Erdogan sacks statistics chief after record annual inflation

The sacking of Sait Erdal Dincer is latest in series of economic dismissals by the Turkish president, who has fired three central bank governors since July 2019.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seen speaking at a podium
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses businesspeople during a meeting in Istanbul, Turkey January 3, 2022. [File: Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press Office Handout via Reuters]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sacked the head of the state statistics agency, after data showed last year’s inflation rate hit a 19-year high of 36.1 percent.

Sait Erdal Dincer, the now-former chairman of statistics institute TUIK, was just the latest in a series of economic dismissals by Erdogan, who has sacked three central bank governors since July 2019.

Erdogan has railed against high interest rates, which he believes cause inflation – the opposite of conventional economic thinking.

The 2021 inflation figure released by Dincer angered both the pro-government and opposition camps.

The opposition said it was underreported, claiming that the real cost of living increases were at least twice as high.

Erdogan meanwhile reportedly criticised the statistics agency in private for publishing data that he felt overstated the scale of Turkey’s economic malaise.

Dincer seemed to sense his impending fate.

“I sit in this office now. Tomorrow it will be someone else,” he said in an interview with the business newspaper Dunya earlier this month.

“Never mind who is the chairman. Can you imagine that hundreds of my colleagues could stomach or remain quiet about publishing an inflation rate very different from what they had established?”

“I have a responsibility to 84 million people,” he added.

Interest rates battle

Erhan Cetinkaya, 40, who has been deputy chairman of the BDDK banking watchdog since 2019, was named Dincer’s successor.

The agency is due to publish January’s inflation data on February 3.

“This will just increase concern about the reliability of the data, in addition to major concerns about economic policy settings,” Timothy Ash of BlueBay Asset Management said in a note to clients.

Embroiled in a currency crisis, Turkey has been dogged by soaring inflation, which rose to its highest level during Erdogan’s 19-year rule in December and which a poll by Reuters news agency on Friday showed is expected to have hit a near 20-year high at about 47 percent in January.

Erdogan has drawn criticism for his frequent overhaul of the country’s economic team, with opposition parties and critics accusing TUIK of meddling with inflation and other official data, for political reasons. The institute has dismissed the allegation, but researchers have begun alternative inflation calculations.

The president on Saturday doubled down on his unorthodox economic policy, saying interest rates would be lowered further and inflation would fall as a result, and that Turkey’s economic woes would pass.

“You know of my battle with interest rates. We are lowering interest rates and we will lower them. Know that inflation will fall too then, it will fall more,” Erdogan told supporters in the Black Sea province of Giresun.

“The exchange rate will stabilise and inflation will fall, prices will fall too, all of these are temporary.”

Justice minister sacked

Separately, Erdogan appointed a new justice minister on Saturday, naming former Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag to replace veteran governing party member Abdulhamit Gul.

“I have resigned from my duties at the ministry of justice, which I have been serving since July 19, 2017,” Gul wrote on Twitter.

“I would like to express my gratitude … for accepting my request,” he added, without explaining his decision.

Bozdag, who served as justice minister between 2013-15 and 2015-17, will serve his third term following the 2016 failed coup attempt.

“We know our people’s expectations from the law and we will work to realise these expectations positively as much as we can,” Bozdag, 56, a member of Erdogan’s AK Party, said at a handing-over ceremony at the ministry.

“May God give us fortune, let us do what is right and keep us from doing wrong.”

Ali Babacan, former deputy prime minister who left AK Party and founded the Deva Party, took to Twitter to vent fury over the changes.

“The justice minister is being replaced, TUIK chairman is being dismissed before the inflation data is published. Nobody knows why,” he said.

“The authoritarian alliance … keeps on harming the country,” he said, referring to the AK Party and its nationalist partner MHP.

Translation: A country governed by decisions taken at night with the signature of a single person can only do so much. The justice minister is being replaced, TUIK chairman is being dismissed before the inflation data is published. Nobody knows why. The authoritarian alliance keeps on harming the country.

Another presidential decree published on Saturday urged authorities to prevent the spread of threats stemming from media activities that are incompatible with national and moral values – which was slammed as censorship by observers.

Source: News Agencies