How to picture doing business in Turkey?
Let me help you. I came across this photo on the internet the other day. Have a look at it, if you would like to get an idea about the business environment in Turkey. It is the photo of a Turkish man with disabilities trying to navigate through the streets, not unlike foreign firms in a new environment. It was taken in one of the big cities and it tells you all. Let me tell you what I see.
Firstly, in the Turkish idea of development, the road is essential while the sidewalk is considered a decoration. See the width of the sidewalk – it is ornamental. City planners (to use the term liberally) will see it as an annoying convention obstructing traffic. No wonder Prime Minister Erdoğan was saying that “the road is civilization,” when referring to the one his government is forcing through the woods of the Middle East Technical University’s (METU) campus. The notion has a smack of the 19th century, when urbanization was an exciting new concept and cars all came in the same color. It reminds me of Lenin’s “socialism is about electrification” dictum. In the 21st century, the sidewalk is civilization, I daresay. This, the prime minister should remind himself, is the age of the internet economy. Long gone are the days of deference to the combustion engine. Development is about the quality of urban life today. So is innovation. No wonder most recent successful startups like Twitter and Foursquare emerged from city centers, rather than suburban Silicon Valley.
Putting aside the issue of width, let me draw your attention to the ramp for people with disabilities of the sidewalk.
You see that there is one. If in the 21st century civilization is about having walkable sidewalks, ramps for people with disabilities are definitely a plus. In 2013, we also have pavements with tracks for the blind, not only in Ankara and Istanbul, but also in cities like Van, in the remote South East. Most of them were set up in one year following a central decision. So this is Turkey to you. We can do it. Turkey can easily surprise you.
To wrap things up before my third observation, you are by now navigating Turkey’s narrowly paved but disabled-friendly streets. The traffic is heavy and fast, but you’re making progress in your wheelchair. Then, lo and behold, there appears a lamp post planted squarely in the middle of your sidewalk ramp. Your path is now obstructed. Let me digress here: I recall a mayor in Ankara talking to the relatives of a person with disabilities who was run over by a bus and killed just a year ago. He asked in the most innocent tone of voice: “But why didn’t he use the sidewalk?” The relatives were left speechless.
You may wonder what to make of that pole. That is policy coordination to you. There may be agencies doing their utmost to help you, but there will definitely also be ones that are unintentionally obstructing your way. So you need domestic help to move through. In the age of production chains, this picture is about the cost of contract enforcement. Companies need to be ready to pay for domestic cost items. Turkey ranks 71st among the 185 countries covered in World Bank’s 2013 Doing Business survey.
Down three from 68th place in 2012. The World Bank’s survey is competitive. Your rank does not only depend on what you do, but also on what others are doing. Clearly there are others who have done better in the case of Turkey. The improvement this year is in the ease of enforcing contracts, thanks to the judicial reform packages that were praised so much in the European Union’s 2013 Progress Report on Turkey. With the EU’s help, the country has at least maintained her position in the Doing Business rankings over the last year. Singapore has been number one on the list for the past seven years. No wonder Amgen chose it over Istanbul.