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Turkey is a highly centralized unitary state
With only 15 percent of public officials working in local administrations, can we expect there to be a meaningful local goal?
The Gezi Park Protests taught us how important it is to delegate local decisions to local authorities. I don’t know about you, but I loved how Istanbul’s Mayor Kadir Topbaş said, “I will not even change the location of a bus stop without asking the people.” That’s how it should be. Administrators should not take any action before consulting local opinion. For a better administration, Turkey needs to upgrade its local democracy. Local representatives elected by the people should act knowing that they will be held accountable. But I think there is one issue to be solved first. Let me touch upon it today. In Turkey, localization is generally seen homologous with federalization. Have you wondered to what degree this is correct? Conversely, does a unitary state necessarily have to be a centralist one? Let me suggest an example.
First answers, then evidence. To begin with, localization does not necessarily mean federalization. Sweden, for instance, is a unitary state. But compared to Turkey, its decision making mechanisms are localized. Sweden then, is a good example that localization does not necessitate federalization. And now the evidence. In Turkey, 85 percent of public officials work in the central government and 15 percent work in local administrations. In Sweden, 15 percent work in central government and 85 percent in local administrations. Both are unitary states; but the former is centralist while the latter is localized. Turkey should follow Sweden’s path.
Compared to Sweden, the share of public officials working in the central government are even lower (around 10 percent) than in federal states such as Germany, USA, Canada, and Australia. Even in France, which is a role model to Turkey in terms of administrative structure, 45 percent of public officials work in the public government. Given this picture, Turkey’s 85 percent exceeds the norm. It is the highest among OECD countries. Compared to other unitary states, Turkey is highly centralized. This is one of the sources of our problems.
What are those problems? I have taken a look at Turkey’s 2023 goals. I believe it is good for countries, as for companies, to set simple targets that ensure coordination. But there is one thing I find strange. If Turkey is planning to reach these targets in its entirety, can you please tell me the place of Adana or Diyarbakır? What are the local goals for Bursa? I think that we cannot think on Turkey’s 2023 goals without thinking individually on cities and their performances. But the discourse insists that all roads lead to Ankara.
With only 15 percent of public officials working in local administrations, can we expect meaningful local goals? No. All we should expect are new construction projects based in Istanbul. This triggers the conglomeration of population in Istanbul and the Marmara region. This weakens productivity further. The concentration of population in a single city is a sign of underdevelopment, not the other way around. Just try to drive in Cairo and then we will talk.
Turkey needs to revise its administrative structure. Otherwise, Istanbul will no longer be habitable, and its sprawl will leave the rest of the country stunted. That has been the case so far, hasn’t it?
This commentary was published in Radikal daily on 02.07.2013