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Turkey’s central bank donates $1.5 billion to campaign for quake victims, drawing criticism

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The central bank of Turkey has donated 30 billion lira ($1.59 billion) to a fundraising campaign aimed at helping the victims of recent earthquakes that struck the country, drawing criticism from opposition politicians and economists.

A 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked parts of southern Turkey and northern Syria in the early hours of Feb. 6, claiming nearly 40,000 lives so far. It is the strongest to hit Turkey since 1939, when an earthquake of the same magnitude killed 30,000 people, according to the United States Geological Survey.

The central bank’s donation was announced by its governor, Şahap Kavcıoğlu, during a live broadcast that aired on TV and radio stations across Turkey.

Several state-run banks followed the central bank’s lead by pledging billions of lira to the campaign.

However, the move was met with criticism from opposition politicians and economists who questioned the reasoning behind the taxpayer-funded government institutions’ donations.

Economy experts such as Sevda Demiralp suggested that the donation made by the central bank was tantamount to an “expansionary monetary policy” and not a true donation.

Economist Refet Gürkaynak said such a donation from the central bank would have been acceptable if it had come from the staff itself. Pointing to the large amount, Gürkaynak said using taxpayer money to donate to an aid campaign is nothing to boast about.

Meanwhile, some opposition politicians also questioned the logic of the fundraising campaign and the use of money from state-run lenders and the central bank.

Good (İYİ) Party MP Aytun Çıray criticized the campaign on his social media account, labeling the campaign as window dressing. According to Çıray, the state lenders were already going to give their profits to the Treasury or Turkey’s Wealth Fund.

“What difference would it make if the Treasury used it [for the victims],” Çıray asked.

“Gang of five”

Main opposition Republican People’s Party Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who also donated to the campaign, criticized the pro-government businessmen who donated billions in aid in a sarcastic tweet, implying that they benefited from the state coffers by far more than they donated.

“Dear gang of five, your fundraiser performance tonight brought tears to my eyes. Be sure to keep the receipts; I will deduct them from your $418 billion debt,” the CHP leader said, alluding to the five businessmen and their companies who have won nearly all the large tenders during President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s time in office.

Cengiz Holding Chair Mehmet Cengiz, Limak Holding CEO Nihat Özdemir, MNG Holding Chairman Mehmet Nazif Günal, Kolin Construction CEO Naci Koloğlu and Kalyon Construction Chair Cemal Kalyoncu comprise the so-called gang of five.

According to Erkan Baş, chairman of the Workers Party of Turkey (TİP), large sums of money donated by pro-government businessmen should be an indicator how much more they earned through corrupt practices.

“After this embarrassing show, everyone in their right mind should ask the same question: ‘How much did they steal in total?’ Baş tweeted.

İYİ Party chairperson Meral Akşener and Democracy and Progress (DEVA) Party leader Ali Babacan also took part in the broadcast and donated the equivalent of one month of their and their spouses’ salaries for the earthquake victims.

The campaign managed to raise over 115.1 billion lira ($6 billion).

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