Turkish Way of Privatisation: Policy Mobilisation and Veto Points in Privatisation Processes of Türk Telekom A.Ş., Tüpraş and Cement Plants in Turkey

Turkish Way of Privatisation: Policy Mobilisation and Veto Points in Privatisation Processes of Türk Telekom A.Ş., Tüpraş and Cement Plants in Turkey 

I. Introduction

Privatisation can be defined in narrow terms reserving concept for the sale of public sector assets. Alternatively, it can be widened to incorporate a number of associated policies (Jackson and Price, 1994, p.4).”Over the last two decades; privatisation has attracted the attention of both developed and developing economies as a means to improve the efficiency of the public sector companies. Privatisation move started as early as 1974 in Chile as a vehicle for economic growth under the military government of General Pinochet, but received its popularity under Thatcher’s implementations in Britain. Later, after the fall of the Soviet Block, mass privatisation helped the socialist economies to institute private ownership and free market structures. Turkey is one of the countries that started its privatisation programs as early as 1986, in its efforts to integrate its economy with the global markets. But, although Turkey accomplished a lot in integrating its economy with the global markets, it has not accomplished as much in its privatisation efforts” (Ertuna, 1998, p3).

In a broader sense the main objectives, as Ertuna states, of privatisation are:

  • “improving efficiency,
  • improving management techniques and
  • improving the competitive position of the companies” (1998, p.3).

As stated above, privatisation programs of Turkey started in late 1980s. However the privatisation revenues in Turkey remained limited due to the lack of legal framework until 1990s and privatisation attempts were always subjected to the judiciary obstacles. Since Turkey was trying to constitute the legal framework, the sales of State Economic Enterprises (SEEs) which were included in the privatisation programs and would provide substantial income, started in 2000s. Actually one of the most important reasons why the privatisation attempts were late was that unions and individuals were resorting to the jurisdiction (Epikman, 2007, p59). In other words, judiciary became an important veto point for the privatisation attempts in Turkey. Before making the amendments in the privatisation law, law no. 2983, Constitutional Court was standing as the veto point, but after the amendments Council of state was the main veto point against privatisations. However, this role of both institutions had changed depending on sectors’ criticality. For example, in the privatisation process of cement plants there were no annulment decisions about the privatisation processes, but in the privatisation processes of Turkish Telecommunication AS (TTAS) and Turkish Oil Refineries AS (TÜPRAŞ) there were lots of obstacles that rooted from these institutions.

The main aim of this article is to analyze the privatisation processes of cement plants, which is a relatively less critical sector, and of TTAS and TÜPRAŞ with regard to policy mobilisation and institutional veto points.

II. Privatisation Process of Cement Plants

In Turkey after 1980, by the beginning of liberal policy implementation process, state intervention to the economy, especially in the industrial sectors, is aimed to be minimised. The reason to privatise the cement industry was stated by increasing the competition, to ensure the operability of free market economy (Korkut, 2008, p95). Therefore, the privatisation attempts were started. In January 1989, 90 per cent shares of the five cement plants owned by CİTOSAN (state cement corporation) were bought by Societe Ciment Français, a French company for 256 billion TL ($105 million) (Karataş, 2001, p.96). In 1989, SCF bought 51 per cent of Afyon Cement, and almost all shares of Ankara, Balıkesir, Söke, Trakya cement plants for 105 million dollars. The privatisation attempts continued and by the Supreme Body of Public Partnership decisions; Çorum Cement, Trabzon Cement, Sivas Cement, Gaziantep Cement, Denizli Cement, İskenderun Cement, Aşkale Cement, Bartın Cement, Ladik Cement, Şanlıurfa Cement plants were privatised. By these privatisations, at the end of 1994 21 cement plants had been privatised. In 1996, Elazığ, Gümüşhane, Kars Lalapaşa, and Van cement factories, in 1997 Ergani Cement plant, in 1998 Kurtalan Cement factory were privatised and by these attempt,s the privatisation process of cement industry came to an end (İpek, Aydın, p11). All of these privatisations resulted in the removal of state monopoly in cement sector. Moreover, the workers in this sector suffered a lot because of the dismissals. As Tansel states, the workers were subject to both earning and welfare losses after the dismissals (2002, p16).

III. Privatisation Process of Türk Telekom A.Ş. (Turkish Telecom A.Ş.)

The privatisation of the incumbent operator Türk Telekomünikasyon AŞ (TTAS) had been on the liberalisation agenda of Turkey for a long time; however, the lack of a regulatory framework impeded it despite various attempts. During 1990s, the opposition parties took the laws that would enable privatisation to the Constitutional Court, who canceled these laws invariably (Angın, 2010, p49). In 1993, Tansu Çiller tried to sell the “T” of PTT (Turkish Post, Telegraph and Telephone) which, according to her would end the domestic indebtedness that was by that time approximately USD 14-16 billion (Bila, 2010). However, she faced a great opposition from Mümtaz Soysal. Soysal took the law to the Constitutional Court, and consequently the Court cancelled the components enabling the privatisation. The enactment of the law no. 4000 established TTAS on April 24, 1995 with the separation of telecommunications services from the parent company. This was followed by the enactment of the Law no. 4107 in 1995 that would enable the privatisation up to 49 percent of the shares of TTAS. However, the Constitutional Court canceled “critical articles” of the said law on the grounds that their enactment would give “too much discretion to the administration in determining the valuation and sale conditions of TTAS (Angın, 2010, p. 49). Right after this cancellation decision of the Constitutional Court, the government prepared Law no. 4107 and this law was approved by the parliament. The Law no. 4107 identified Privatisation High Council consisting of prime minister and some ministers as the most authoritative institution for Turk Telekom’s privatisation. In 1996 the Constitutional Court cancelled two articles of this law again. After this cancellation decision, the government changed some articles of this law and, law no. 4161 passed from the parliament by some amendments and this law gave the power to determine the value of TTAS to the government. By the approval of the Constitutional Court, the obstacles against the privatisation of TTAS were eliminated (Geriş, 2006, p126). However, this privatisation could not be completed despite this.

By a part of neoliberal transformations and pressures of the EU, in 2000, the parliament adopted the Law no. 4502 with the aim of setting up a “regulatory framework for the telecommunications industry.” The effects of Turkey’s adherence to the WTO (World Trade Organisation) guidelines regarding liberalisation of basic telecommunications services, and its efforts to become an EU member were undeniable in the adoption of this law (Atiyas, Doğan, p266). As a result of this law on 14th December 2000 a tender for 33.5 percent of block sale of TTAS came to the agenda, but due to some negative developments in global telecommunication market and the decision of stay of order by Ankara 6th Administrative Court the sale of TTAS failed again.

In this respect, the July 2002 elections can be regarded as a turning point for the process as it ended up with a single party (AKP) government, which soon became a ‘zealot’ of privatisation (Angın, 2010, p.50). The AKP has become the most important actor of neo-liberalism in Turkey, and the privatisation of TTAS quickly became the number one priority of the government. The role of the IMF was undeniable in this process as it put pressure on the government to privatise TTAS (Angın, 2010, p.50), which can be regarded as upward centralisation for Turkey causing loss of policy autonomy for the Turkish government.

In November 2003, a cabinet decision stipulated the privatisation of at least 51 percent of TTAS through a block sale and the rest as public offerings. Law no. 5189 which was passed in June 2004 removed the upper limit on foreign ownership. The Council of Ministers Decision issued in October 2004 stipulated the block sale of 55 percent of the shares of Türk Telekom (Atiyas & Doğan, p.265).

The strategy for sale of the 55 percent of TTAS was constructed by considering and trying to correct the mistakes made before, after a long period. In this new era in which there were developments in the telecommunication sector, by long term preparations a new privatisation strategy that was meeting the market conditions was prepared on 25th November 2004 (Geriş, 2006, pp.119,120). There were some domestic and foreign companies which attended to tender and the highest offer was made by Oger Telecoms which was $6.550.000.000. By this offer, 55 percent of TTAS’s final transfer process came to an end by cabinet decree no. 2005/9146 on 25th July 2005 and this decision became final when it was published in the official gazette no.25894 on 2nd August 2005 (Geriş, 2006, p120).

IV. Privatisation Process of TÜPRAŞ

TÜPRAŞ, the largest industrial enterprise of Turkey, was established as a SEE on November 16th, 1983. It is operating four oil refineries and has 28.1 million tons annual crude oil processing capacity (Angın, 2010, p.61). This section tends to examine the privatisation process of TÜPRAŞ, which is really a critical and profitable sector.

The first privatisation step taken for TÜPRAŞ was in 1991, by selling 2.5 percent of TÜPRAŞ equities via public offerings, where revenue of USD 6 million was raised. This was followed by a second public offering in 2000 whereby the ratio of “Class A” shares traded on ISE and London Stock Exchanges to total equity reached 34.24 percent and the revenue raised in the second public offering was USD 1.105 billion (Angın, 2010, p.65).

In the second quarter of 2003 the incumbent party AKP stated that the tender process of TÜPRAŞ would begin. Privatisation High Board started the tender process by giving announcement to newspapers on 7th June 2003. In the tender, 65.76 per cent of TÜPRAŞ offerings would be privatised by block sale method. After the beginning of tender, Petrol-İş (Oil-Business) Union applied to administrative court by demanding stay of order against the block sale of 65.76 percent offerings of TÜPRAŞ. On January 2, 2004 the case of stay of order was refused by Ankara 12th administrative court. After this court decision, on January 13, 2004 65.74 percent of TÜPRAŞ offerings were sold to a Russian company, Efremov Kautschuk GMBH, for USD 1.302 million. After the tender, Privatisation Administration (PA) informed the Competition Authority to get permission to sell 65.74 percent of TÜPRAŞ’s offerings. After getting permission from the Competition Authority, PA approved the sale on 9th February 2004 and by publishing this decision on the official gazette on 11th February 2004 the decision was finalised. However, on February 17, 2004 Petrol-İş Union applied to Ankara 10th Administrative Court for nullity of the sale of offerings of TÜPRAŞ. On the petition, it was stated that “beside from being a burden to treasury, since TÜPRAŞ is a company which affords the investment by its own resources, it funds approximately 20 percent of state’s tax/fund revenues. So, it is obvious that TÜPRAŞ does not cause any public expense; therefore, the case that is identified by the law that the reduction of public expense is not valid for TÜPRAŞ and the sale of it is not possible for the reason of economical profitability.” On 25th May 2004, Ankara 10th Administrative court gave the stay of order decision for the case opened by Petrol-İş Union. After this decision PA applied to Ankara 10th Administrative court to cancel the stay of order decision on 13th May 2004 and the Court cancelled this decision on 3rd June 2004. However, the application made by Petrol-İş Union was discussed by ground by Ankara 10th Administrative Court and the court cancelled the tender. By this decision, the possibility to sign the privatisation contract disappeared. By the annulment decision of the Court, PA applied to the Council of State. The Council of state approved Ankara 10th Administrative Court’s annulment decision on 22nd June 2004. By this final decision, privatisation of TÜPRAŞ was cancelled.

In December 2004 PA stated that the studies for privatisation of TÜPRAŞ would start again. However, Petrol-İş Union stated that for each attempt to privatise TÜPRAŞ, they would apply to judiciary. However, on 4th March 2005 14.76 percent of TÜPRAŞ offerings was sold in Wholesale Market. After this sale, shares of TÜPRAŞ owned by PA reduced from 65.76 to 51 percent. After this decision, Petrol-İş applied to Ankara 12th Administrative court for stay of order and Ankara 12th Administrative Court annulled the decision for the sale of 14.76 percent offerings of TÜPRAŞ to Wholesale Market on May 23, 2006. But before this, in 2005 there was another tender on 12th September and the Koç Holding-Aygaz-Opet-The Shell Company of Turkey Ltd-Shell Oversesas Investment B.V joint venture group won this tender by USD 4.140 billion. After this tender on 14th September 2005, Petrol-İş applied to Council of State for annulment of this decision. On 16th December 2005, the Council of State refused the application of Petrol-İş Union. After this decision, on 26th January 2006 Koç-Shell venture group put the money, USD 4.140 billion that they had ensured for the sale of 51 percent of TÜPRAŞ offerings, into account of PA and then the transfer of TÜPRAŞ’s 51 percent offerings transferred to this venture group. However, after the refusal of the demand of Petro-İş’s stay of order by 13th judicial chamber of Council of State, the case went for appeal. On 3rd February 2006 Council of State’s administrative chambers annulled the sale of TÜPRAŞ’s 51 percent of offerings to Koç-Shell venture group. After this decision, 13th judicial chamber of Council of State, to discuss the tender specification, the decision of tender commission and sale decision by ground, postponed the case to 25th April 2006. 13th judicial chamber of Council of State annulled the application of Petrol-İş on 9th May 2006. After this decision the sale of 51 percent of offerings of TÜPRAŞ was finalised (Epikman, 2007, pp 78-89).

V.  Evaluation

A)     Policy Mobilisation

Policy mobilisation is the process when individuals try to get access to the black box and demand solutions for their problems. Moreover, the term also contains the process of resistance against a policy or a discussion. The problem definition and the definer of the problem are important for the policy mobilisation, and this section is about the policy mobilisation processes of privatisation of the three sectors above, and attempts to identify why mobilisation was different in the privatisation processes of these sectors.

Telecommunication is really a critical and important sector in the world and this sector was under the monopoly of TTAS in Turkey before its privatisation. Since this is the case in the privatisation process, even the military opposed the privatisation decision by claiming that a large part of the military telecommunications systems were under the umbrella of TTAS, therefore it would be highly prejudicial to privatise this enterprise (Angın, 2010, pp50-51). In other words, besides from individuals or workers of the company, the institutions could also be counted in the policy mobilisation process. Moreover, another point that can be analysed as policy mobilisation is the strikes that were made by TTAS workers. After privatisation of TTAS, the employees of this company staged a work stoppage, which harmed the Turkish economy. What is more, the block sale of TTAS to a foreign venture group again led to harsh criticisms. Selling a strategic enterprise to foreigners was seen as a grave mistake which would cause problems for the security. Many scholars underlined the instances of privatisation in the West, reminding that both Russia and Western European countries like Germany and France have a strict control over their strategically important enterprises (Angın, 2010, p.56). Moreover, there were some discussions about the transparency and legality of the tender, criticisms which were raised by Kılıçdaroğlu (a CHP MP). This means that some members of parliament were taking this privatisation issue really seriously and opposing this decision, which also affected the state of minds of the Turkish citizens to oppose the privatisation decision of TTAS.

Another problematic privatisation period was the case of TÜPRAŞ, discussed above. While the process was continuing there were lots of attempts to cancel the privatisation of TÜPRAŞ, almost all of which were lead by Petrol-İş. Furthermore, after the privatisation, Petrol-İş Union became the arranger of the worker strikes. The union organised strikes against privatisation in the Aliağa, İzmit, Batman and Kırıkkale refineries. This again constituted a consciousness among people that privatisation of such a critical institution is not beneficial for Turkey.

However, in the privatisation processes of the cement factories, there were no strikes or protests against these privatisations. In other words, although there were many other new problems, such as unemployment or earning and welfare losses (Tansel, 2002, pp. 15-16), there was not a policy mobilisation against these privatisations. Some of the sales were to foreign companies but although this is the case, both Turkish citizens and the opposition parties did not resort to jurisdiction by claiming that this is not applicable for Turkey. What is more, the bargaining power of the workers, which is not valid for TTAS and TÜPRAŞ since having really organised unions, was not enough and the privatisations came to an end easily. By going one step further, it can be claimed that since the cement sector is not so critical and is relatively less profitable, there was not enough mobilisation against these decisions. By taking into consideration all these factors,  it can be concluded that the privatisation policy of government was not interrupted. However, in both TTAS and TÜPRAŞ privatisations there were lots of oppositions. This can be related to the bargaining power, which is a critical factor to be mobilised and get access to “black box”, of changing sectors in Turkey.

The policy mobilisation regarding these privatisations may also be linked to the time of the privatisations. The privatisation process of the cement plants were earlier than the other two, although some attempts were already present. Because of lack of media extensity, the consciousness about shortcomings of the privatisations may not have been created and publications of important columnists and scholars were not enough to address these shortcomings. This can be predicted, as stated above, as that problem definition is also important for policy mobilisation. Since there were only some news regarding the privatisations and there were not enough articles against privatisations, in other words since the problem was not defined clearly, there was not enough mobilisation against these attempts in 1990s.

As an addition to the problem defining/definer discussion, if the argument about the privatisations ends here, we cannot identify the reasons why there has also been support for the privatisations. This firstly can be realised by the ideological preferences of people. However, there is another factor that should be emphasised. That is, although there is no need for such a particular policy, there may be created a sense that the policy is really important for public.  In such a case the problem definer became the government itself and it mobilises people to demand that particular policy as if there was a problem. This may be the case in Turkish privatisation attempts because there were lots of propagandas regarding the need for privatisations both by the politicians and the partisan press. As a result, there also became a mobilisation favoring the privatisation policies of the government and this process may be labeled as double edged mobilisation (mobilisation against and in favor of privatisations).

B)     Veto points

Veto points can be defined in narrow sense as people having refusal powers, such as presidents, or some key institutions that again have refusal powers, such as courts. Another element may be added to the argument of veto points: the political parties. Tsebelis (1995, 1999), Tsebelis and Chang (2001), Hallerberg and Basinger (1998, 2001), Hallerberg (2001), Bawn (1999) and others, find that the more parties are present in governments, the more difficult it is to change the status quo. Each party is understood to represent a “veto point” and the more there are, the more unlikely it is that change in policy will result (Crepaz, Moser, 2002, p8). However, the veto power of political parties should be analysed indirectly, in my opinion. That is, they do not have the authority to directly annul policies of governments, their only power is to apply the institutions which have this authority.  In the case of Turkey, a country which suffered a lot from these veto points while trying to implement new privatisation policies, the veto points are mostly related to institutions and indirectly to political parties. As stated in sections III and IV the institutions that can be perceived as veto points in Turkey are administrative courts, the Council of State and the Constitutional Court. At this point the question can be raised: why in the cement privatisation case these veto points were not at work but in the cases of TTAS and TÜPRAŞ these institutions played much role in the privatisation processes? Actually the answers of this question will not go further than the discussions made for the policy mobilisation. That is, since the latter sectors were more critical and profitable than the former one, these institutions played critical role in the privatisation processes of latter institutions.

By focusing on the Tsebelis (1995, 1999), Tsebelis and Chang (2001), Hallerberg and Basinger (1998, 2001), Hallerberg (2001), Bawn’s (1999) arguments it can be predicted that privatisation processes of TTAS and TÜPRAŞ also suffered from the indirect veto powers of political parties. A good example to this is the case of Mümtaz Soysal who opposed the privatisation attempts of TTAS. As it was stated above in 1993 he took the law which contains privatisation components to Constitutional Court, but if it is considered when privatisations of cement plants was on the agenda there was no opposition to these privatisations from the political parties.

VI. Conclusions

Perhaps the major lesson we should get from the Turkish experience is that privatisation is more complicated than simple “sale” of government assets. It needs not only intentions, but also special care and preparation (Ertuna, 1998, p23).

At the start of the privatisation move in a country, time and care is needed to make the necessary changes in the legal environment. If the legal environment is not suitable for successful privatisation, privatisation implementation cannot succeed just by using better privatisation techniques. Improving the legal structure will also benefit the privatisation programs by getting the involvement of the parliament. This will improve the process of reaching the consensus needed in different sections of the public (Ertuna, 1998, p23). When the above arguments are considered, Turkish privatisation attempts suffered from Ertuna’s points a lot. There was always a chaos between the governments and the others. The others here are the ones who were always resorting to jurisdiction for annulment of the laws and the institutions that annul these laws: political party MPs, worker unions, Constitutional Court, administrative courts and Council of State. In other words policy mobilisation and relatively veto points have been important obstacles in front of the Turkish privatisation attempts.

In such privatisation policies, the international actors should also be recognised. In parallel to this, in the case of Turkey, the impacts of EU, IMF and WB cannot be denied. For example, Dir Verbeken, an economist at the EU Commission, stated that Turkey caused disappointment in privatisation and pointed out the significance of the privatisation of Türk Telekom. Just a few months after this statement TTAS was privatised (Angın, 2010, p.51). One of the reasons why EU supports the privatisation is that it is believed that privatisation would increase “competitiveness” which is a core criterion for neoliberal policies of this institution. What is more, the EU has intent to procure “capital flow” which somehow means abolishing the boundaries for private investment. Privatisation would enable the foreign capital to enter the Turkish market and profitableness would increase correspondingly, which gives chance to “capital flow” because as stated above, privatisation is not only about simply “selling government assets” but also making new regulations. These stated regulations created an investment environment for foreign capital in Turkey, and this becomes concrete in privatisations made in Turkey; as it is discussed in more detail above, most of government assets were sold to foreigners. The relevant part about Turkey is that since it has the desire to become member of the EU, it had to complete the privatisations. In the case of IMF, its effects on the privatisation processes of Turkey have become more significant in July 1998 with a Close Monitoring Agreement. According to this agreement 49% share of TTAS would be sold, effects of which are discussed above. After this agreement, in September 1999 Turkey sent a letter of intent for a stand-by agreement to IMF. This agreement was signed by IMF and a three year stand-by loan for Turkey was confirmed. This stand-by agreement enforced privatisations and institutional reforms for privatisations (of course it was containing other provisions but my emphasis is on the articles about privatisation due to the concerns of relevancy).After this, there was another stand-by agreement signed in 2005 by AKP government and IMF. There was again an article emphasising that the public expenditures should be reduced and polices should be revised accordingly. Main aims of such articles in the agreements signed by IMF were: sustainable growth and keeping the inflation under control by reduced external and internal debt (Doğan, 2006, pp 112-120). Therefore, such kind of pressures affected and also encouraged privatisation in Turkey.  Similarly, since Turkey is a member state of WB, the policies and incentives of this institution have been important criteria for the policy makers in Turkey in the privatisation processes of key institutions in critical sectors. Keeping these in mind, it can be said that Turkey faced loss of “policy autonomy” due to the international organisations, and this gives a sense of “upward decentralisation” resulted from the “networks” in Turkish case.

When it came to the discussion of policy mobilisation, it also can be claimed that the policy mobilisation against or for the privatisations has emerged when the sector that is matter of privatisation is critical. In the cases of TTAS and TÜPRAŞ mobilisation was high but cement plants did not receive much attention of the public, political parties and unions.

The institutions stated in section V/B are the veto points in the case of privatisations in Turkey: the Constitutional Court, the Council of State, the administrative courts and the political parties. Their impact on shaping the privatisation policies is undeniable in the Turkish case. In the critical sectors their effects were higher, as in the cases of the TTAS and TÜPRAŞ.

If it is to say the final words, the rates of success of the objectives of the privatisation programs are also debatable for Turkish case. Besides from this, the intentions of privatisations also can be different than the discourses made by the politicians. For example, as Angın states (2010, p.63), it is apparent in the TÜPRAŞ case that the AKP has  favored foreign capital groups (even if it contains domestic elements) for selling the SEEs vis-à-vis domestic capital groups such as Doğan Holding and Uzan Group which also owns powerful media groups with an opposition potential to AKP government. From this it can be predicted that the government holds all information powers in hands and they use the policy instruments selectively. The reason why these privatisation attempts became successful despite all these opposition, is that the AKP government knows to choose the policy instrument well and they manipulate people well; in other words they control the policy agenda successfully. We will all see until when their “success” will last.

İbrahim Öker, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey)*

Please cite this publication as follows:

Öker, İbrahim (January, 2014), “Turkish Way of Privatisation: Policy Mobilisation and Veto Points in Privatisation Processes of Türk Telekom A.Ş., Tüpraş and Cement Plants in Turkey”, Vol. III, Issue 1, pp.63-79, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=4749)


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*Special thanks to my dear professor Mustafa Kemal Bayırbağ (Assist. Prof. Dr., METU) for his supports both in writing and translation periods of this article.


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