Saturday, September 19, 2009

How can Babacan mend a broken heart?

As I was listening to Ali Babacan (our economy minister) on NTV Radio in the office, I almost liked him. I liked it when he said "they tell us to spend more money, to drive our debt/GDP ratio to 80%... we should also look at the maturities, the structure of the debt. Each country should find her own 'right' policy." He admitted that an agreement with the IMF would leave more room for private sector borrowing. He said that the skill sets of job seekers do not match what the employers are looking for. He observed cutting taxes isn't enough to ensure compliance. When given the opportunity to accuse the banks, he didn't take it: "The profits of the banks are increasing because the value of the government securities are increasing. Of course banks are being more selective now, but we also know that they are extending large loans to healthy companies - naturally only unsuccessful applicants speak up and complain."

My infatuation with him lasted until I saw his lecture at the LSE. I didn't mind so much that he arrived an hour late, but I am a bit impatient with bullshit nowadays. If there was still time for questions by the time I built up my courage to ask them, I would ask the following:

First of all, I would ask him, why didn't his government get on with the structural reforms when the global economy was booming and money was pouring into the country? Now he is talking of tackling the informal economy and investing in the education and training programs to improve the skills of the workforce. These problems are not new, they were always there, but the shower of foreign money allowed his government to look over them.

When asked about the persistent tax charges to Doğan Group, he said no sector should be immune to tax investigations. This is a clever way of turning the call for "freedom of media" on its head, but I hope nobody in the audience was naive enough to buy it (except maybe for that one guy who "applauded" our democratic and economic advances under the AKP). Then he proceeded to explain how Doğan could go to court or negotiate with the Finance Ministry, and in fact, 85% of the companies who went to court to dispute their tax penalties won the cases. Hımm, maybe that is a sign that the investigators of the Revenue Administration, the one the government is so afraid of making independent, are not doing their job properly? Way to encourage companies to repent and move into the formal sector.

But Babacan dealt the fatal blow when he started talking about democracy and judicial reform. In moments like this I emphatize with those activists who lose it and start screaming at the speaker. (Sometimes sanity seems like a privilege only to the ignorant and the naive.) How noble and enlightened of him to acknowledge our shortcomings so openly. Yes, we have a government so enlightened and open minded to recognize the mistakes of the past.

Only if they understood the spirit of democracy and justice.

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