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    If you don’t take care of your neighborhood, who will?

    Güven Sak, PhD04 March 2014 - Okunma Sayısı: 1279

    In Turkey, the Prime Minister is the one and only person responsible for each and every decision. The current assessment system confines Turkey to a lame mediocrity.

    Turkey is not well-managed. If it were, there would be goals in our minds instead of question marks, like why don’t Turkish cities look like cities? Why is it impossible to walk with a stroller safely on any sidewalk in the country? Why are there no child-friendly cities despite all the effort to encourage larger families with many children? Why are Turkish cities condemned to mediocrity? Why is everyone “in” when it’s time to share urban rant, but “out” when it’s time to make cities more livable? I believe that all are closely linked to the fact that our cities are unclaimed.  Our cities and neighborhoods have no owner embracing them. Hence, the problem is related directly to the political organization. In Turkey, politics is as centralist as the public administration. They suffer from similar obsessions. This obsessed form of centralism prevents people from handling issues separately, and hence confines Turkey to a lame mediocrity in every area.

    In 2008, TEPAV carried out a nationwide survey study titled “Satisfaction and Perceptions for Corruption in Public Services in Turkey.” One question read “Have you in the past two years met with your neighbors and friends specifically to discuss and solve a problem of your city?” Sixty-two percent of the respondents said “never.” I think it was then that I first realized that Turkey had a problem with its local participation channels. In the public sector, the process of accountability starts with information. You see something that bothers you and ask an account for it if there is any means or mechanism as such. In Turkey, it is impossible to take a walk even on the fanciest streets, no need to mention in the slum areas. Municipalities renew sidewalks regularly, and we all know in advance not so that we can walk safely. We cannot call them to account, however, even though we have all the information we need. Is there something wrong with how the relevant channels function?

    Here is another question from the same survey. The rate of those who stated that they had voted at the local level according to whether the candidate’s party represented their political views was 40 percent in 2008 and 49 percent in 2013. On the other hand, the rate of participants who stated that they had voted according to the personal qualifications of the candidate regardless of the political party he or she represented decreased from 48 percent in 2008 to 40 percent in 2013. This means that due to the increasing political polarization in Turkey, voters increasingly are confusing local elections and general elections. This being the case, it can be no wonder that Turkish cities are like dump areas where it is impossible to walk a few kilometers with a stroller. In this picture, urban issues get lost in the shuffle of the “big” issues.

    I see three conclusions here. The first is that, when it comes to public services, we are unable to differentiate between local government and central government. We are concerned more with bringing order to the world than taking care of the pit in front of our door. Second, the level of satisfaction on a scale from 1 to 10 is not more than 5 for the central government or the local governments. What I see is an average performance. I don’t know why politicians do not strive for the honors list but settle with the passing grade.

    Public services as a whole are not impressive, but just average, which brings us to the third conclusion: I believe that the current grade passing system in politics is just wrong. Politicians do well only in a few areas and completely fail the rest, and pass the grade at the end of the year. This being the case, no one pays attention to the quality of individual services as long as they cumulatively make it to the average level. Politics turns into a distraction; a red herring. In Turkey, the Prime Minister is the one and only person responsible for each and every decision.

    The current assessment system confines Turkey to a lame mediocrity. We need to keep in mind that mean values and averages have no character.

    What Turkey needs is a new system that allows separate and detailed assessment for individual public services. This is the only way to improve overall service quality. The prerequisite of accountability is to identify and call into account the persons responsible for individual service areas. If the ballot box only assesses the average, there is no way to overcome mediocrity.


    This commentary was published in Radikal daily on 04.03.2014