Turkish Ambassador Fazli Corman: “Now is the time for Yemen to do some privatization”

Published on 4 February 2014 in Interview
Nadia Al-Sakkaf (author), Ali Al-Moshiki (photographer)

Nadia Al-Sakkaf


Ali Al-Moshiki

“Turkey has the ability to share its own experiences with Yemen because unlike countries that also have support to offer, I believe that we are the country best positioned to help because of our history, which is very similar to Yemen’s history”

“Turkey has the ability to share its own experiences with Yemen because unlike countries that also have support to offer, I believe that we are the country best positioned to help because of our history, which is very similar to Yemen’s history”

Within just one week of his posting to Yemen, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries’ initiative was signed on November 23, 2011. Ambassador Fazli Çorman said he decided to do everything in his power to help Yemen take advantage of what he calls a “historic niche.”

His experience in countries that include Iraq, and his work representing Turkey at the U.N. have given him insight into the complexity of Yemen’s transition but more importantly, the opportunities he believes Yemen should seize on its journey to prosperity.

“Turkey has the ability to share its own experiences with Yemen… because unlike countries that have other kinds of support to offer, I believe that we are the country best positioned to help because of our history, which is very similar to Yemen’s history,” said Çorman.

“…when I see the things happening in Yemen I remember the situations we had twenty and thirty years ago in my country while we were struggling with very similar problems. The best thing that Turkey can offer Yemen is to share the solutions, knowledge and learning we had in our very similar journey many years ago.”

He compared this journey to that of a mouse finding its way through a maze. To a large extent, Turkey has already found its way after much hard work and after hitting many dead ends. Turkey’s ambassador to Yemen is offering to help Yemen, if Yemen wants, with shortcuts so as to save time and get a head start on the future.

The ambassador believes that Yemen should maintain its proud culture and strong traditions while at the same time, embrace modernization and economic development.

Economic development through smart privatization

“Your problems will be solved when there is good economic development and people feel their income increasing. It is not about the country being rich, but about a fair distribution of wealth to the citizens,” said Çorman.

Turkey has gone through all that and has arrived at a balance between socialism and capitalism through a gradual empowerment of the private sector. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire post WWII, there was a deliberate attempt to reduce reliance on imports by encouraging local production. This has strengthened the local economy and infrastructure, and when the time came to integrate with the EU, Turkey opened its doors to its European neighbors.

This is precisely what Yemen is going through now, argued the ambassador. Now that Yemen has joined the WTO, it will experience greater integration into world markets and only competitive, high quality, Yemeni products and services remain. Those of lower quality will fade away, and this will be very good for consumers.

Even more important is Yemen’s amazing opportunity to delegate management of many state-controlled services through privatization or outsourcing.

“Now is the time for Yemen to do some privatization. Privatization will help reduce costs and increase the efficiency of basic services. However, great care must be taken in Yemen’s move towards privatization [to ensure] that it is not done in a corrupt environment—otherwise Yemen will lose everything!” the ambassador declared.  

The state’s assets must be sold at a very good price and money generated from this sale must be wisely invested by the state.

After the second world war, Turkey implemented statism—what is known as state economy—where the state manages and provides citizens with all basic services such as electricity, water, telecommunications, etc. After more than three decades it was Turgut Özal who liberated the economy in the 1980s and introduced the concept of privatizing state economic enterprises (huge public companies).

In the 1980s and 1990s the Turkish government invested the cash they received from privatization in large infrastructure projects in energy, telecommunications and transportation. Their goal was to create an inviting environment for investment and economic growth. Today Turkey is undergoing a second phase of privatization by outsourcing services. For example, the Turkish government buys electricity from the private sector on a contractual basis, and private companies in Istanbul are now responsible for collecting garbage and performing other services that used to be managed by the municipality of Istanbul.

“The municipality is monitoring the work of these companies to ensure quality services are provided to the public and at good prices,” he clarified.

Ambassador Çorman wants to make sure that he utilizes the time remaining in his posting as ambassador to Yemen to support Yemen’s transition as much as possible and [take advantage of this historic moment in time].

He has been quite active in the Yemeni community, whether talking to officials, the media, political entities or individuals, and sharing with them the Turkish experience.

“Turkey stands equidistant from all Yemeni political and social entities,” he said.

He realizes that Yemenis pay close attention to events that have been taking place in Turkey and has been asked whether he is worried about stability in his own country while helping Yemen become a stable state. His answer to Yemeni friends’ concerns is that Turkey is a mature democracy and long ago created a strong institutional structure. Turkey decided in the 1950s to have a multiparty political system and the success they have attained today did not come painlessly or overnight. The country had been ruled by coalitions for many years and it was only in the last two decades or so that they have seen elections won by a comfortable majority, which has allowed the country’s very visible progress to take place.

In 2014 Turkey will hold two elections and possibly a third one, either by the end of the year or early next year. Yemen will also hold elections and referenda this year. The ambassador confirmed that Turkey is willing to support Yemen in its coming elections in all ways possible.

Security issues

Ambassador Çorman believes that the country’s security issues could be resolved in the space of a month—if all stakeholders agree to put an end to violence and work together to ensure the country’s stability.

“It is up to the Yemenis: all Yemenis—tribes, military, political parties and even citizens—can enjoy stability if they really want it,” he said.

He recognizes that the situation today is far from ideal and there are concerns regarding kidnappings, armed militias and other acts of violence. The security problems have lead many Turkish families to flee the country and others to change how they live in order to adjust to this reality.

Lawlessness has lead to arms smuggling, and lack of state control has encouraged some people to abuse the situation in Yemen for financial gain.

Ambassador Çorman talked about a situation in which Turkish manufacturers smuggled shipments of blank pistols into Yemen. These were then turned into deadly weapons when a real barrel was inserted in them.

“Now we understand the details of this issue. The Turkish manufacturers [took advantage of] a loophole in our legal system that does not criminalize the production and sale of blank pistols, even if they look very real. [Creative Yemeni criminals…] turned them into weapons to sell in Yemen for at least ten times the cost,” explained the ambassador.

He said that by working together, Yemeni and Turkish security authorities managed to turn this problem into an opportunity with the result of strengthened security ties between the two countries.

More importantly, Turkish law will be changed [so that this does not happen again].

The last shipment captured was in July 2013 and since then, both Yemeni and Turkish authorities have been very aware of the issue and have worked together to put an end to such criminal activity, he said.

Yemen’s bright future

According to Çorman, a country is as happy as its least happy citizen and is as democratic  as the rights enjoyed by the most marginalized. This is why it is important that all Yemenis enjoy equal citizenship and live in prosperity.

As to how he sees Yemen’s future, he believes “It is all in Yemen’s hands now.” And as a country, Ambassador Çorman believes Yemen has made great strides, especially recently with the successful conclusion of the National Dialogue Conference.

He is personally impressed and proud of the Yemeni men and women who, against all odds, were able to accomplish this work, he said. He believes this is yet another example of how difficult circumstances can be handled peacefully and harmoniously.

“Yemeni wisdom played an important role in making this happen. And together with the equally important role of the P5 and GCC countries, this could be seen as a unique model to be replicated elsewhere, especially since Yemen is blessed to have this unified international support,” he said.

“I am very proud that my Yemeni brothers and sisters were able to do this!”