarding the limit of domestic gifts, we leave that subject to the speakership. They will determine a limit to the gifts a deputy can accept.
D.S.: In the proposed legislation, the occupations a deputy can have are also regulated. Could you elaborate on this?
For the first time, the issue of conflict of interest is being discussed with this proposal. This concept does not exist in the Constitution or in bylaws. Basically, it states that a deputy should not participate in voting or propose legislation if there is a conflict of interest. It is significantly important. The occupations a deputy cannot have are defined in the Constitution, to which we have added certain provisions. For example, we state that deputies cannot abuse the authority their posts provide themselves, their relatives or any third person. Moreover, there is also a provision that states deputies should be just and egalitarian, meaning they cannot discriminate on the basis of religious and political beliefs, ethnicity or language.
D.S.: As the author of this legislation, in what ways do you think it will contribute to politics?
Firstly, it will improve the quality. Deputies used to be commentators on TV programs two or three years ago, and they earned over TL 1 million. This was unethical, but at that time, there wasn't any mechanism to control it. Now, with this proposal, the ethical committee will be able to prevent these kinds of actions beforehand.
Secondly, it will protect politicians from slander. If there is a smear campaign against a certain deputy, they can demand the committee investigate it. If the allegations are true, the deputy will face the consequences, and if it is not, their name will be cleared.
D.S.: Last week, the law concerning the establishment of the Human Rights and Equality Institution was ratified. What will the purpose of this institution be?The Human Rights Institution was actually established in 2012. I was the chair of the Human Rights Commission in Parliament and I had contributed to its establishment. However, the EU requested the establishment of another institution to fight discrimination. Instead of having two separate institutions, we chose to give this duty to the existing Human Right Institution. We thought about putting "equality" in its title, as it includes fighting discrimination. This institution now has the two duties to prevent violations of human rights in Turkey as well as inform the public and fight discrimination.
Fighting discrimination is also a new legal concept in Turkey. It was included in the Penal Law in 2005, but it will be included as a preventive law.
D.S.: When the Human Rights and Equality Institution is established, will it supervise issues regarding human rights and discrimination or will it contribute to setting norms?
It will hold informational symposiums as well as conduct supervision. This institution has the authority to conduct on-spot investigations, write reports and employ experts. It will have approximately 300 personnel, and when they receive a complaint they will start the investigation and supervision process. The institution will contribute to peace. It is essential in a multicultural country such as Turkey. We have to assure harmony in society, and this is exactly what the institution will do.
D.S.: The Alevi reform package is said to be almost complete. Could you please inform us more on this matter?
These reforms, which aim to resolve the issues faced by the Alevi community, had started with our president's demand in 2009. Before the Nov. 1 elections, we had promised that we would complete the ongoing efforts on this. As the law is not ratified, I do not have the authority to make declarations. However, I can say that the expenses such as electricity and water will be compensated by the state and cemevis will be granted official status. Moreover, Alevi religious officials will also receive their pay from the state. There will be more to eliminate any discrimination against our Alevi citizens when it is completed.
D.S.: There were also reforms concerning the Roma. What is the current situation?
Just before you arrived, we were holding a meeting with a Roma nongovernmental organization, along with our prime minister's Roma advisor. We hold these meetings frequently. When we look at it, the Roma are the most discriminated against population. We immediately have to resolve their issues. While Roma citizens in Turkey are in a much better position than in Europe, there are still issues regarding physical conditions. We have determined the issues Romas face and we are holding workshops on it. They have certain issues with housing, employment and education. They are discriminated against and there is prejudice imposed on them. We are doing our best to solve these problems. We held this kind of meeting in the city of Sakarya, and we will hold them in Samsun and Konya as well. In these meetings, we come together with the people with issues and the people who can provide a resolution. Then, we go together to the field and listen to complaints from Roma communities. For example, one says that his child cannot attend school. We ask if there is a school nearby, if the answer is no, we say that we will be building one. If there is a nearby school but the citizen is unable to send his child due to economic reasons, we cooperate with the Family and Social Policies Ministry to solve the issue. If they say there is a problem with the infrastructure, we cooperate with the mayor. Therefore, we are doing our best to resolve issues. The Family and Social Policies Ministry will proclaim the Roma Strategic file, which contains what needs to be done in detail. This extensive work was possible because of the AK Party government, of course. We will now be employing the newly established Human Rights and Equality Institution to realize and enforce the resolutions.
D.S.: As the AK Party deputy chair for human rights, what is your role in minimizing human rights violations during operations against terror in the southeast?
We are taking extra care in the fight against terror to stay within the boundaries of the law and legitimacy. We frequently visit the region and listen to the opinions of the people. We are also in contact with business owners and NGOs in the region along with the mayor and commanders of security forces. It is not possible to return to the 1990s, as we will not allow it. We are working really carefully to not have any civilian casualties – even our security forces are risking their lives for this. Of course, security forces can only do so much. We have to have the support of the people, and this is what the action plan our prime minister announced in Diyarbakır is about. If people's property is damaged in the operations, the state will compensate the damage. If their house is ruined, the state will build a new one; if their neighborhood is in ruins, the state will renew the whole area. If the people had to leave their homes because of the operations, the state settles them in a temporary residence or with their relatives and supports them financially. The education of children in the region was interrupted, so we have provided extra courses for them. Regarding the reconstruction of the region, Development Minister Cevdet Yılmaz was given the authority of a prime minister. Yılmaz and his personnel are frequently in the region and in contact with the people in order to provide new resolutions. Meanwhile, Ağrı Mayor Sırrı Sakık from the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) comes and stays in the city one week per month. This is a significant difference, as you can see.
D.S.: Lastly, are there any developments in the city of Kilis's application for a Nobel Peace Prize?
Actually, Turkey as a whole deserves a Nobel Peace Prize, as we have welcomed 3 million refugees. However, Kilis is special because it has more refugees than its own population. There are 140,000 refugees in Kilis, 40,000 of them in camps, while the rest live side by side with the people of Kilis. Kilis's population is 130,000. They are sharing what they have with the refugees and there haven't been any incidents. We asked the Nobel committee what the reaction would be if London, Paris or Oslo had received a refugee population equal to their own population. Kilis is sacrificing much. Because of this, we nominated the city for a Nobel Peace Prize. Hopefully, they will recognize Kilis's sacrifice. If they don't, we are still proud of our achievement.
In the following weeks, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit Kilis and participate in a program.