Brain Storm on BRT1
An Evaluation of 2013 and 2014
By Ismet Űstűner
I was invited to appear on TV programme “Düşünce Fırtınası” on BRT 1 on 7th January this year from 9 pm to 10 pm live conducted by Hasan Erçakica. The programme name can be roughly translated into English as “Brain Storm”. Normally politicians are invited to this programme to discuss political matters but it is customary to invite non-politicians to discuss political matters for the first four weeks of the year. Hence I was the first guest for this year.
In summary, the most important development for me for the year 2013 was the appearance of the organisation called “Toparlaniyoruz” which means “Pulling Up Together”. In other words to try to pull up collectively and help to right wrongdoings. They interviewed candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections and expressed their views on them. This civil initiative was instrumental in the election of some young but very promising candidates into parliament and the non-election of some previous MPs based on their evaluations. To me this was a very positive development in politics in 2013.
On the bad side, in the first quarter of 2013 we witnessed the bitter election fight within UBP political party for leadership. Irsen Küçük, the party leader and Prime Minister at the time won the party leadership vote but just under 50% of the total eligible votes as requested by the party regulations. Nevertheless Küçük was declared as the winner and the losing side applied to court to have the result cancelled. The Nicosia District Court found in favour of the opposing candidate and Küçük appealed to the High Court. The High Court upheld the decision of the lower court and ordered a new vote.
Küçük’s side was busy revising the list of delegates before a new vote and also busy employing hundreds of people into government as a kind of bribe to buy the votes of the delegates. Even so he won the election with a small majority and the opposition declared that despite the obvious irregularities they would not go to court again. Eventually many MPs resigned from UBP and joined another political party under Serdar Denktaş who are now in coalition with CTP. The devious election tactics employed within UBP was a disgrace to the country and a shame for 2013.
The number employed during the election for party leadership was over 300 people hired under the law that allowed for temporary workers. Their contract was for one year which would expire at the end of 2013. The main partner of the coalition government, CTP did not want to renew their contracts but the smaller partner DP opposed this action on the grounds that in the past all other parties in power employed people in the running up time to elections. They were not dismissed later, so why should the new employees be dismissed now.
As far as I was concerned, even though there was a law for allowing the employment of temporary workers, the use of employment as bribes for votes was irregular and should not be condoned and CTP should have insisted on non-renewal of contracts even at the cost of allowing the coalition to break up.
The economic situation in 2013 went from bad to worse. The new law that came into effect in 2013 about the accumulated debts was a very positive move. It covered all debts to the end of 2012. If debt was non-functioning i.e. there was a delay of three months in payments, it would come under this law from that specific date. The debt as it stood at the non-functioning date would be multiplied by a multiplier depending on the date and thus the debt would be determined as 5th of December 2013, the date this law became effective. This law was a very positive development. The Bankers’ Union may refer the matter to the Constitutional Court but I cannot comment on that since it would be improper to do so. The previous recent laws on these accumulated debts were not thought through and did more harm than good.
The economy slowed down very badly in 2013 because people are not able to pay their debts and thus one triggers the other. Another serious problem are the delays at the Land Registry Offices: Many banks rely on mortgages when giving out credits but the Land Registry Office can delay forceful sales for years, in some cases seven, eight or even nine years. This is another major problem impeding the economy. Delays can only make things worse. Another fundamental fault in the economy is the fact that although we have a law for bankruptcy, it is hardly known by the legal profession and they have no experience in the matter. They have to start somewhere if they must gain experience in this field. A bankrupt person can make a fresh start in life and all the creditors can at least have a percentage of their credits back. All the assets of a bankrupt person are sold except his house and for a certain time he cannot borrow any money, he cannot even have a credit card. This can be a solution and help to activate the economy. If a bankruptcy is delayed, lesser proportions of the credits will be met and it only clogs up the economy.
Another major fault in our economic system is unfair competition. I want to pay my business taxes fully but if my competitor does not do so and the government is not competent enough or unwilling to enforce collection because of political considerations, as is now the case, then I have to cheat on the tax in order to survive. Thus the government has to tackle tax collection more seriously. The control of VAT for example is very easy. It should be an offence not to issue receipts or not to ask for a receipt. If the will is there it should be very easy to keep it under control. So it boils down to the government to administer the economy seriously and not be afraid of losing votes.
The Producer asked a question about the tribunal for unfair practice. It may exist in name but not in fact, I was not aware of any decision they took in such matters. The important thing is not so much the existence of a law but how it is applied. Last year they passed a new law about telecommunications. The first clause defined the object of the law to increase competition in the field of telecommunications. The first action of the relevant committee set up under the law was to ban the call shops, i.e. those shops that allowed cheap telephone conversations for foreign students and soldiers. As a result it offered higher profits to Telsim and Turkcell on a silver plate. So the result was the exact opposite of the intention of the law.
The economy of 2013 went from bad to worse and the potential for 2014 is no better. However we can improve the economy somehow by activating the construction industry with a simple action. There are many foreigners especially from Scandinavia, Russia and even Iran as potential buyers but we have our foot on the brakes. The foreigners must have Permission to Purchase which is time consuming. The argument is that foreigners should not be able to buy a house near army camps etc. but they are able to rent a property anywhere. So where is the sense in this? In any case, in order to speed things up the army can be asked to specify the critical areas on a map and do away with the PTP requirement for other areas. A buyer wants to pay the money and get the title deeds straight away at no risk. Otherwise the buyer has to pay selling price outright or by instalments and takes a risk if the seller refuses to transfer the title deed when the PTP is available or even if the seller goes bust. In Turkey the government gave the army six months to mark the relevant areas on the map, so they had no chance to employ delaying tactics. The same can be done here and we have Turkey as an example here.
At this point the Producer reminded the viewers that he was the spokesman for the President from 2006 to 2010 and indeed I had submitted to them a CD and I explained all and similar problems in detail. Indeed I sent the CD to all MPs but nothing happened. The Producer said that he did try to do something at the time but he was lost in the labyrinth of politics. The video on the CD can be watched on Youtube in two parts in Turkish and they can be searched under my name.
Then the Producer asked my views about electricity supply. I stressed that price increases are never popular but it would be catastrophic if we could not pay for the fuel. In my view the value of the Turkish Lira is expected to fall further and hence more price hikes are inevitable. In the long run the surest way to reduce the price of electricity is to make more extensive use of solar power. The necessary laws and regulations for the solar power were passed recently but in practice they are not functional because the necessary committee has not been set up yet to give approvals. The real reason for the delay is that Kib-tek is not ready for solar power because they must run the generators in idle mode in order to meet demand against a sudden cloud passing over. In other words the system is not big enough to be stable enough without running generators in idle mode which pushes up the costs. Thus the solution is to have interconnection with Turkey. All Europe has been interconnected for such reasons. Turkey is ready for such interconnection provided distribution of electricity and collection of money is privatised. In other words Turkey wants to ensure that she can get paid for the electricity sold here. Thus it is important that we meet such a condition.
The producer asked me about social life in Cyprus in 2013, did it get better or worse? Well, people are using the social media such as Facebook more extensively and thus there is more social interaction now and people are now discovering their old friends. So that was an improvement but what about families sitting in a sitting room and communicating with each other through the social media? Like every good tool it can be misused. As an anecdote I recalled a cartoon with only a husband and wife attending a funeral and one remarks to the other: She had thousands of likes on Facebook but it’s only two of us at the funeral. People on the social media can sometimes be more aggressive and indeed some remarks can be subject to libel and slander actions. Sometimes people think that it is free for all but in fact the laws for slander and libel is valid for the internet as well as long as the responsible people can be proved in court. In fact not only the ISP but also the serial number of the computer involved is registered somewhere. In the vehicle traffic on the road, people were more polite before but now not so but I did not know the reason, perhaps the stress caused due to bad economics may be the reason for it.
The Producer asked me about people who try to catch up with each other. They keep replacing their mobiles with the latest versions because they don’t want to fall behind with their friends. Well, as far as I was concerned I was not using a smart phone; my phone was a dumb one. I thought that it was a sign of insecurity to buy something you do not need except for catching up with friends. It is a waste of national assets.
In 2014 I am very hopeful about the enactment of new laws particularly under the leadership of Tufan Erhuman but of course there are others helping him in parliament. This is a good sign. As for the coalition government I do not think it will last for long because they are not working in harmony.
Another matter worth mentioning was that Turkey can sell us everything but we are impeded when we try to export our goods to Turkey. So there is unfair competition between Turkey and North Cyprus and this has to be tackled seriously by the politicians.
Another field that requires revision is the working hours of the government offices. We should go back to a full day. Another matter is that if the working day is up to 5 pm, I should be able to go there at 4.45 pm and get my work done. We need better discipline within the civil service. All this can be achieved if the will is there. The schools must get back to full day and lunch must be available freely at Public Schools. Otherwise civil servant parents have to collect their children from schools at lunch time and thus it creates a problem.
I was asked about forthcoming local elections. I believe that if the current mayor Oktay Kayalp stands for election in Famagusta, he will win again. In local elections people normally vote for the candidates and their political affiliations are less important. However any gossip of misappropriation even without proof can be effective. This may be the case in other major towns.
I was also asked about the legal matters in Turkey and my opinion is that in Turkey the mass trials of the generals and their convictions are a serious travesty of justice. It is quite obvious that there was fabricated evidence and also it was wrong to make use of evidence gathered illegally. However the High Court decided differently which is against universal norms. I believe that the generals will go free in 2014 because the injustices caused to them is now so evident in view of recent legal developments against the PM Erdogan and now they are calling “foul” too.
The final question was about the Cyprus problem. I do not expect any agreement from the Cypriots on both sides but eventually I expect an imposed solution from outside which will leave both sides unsatisfied.
You may also be interested in reading another of my articles published on cyprusscene.co “July – 1974 War and Imprisonment at Lefke” by clicking here.
Editors note: The opinions, thoughts, postulations or proposals within the articles (news etc.) are but reflections of the author and do not, in any way, represent those of Cyprusscene.com.
The full BRT 1 programme can be viewed in Turkish on Youtube in the video below: