Decentralization in Turkey
By Scott Sumner
I’ve always been a fan of Swiss-style decentralization. The following is from an Economist article on Turkey:
Countries such as India and China have witnessed similar urban explosions, but Turkish cities stand out for also offering an impressive quality of life. The proportion of Turks living in cities has swollen from about half the population 30 years ago to 75% today. Between 2000 and 2015 its major urban areas absorbed 15m new residents. Yet despite their rapid growth, Turkish cities are by and large admirably free of squalor and crime. Middle-class parts of Istanbul, Ankara or Izmir, in Turkey’s relatively prosperous west, are indistinguishable from their far wealthier West European counterparts. Yet even the slums in big eastern cities such as Gaziantep and Diyarbakir have proper sanitation, tidy paved streets, parks and well-maintained schools.
It was not always thus. Thirty years ago the hills around Turkish cities looked much like Brazil’s, stacked higgledy piggledy with unlicensed shantytowns appropriately known as gecekondu (built overnight). Istanbul had worse public transport, worse water quality and worse pollution than shambolic Cairo; the cheap lignite used for home heating clouded its winter skies in a perpetual acrid fug, and the soupy waters of the Golden Horn, a sea inlet that bisects the European side of the city, were too polluted to sustain fish.
A better place to live
Istanbul’s skies are now notably clear, and the fishermen who crowd the railings of the Galata Bridge into the wee hours hoist up sardines by the bucketful. The radical change is not just a result of better sewerage and cleaner heating fuel in the form of natural gas piped from Russia. Starting in the 1980s, Turkey made a series of important legislative changes. Various amnesties granted legal title to gecekondu dwellers, making them stronger stakeholders and allowing them to leverage property assets. A sweeping reform in 1984 consolidated big urban areas into powerful municipalities with elected mayors. Further reforms in the 2000s did the same thing at district level. Cities now generate their own revenues, make their own deals with private firms and start their own businesses, though the central government keeps enough of a hold on the purse strings to ensure fiscal discipline.
Cumulatively, these undramatic changes have had a remarkable effect. “Local democracy really seems to have worked in this sense,” says Yasar Adanali, an urban planner in Istanbul. “To climb up the ladder in their party or be seen at the national level, municipal managers have to shine.” Mr Erdogan himself rose out of local Istanbul politics, and many of his closest associates came to prominence in the same way. The city’s 39 districts are showcases for their mayors, who compete to provide better services. In most of the city, streets are swept and rubbish collected at least once a day.
Update: I also found this to be rather interesting:
Although IS’s laws are grotesque, other Arab states should take note that its emphasis on quick and firm justice appeals not only to Syrians and Iraqis desperate for order amid chaos. It responds to a burning public need to right decades of perceived wrongs. So does IS’s intolerance of corruption within its own ranks and its focus, even with limited means, on providing services such as health, education and social welfare. Unlike other Arab states, which tend to be hyper-centralised, IS grants broad powers to local administrators. These officials seek to regulate and tax commerce rather than to control it. Instead of assuming ownership of the oil industry, as nearly all other Arab states do, it sells the crude oil in its territory at the wellhead, subsequently exacting taxes from the people who go on to refine and transport it.