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More on TOKI, the Turkish Housing Development Administration

Monday’s Hurriyet Daily News (HDN) column, which I posted here at the blog as well, was very well-read. Not only it was the third most popular item on the HDN website (see the picture below for solid proof on my inflated ego- click to enlarge), it got shared in social media 68 times, which is much much higher than the paper’s average (many articles don’t get shared at all).

Anyway, I got a lot of feedback from readers, which I’d like to share here. I’ll start with a comment to the blog post. I will post here the relevant parts of the comment:

My understanding of what TOKI does is to build modern quality apartments at reasonable prices generally targeting the middle class. As you said above the construction companies do not want to deal with TOKI because of low margins which means they have to match TOKI standards with low cost that, at the end, benefits buyers.

Well it is not only the low margins; it is also the low quality.  A reader spoke with a few very large construction companies for me (yes, I am now recruiting readers for my own media outlet). The construction executives told him that they could not build at TOKI prices AND quality. Anyway, the commenter goes on:

Last year, I took a double-decker bus from Taksim to outskirts of Istanbul with the intension exploring the suburbs and see which fits me. I was amazed with the TOKI projects, they have created neighbourhoods from bare hills.

This is a very good point, as there is an urban planning aspect to all this, which I had completely ignored until now. Basically, TOKI is encouraging spread-out, car-dependent living in ugly buildings. The Guven Sak columns I had linked to in the column and in the post make this point, and he has a third column on the same topic, which appeared in yesterday’s Radikal. Incidentally, I watched a really good Argentinean movie called Sidewalls (Medianeras) last night, which is built upon the ugly landscape of Buenos Aires. It is available on Netflix, if you live in the States (or other markets where Netflix is offered), or use a VPN like me:)

On a more general point, we are not really investigating the side effects of TOKI policies at all. The lack of impact evaluation, which I see as one of the biggest deficiencies of Turkish policymaking, is exacerbated by the almost-nonexistence of think tanks in the county. That’s why  I invited TEPAV and other think-tanks to develop my idea on the age of companies that have won TOKI contracts.

Speaking of that, I had mentioned in the blog post that, as Dani Rodrik of Harvard University pointed out, my analysis was incomplete. It turns out Dani’s suggestion of comparing contract winners and losers won’t work, either: I have learned that TOKI devises contract Terms of Reference such that only the “preferred” companies will end up bidding. But we can certainly compare the founding dates of contract winners with all the firms in construction- that data should be in the TOBB database, as I mentioned before. An American financial journalist who knows the country well (has been here for a few years and speaks the language fluently) remarked yesterday to me that whoever understands TOKI will have a very good grasp of the Turkish economy. What I wrote is just the tip of the iceberg, so I hope people will follow. And here’s another reader, writing on the HDN website, who feels the same:

Western newspapers and TV-news let their journalists spend months digging into stories like this. I wish HDN lets you or someone else do the same with TOKI.

She also thanks me for a “a short, but good example of Turkish investigative journalism”. I should say that after having written analytical columns on Turkish monetary policy and macroeconomics, I am starting to like investigative journalism, after having got my taste with my Congo Fever column (detailed version at the Economonitor weekly).

Finally, my “covered ladies driving SUV’s” remark in the column got quite a few arrows, with one person calling it and/or me sexist and pathetic. I am definitely pathetic, given my football club Besiktas’s woes, and my friend Asli, an incurable feminist, did call me sexist after I wrote Kadikoy, where Fenerbahce football club plays its matches, as Karikoy, which means woman-village (the original translates as judge-village), but it seems I was onto something: A reader from Ankara who recently bought an SUV told me that he saw lots of covered ladies shopping at the dealer. Unfortunately, that was before the column, so he didn’t ask them if their husbands were TOKI contractors/subcontractors:)…

9 Responses to “More on TOKI, the Turkish Housing Development Administration”

AkbarJuly 19th, 2012 at 8:18 am

Thanks for addressing my comments, I see you are on the offensive and admire your courage. It would be equivalent of Japanese blogger in Yomiuri newspaper taking on Toyota or Post Office in Japan, yes, there are limits to democracy even in developed democracies, your Turkish readers should note that, since Turkey is trying to become one.
I give you this; the buildings were ugly, but my larger point got lost. When I was looking around for real estate Turkey was shocked with Van earthquake and I felt sorry to see those images of 6-story buildindgs sandwiched to ground. (What I meant by quality was, really, following the building standards, which builders of those buildings in Van obviously did not). As one of your officials said then "earthquakes do not kill people, bad buildings do" (well, bad buildings and 20m high sea rushing inland)
As a buyer I would not buy Toki apartment but there are big bulk of Turkish middle class folks who cannot afford great looking apartments within beautiful complexes.
My point was if Toki can contribute to earthquake resistant infrastructure and help prevent Van disaster from happening again, then, let those covered ladies buy SUVs (you keep bringing these ladies up…)
Investigative journalists should focus their ammunition on builders of those buildings that killed so many. Perhpas there is a journalist friend you can advice this subject to.
Thanks again.

Emre Deliveli edeliveliJuly 19th, 2012 at 8:43 am

I am sorry if I sounded on the offensive; I didn't mean to. I am certainly not on the offensive against you. I am not on the offensive against TOKI, either.

I see your points. Let me make one thing clear: There is nothing wrong with having an institution like TOKI. Its goals are (or at least used to be) noble. I am not even against them to acquire land cheaply from the Treasury or change zoning laws at will, although those measure create an unfair business environment. But if an state-run agency has made up 10% of the sector and has so much power, it should be run transparently, meaning: Financials should be available, we should people who are invited to bid, etc etc…

On a more general level, TOKI's impact (+ or -) on the economy and urban landscape should be evaluated, but now it can't be done because the agency is a black box. Have you read the three Guven Sak columns I linked to? He makes some of these points (and more) in more detail.

BTW, I am not an investigative journalist; I am merely an econ. columnist whose specialty is macro., but one who enjoys investigative journalism from time to time. But there are very good investigative journalists in Turkey who have indeed "focused their ammo" on the Van contractors. They would have loved to look at TOKI as well, but it is one big black box!…

Finally, I am not really familiar with Japan (I should be, it is a shame on my part, but there is unfortunately a lack of interest here towards world's third largest economy) at all, so I am not sure if the Yomiuri blogger comment was a praise towards me and Economonitor or an insult:):):) Anyway, thanks for your comments…

Best,

Emre

AkbarJuly 19th, 2012 at 11:50 am

Thank you Emre,
By "offensive" I meant you are on the offensive towards Toki (centainly, I did not take any offence, I am mere spectator interested in long term prospects of Turkey, my favorite country) but now I understand that you are indeed on the offensive towards lack of transparency.
My background is also macro, that is probably what attracted me to your articles, they are quiet tecnical and detailed.
Yomuiri comment was of course a compliment, it shows you have courage to stand up and ask difficult questions.

Good luck and keep writing,

Akbar

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I see your points. Let me make one thing clear: There is nothing wrong with having an institution like TOKI. Its goals are (or at least used to be) noble.

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