President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan issued a circular on Wednesday ordering public institutions and organizations to impose strict austerity measures, even prohibiting the personal use of airline bonus miles. It is most likely that Turkey’s official representations abroad will be the most affected by this new circular as the Turkish lira has already dipped to record lows.
One of the important clauses of the circular involves a reduction in the number of civil servants Turkey employs abroad. Public institutions and organizations are tasked with keeping the number of staff they assign to a minimum. It is also suggested that as far as possible, the representatives will be able to fulfill the duties of other institutions and organizations, implying that some agencies might be merged.
According to the information provided by Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu at a budget session in parliament earlier this year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs currently has 4,752 personnel abroad. The number of foreign representations, which was 163 in 2002, has reached a total of 248 including 142 embassies, 13 permanent representations, 91 consulates general, one consular agency and one trade office thanks to the so-called active diplomacy in Africa and the Americas.
A Nordic Monitor study shows that the majority of ministry employees abroad are temporary staff. Half of the nearly 3,000 temporary personnel are Turkish and the remainder are local hires. The number of career diplomats is not expected to drop following the austerity circular given the fact that, in the witch hunt that began after a controversial coup attempt in 2016, 496 career officers were fired for unjust reasons. However, the ministry has already planned to employ 80 new diplomats in 2021, and the number of newcomers could be reduced.
Turkey employs 230 police officers for the security of embassies and consulates. Nearly 3,000 conscripts and officers of various ranks, 173 of whom are military attachés, are also abroad.
The number of personnel that other public institutions, apart from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, should employ abroad is 838. Currently, about half of them have been assigned. It is not expected that new appointments will be made to vacancies after the release of the circular.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ budget is 5.79 billion Turkish lira. The budget, which corresponded to $779 million as of January 1, was $668 million as of July 1 due to the excessive depreciation of the lira against the dollar.
One of the large items in Turkey’s foreign expenditures is the expenses of the Maarif Foundation, a Turkish government-funded entity that serves as Erdoğan’s long arm abroad in providing educational services. The Maarif budget, which was 486 million Turkish lira in January, was increased to 1.2 billion lira ($139 million) by presidential decree in February, making it almost one-fifth of the ministry’s budget.
It is known that some foreign expenditures are also made from the presidential discretionary fund. The total amount allocated to the discretionary fund for 2021 is 6 billion lira ($693 million). It has not been disclosed how much of the total is spent on foreign operations.
According to the circular, state organizations abroad will not under any circumstances purchase or lease office buildings, lodgings, camps or nurseries as well as educational, recreation and similar social facilities. New construction is also forbidden. Vehicle acquisitions will be based on a needs analysis, and no new vehicles will be acquired except in emergency and necessary situations.
Temporary assignments abroad to be made when required will be allowed with the approval of the relevant ministry, keeping the duration of the assignment and the number of officials at a minimum.
The circular bans the purchase of newspapers by state institutions other than library documentation centers and organizations involved in media monitoring as well as the publishing of reports, books, magazines, bulletins, and similar publications aimed at promoting administrative activities, saying that instead they will be prepared and shared electronically. It also aims to decrease the number of official vehicles of state institutions by 20 percent by the end of 2023
The circular has sparked harsh criticism from the opposition since it excludes presidential organizations.
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