The Future May Not Be So Bright (Part 1)

The Future May Not Be So Bright (Part 1)

Stock prices and real-estate prices are rising, investment is raging in the economy, exports are increasing, the Turkish Lira is strong, the economy is booming: top Turkish economy officials are persistently talking about numbers (at least till the social turmoil, but even still after all the mess). People are convinced that the future is bright for the Turkish economy. Is that really so? This is a sceptical two-part comment on why sustainable long-run growth is hard to defend for the Turkish case. Part one highlights institutional problems: can the Turkish economy sustain long-run growth with unstable justice and education system?

There is now a lengthy economic literature regarding the impact of education and the rule of law on long run economic development. One mechanism is via trust. General trust forms in an environment where institutions are binding and trust is vital for economic exchange. Below I summarise the recent state of the Turkish education and justice system. I argue that institutional instability in Turkey is forming an environment where institutions are not binding. This environment is leading to what I call an “immoral growth” process where economy booms but general trust falls.[1] This process is not sustainable and would eventually collapse.

In developed countries education and justice systems are mostly free from political orientation. Regardless of political orientation politicians know the long-run value of a sound education and justice system. Therefore necessary investments are made to sustain well-functioning institutions. Whereas in Turkey regardless of political orientation governments tend to own the education and justice systems which is perhaps one of the most important reasons behind the instability. In most cases a new government means a newly designed education and justice system. Unfortunately bad designs persist. Lets give some details.

The frequent changes in the education system in Turkey have led into a process where students and parents do not trust in the system. The education system has changed 19 times since 1998. Some of these changes are what people call minor “adjustments”. But some are major (i) in 2005 high school education period increased to 4 years instead of 3, (ii) the exam that secondary school students take to enter public high schools that teach in English has changed 4 times. The curriculum and the content of the exam has changed numerous times, (iii) the content and implementation of the central university entrance exam have changed so many times that the students cannot even follow the changes, (iv) the recent major change (4+4+4) has redesigned the whole system in such a way that primary, secondary and high school are 4 years each now. Moreover the Higher Education Council of Turkey (YOK) has come up with a new higher education law (what they call reform!) that would create even further problems in the functioning of the higher education system. Last years were in one word a disaster for the Student Selection and Placement Authority (OSYM). There were cases of fraud in quite a number of important exams that are conducted under the authority of OSYM. It became common to read in the newspapers that the questions of the exam were stolen. Currently the government is planning some other major reforms in the education system.

There are various other problems in the design of the compulsory education and higher education system but lets cut it short. I am afraid that soon the phrase ‘educated young population’ that we lean upon quite frequently will be a nice memory. Young yes, but educated not! At the very least not in terms of the quality of education in basic science, physics, mathematics and language.

Now let’s have a look at what is happening in the area of rule of law. The Turkish justice system is dysfunctional in many areas. The independence and impartiality of the judges and prosecutors, rights of the defence, lengthy pre-trial detention (up to 10 years!) and the low quality of the collected evidence are among the many problems that the judiciary faces. These shortcomings pose serious questions on the legitimacy of the judicial proceedings. In developed countries rule of law is based on the presumption of innocence. Unless the evidence and the court claim otherwise people are innocent. In Turkey this simple logic works the other way around. A person can easily be accused of a crime without any serious evidence, accepted to be guilty from the beginning and then asked to disprove that he/she is in fact not guilty. Disturbing as it sounds, this strange logic is so commonly implemented in many judicial cases these days. The citizens are treated by default as criminals. The mistrust among the government, judiciary and people is unsustainable in the long run.

The government has acted upon these shortcomings by in their words “reforming the system”. Four major judicial reform packages have been put in to action in the last 10 years, which actually created further problems and increased the control of the executive over the judiciary. The highly debated state security courts were abolished but the government enacted a legislation that forms courts with “special powers” especially to deal with organised crime and terrorism. These courts were active in forming the cases against the army officials who are accused of military takeover and actions against the government. However “special powers” got so powerful that these courts only lasted couple of years. The government has abolished them and established regional serious crime courts instead.

One particular problem in the justice system is that the definition of the criminal offence is seriously vague which opens the door for misuse. The definitions are so lax that any criminal act could be brought under organised crime and terrorism. One such example is the case of the former chief of the general staff who is currently in prison accused of establishing and managing a terrorist organisation. There are many top army officials, journalists, Kurdish politicians and in fact eight members of the parliament who are accused with similar charges. A similar case regarding the vagueness of the definition of the criminal offence is the new Capital Markets Law. The new law brings imprisonment up to five years in the case of certain types of false commentary regarding the financial markets. But the definition of the “false commentary” is so vague that anything can be easily swept under (for instance, this opinion piece!). The limit is the sky. To get more insight about this law interested people can have a look at the blog of Emre Deliveli.[2]

What about the flashy economic targets for the 100th anniversary of the Republic in year 2023? How likely that we reach the targets? Not likely with an education and judicial system like this. Ali Babacan in a recent speech argued that we have to reform the education and the justice system (again!).[3] It seems that the word “reform” will continue to be misused under this “reformania” and the instability in the education and justice system will persist. It is for this reasons that I think the future of Turkey might not be as bright as it seems.

Part two of the opinion piece gives non-technical insights on the current state of the Turkish economy.

Dr. Semih Akçomak, TEKPOL, Middle East Technical University

Please cite this publication as follows:

Akçomak, Semih (July, 2013), “The Future May Not Be So Bright (Part 1)”, Vol. II, Issue 5, pp.12-15, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=3678)


[1] See one of my earlier opinion pieces about immoral growth unfortunately in Turkish, http://www.bilgicagi.com/Blog/493-ahlaksiz_buyume.aspx).

[2] Emre Deliveli, Turkish Economist’s to shut up or get locked up. Economonitor blog. http://getir.net/j9hi

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