ANKARA - As municipalities step up their efforts to provide free aid packages to the poor prior to the approaching local elections in March, the government is working on a draft law to establish a new social assistance system which will centralize all kinds of state aid to the public

As municipalities intensify their efforts to distribute free aid packages to poor households ahead of local elections, the main opposition leader, Deniz Baykal, said this move was a crime that required a jail sentence.

Baykal, the leader of the Republican People's Party, or CHP, said the free distribution of aid packages, including coal, by the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP-run municipalities had exceeded its purpose. He said the move was a crime which required up to three years imprisonment.

"There is no law or prosecutor in the country to carry out this punishment. There is no need for a citizen’s complaint to the prosecutor, the prosecutor himself should take action if he sees a need for it," Baykal said, speaking Thursday in Antalya, where he spent Kurban Bayramı, or the Feast of the Sacrifice.

He said the government was using the state’s financial resources for its own benefit prior to local elections and this violated democratic principles.

Meanwhile, the government has been working on a draft law to establish a new social assistance system, which will organize the provision of state aid to people who have a low-income, daily Vatan reported yesterday. The Social Assistance and Solidarity General Directorate will be closed and the Social Development Fund will be established within the framework of the Social Security Institution, or SGK, according to the 51-article draft law. The new law is aimed at coordinating the state’s social assistance initiatives and at preventing aid being repeatedly given.

The distribution of financial and material aid will be centralized in the new system.

Aid to be centralized
The term "poor" will be redefined and a new database containing a list of economically disadvantaged people will be established. The aid, to be provided by all state institutions, including the municipalities, will be distributed from the same center and only those who are on the list will be provided with aid.

If the draft law is enacted, no institution, including municipalities, will be able to distribute aid to those who are not on the state’s poor list. The municipalities will also have to provide information about their own list of recipients of social assistance to the fund.

The Social Development Fund will be the only authority charged with distributing the state’s aid to the poor, including that of health assistance that was previously provided through a green card. Nongovernmental organizations and private foundations that are legally assigned to provide social assistance will be obliged to be supervised by the state.

The green card will be abolished and the health insurance premiums of those who have no health security will be paid by the state. People who are aged, disabled or pregnant and who have no income will be provided with monthly financial assistance.

The aged will receive a net amount of YTL 200 and the disabled with YTL 275, children under seven years of age will receive YTL 17.5 each. Pregnant women will be able to receive aid provided they do not have more than two children. A rental subsidy will be provided to those in need and the fund will be able to establish public housing and centers for families who are defined as poor.