Official Audit Clampdown on CSOs

Government inspections on non-governmental organizations in Turkey are ramped up following recent provisions of a law raising government suppression over civil society organizations. International funds and grants are reported to be the focus.

Established a decade ago, Truth Justice Memory Centre went through its first official audit by government inspectors recently. During the three-day inspection, the organization was thoroughly questioned about its activities, projects, partners, donors and more. When asked whether some of their questions were in fact within the scope of the audit, the inspectors reportedly responded that they had the authority “to inspect everything.”

On December 26, Turkey’s government enacted the controversial Law on Preventing Financing of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, amid uproar from civil society organizations or CSOs. The main controversy concerning this new law has been certain provisions granting the government enhanced controls over the civil society, further narrowing the already suppressed civil space. Although a specific regulation for implementing the new law has yet to be issued, numerous CSOs have already reported to have undergone exhaustive audits, while various others say they have been notified.

Civil Pages talked to representatives of those organizations audited about their experience as well as the details and content of these official inspections. Common impressions of the interviewees suggest that these official audits would increase, the organizations were given chills concerning their activities and donors and every organization shall prepare diligently for these audits.

‘Collecting Data On International Funding’

Truth Justice Memory Centre (or Hakikat Adalet Hafıza Merkezi in Turkish) Co-Chair Meltem Aslan noted that, the inspectors asked detailed questions regarding projects the centre conducted in the last two years as well as their content, funders, nature of the organisation’s contacts with these institutions: “how did we get to know them, how did we contact them, etc. These are indeed questions about project content and funders.”

Spooked by the attitude of such detailed and private questioning, Aslan said “I think focus should instead be on technical and financial documents. I think they posed an excessive number of questions. Such a detailed interrogation created in me the impression that they are trying to collect data on funding by international donors.”

 Freedom Research Association was another CSO to have undergone an audit for the first time in its seven-year establishment. İsrafil Özkan, secretary general of Freedom Research, underlined that their first official audit followed the aforesaid law.

Emphasizing that the inspectors focused mainly on overseas funding notifications and projects, Özkan said, “They analyzed every single project agreement in detail, and checked all official documents and bank statements regarding how the budget was spent. Personally, I would recommend other CSOs to place in their project files the Turkish translations of project agreements in foreign languages. In other areas, all administrative and financial files should be thoroughly prepared in line with the suggestions of financial consultants or the association’s lawyers and kept ready every month as if an inspection was around the corner. Smaller associations may face problems such as lost or missing documents in their official files, so they should also get ready in advance.”

‘Associations Were Already Subject to Financial and Administrative Inspection’

 Underlining that the inspections have created unease among CSOs and that an inspection may lead to stress especially in associations never inspected before, Özkan added, “While the bill was discussed at the General Assembly of the Turkish parliament, some MPs argued that it was quite normal for CSOs to undergo inspections and that resistance to inspection would create suspicion, as if CSOs were previously exempt from such scrutiny: This attitude is what really worries us. In Turkey, CSOs were already tightly controlled by the central government and its provincial structures. We are extremely anxious to see that CSOs, already obliged to submit financial and administrative notifications to numerous public agencies, are subjected to a much stricter supervision with the implication that they were previously exempt from state control. Without elaborating further on these problematic aspects of the matter, I simply wish that everyone may stay mindful of the unease created by this initiative.”

“Not the Inspection, but the Impression Created is Worrying”

Yeter Erel Tuma, the General Coordinator of the Association of Colourful Hopes, remarked that it is worrying to see the new amendments associate CSOs with the financing of terrorism, adding that their association had previously undergone an inspection, which had gone quite well. Emphasizing that inspections are important to ensure CSOs’ transparency and accountability, Tuma stated, “The text of the law seems to imply that all CSOs may provide financing for terrorism and therefore must undergo inspections in this regard. This is the feeling we were left with after undergoing an inspection. The inspectors set out with a prejudice, rather than arriving at a conclusion after completing their inspection. This made us feel very insecure, and we had the feeling that our work is considered as a criminal activity. It is clear that the goal here is to harass the CSOs, which are already working in tough conditions. We are a rights-based organization. We do not expect any appreciation for our work, but neither do we need to be demoralized through such methods. The civil society is among the main actors furthering and upholding democracy and justice in any country. As such, I think CSOs should be given greater leeway, instead of being subjected to pressure and harassment.”