12/07/2021, 14.39
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Inflation sparks war of numbers as statistical bureau becomes off-limits

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, one of the main opposition leaders, is barred from TÜİK headquarters. Critics slam the statistical bureau for lack of transparency and credibility. In Istanbul, prices jump by more than 50 per cent on an annual basis, especially basic items and fuel.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) – Inflation data provided by the Turkish government and the collapse of the Turkish lira have triggered street protests, causing tensions to run high.

Opposition parties are up in arms against the lack of transparency in official figures, which are not very credible in their view.

The decision to bar Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP[*]), from entering the office of the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK[†]), has added fuel to the fire.

Mr Kılıçdaroğlu, a major opposition figure, was turned away from TÜİK headquarters, last Friday. Since then, fresh anti-government protests have broken out amid accusations of data tampering and loss of credibility.

Security guards speaking from behind the iron bars of the TÜİK’s gated entrance turned the CHP leader away, saying they were following instructions. The head of the institute works directly under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The spectacular collapse of the Turkish lira (down 45 per cent against the dollar) has led to a rapid surge in prices and fuelled suspicions of manipulation of the numbers by TÜİK, to cover up the real situation.

Despite this, President Erdoğan has shrugged off criticism, defending an economic policy that is anything but orthodox, which wants to keep interest rates low to stimulate growth and exports thanks to a competitive currency.

For economists, inflation is kept in check by raising interest rates, a policy that the Turkish president considers "an evil that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer”.

Meanwhile, a group of independent economists with the Inflation Research Group (ENAG) have presented alternative data, turning official figures on their head. For their pains, they were sued recently by TÜİK for challenging official data.

The controversial issue is very important because the inflation rate determines rises in wages, pensions, as well as rents and taxes.

Rising inflation has eroded the purchasing power of many workers. Around 20.5 million people live on a fixed salary, while another 10 million – including widows, seniors and orphans – rely on pensions or government subsidies.

Speaking about the incident at the TÜİK headquarters, Kılıçdaroğlu said that the data provided by the government body are completely "unreliable" and that barring him was “unprecedented” in the history of the Turkish republic.

The government's reply was quick, a fuming Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu accused the opposition leader of “emulating” terrorists and thugs for trying to “storm” the TÜİK office.

Erdoğan defended the statistical bureau claiming that it is accountable only to “to those responsible – primarily the president and [. . .] the relevant ministers.”

Meanwhile, prices are skyrocketing. In Istanbul, the country’s business capital, the cost of living is up by 50.18 per cent on an annual basis. Rents alone are up by 71.43 per cent.

Data from the İstanbul Planning Agency (IPA) based on a basket of 321 items from 3,000 points across the city show that sunflower oil is up by 137.59 per cent, wheat flour by 109.14 per cent, fuel by 102.72 per cent, sugar by 90.71 per cent, and eggs by 40.21 per cent.

The highest monthly increase in prices was seen in the ‘recreation and culture’ category with 21.11 per cent.

For Veysel Ulusoy, ENAG member, “Inflation is approaching uncontrollable rates.”

[*] Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi.

[†] Türkiye İstatistik Kurumu.

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