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Lobbyist for business pulls few punches 14 décembre 2011

Posted by Acturca in Economy / Economie, Turkey / Turquie.
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Financial Times (UK) Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Special Report : Istanbul: Business & Finance, p. 4

By Leyla Boulton

Profile Umit Boyner. Leyla Boulton meets the forthright president of Tusiad

She sweeps out of the black limousine, in sunglasses and high heels, into the anonymous building in central Istanbul that houses the HQ of Turkey’s lobby group for big business. The blonde former retail executive seems a forbidding presence – until she is sitting across the table with a broad, girlish smile.

Umit Boyner, whose first name means hope, has for the past two years been president of Tusiad, the Turkish Industry and Business Association whose members include Turkish blue-chips such as Koc and Sabanci.

In that role she has been an effective ambassador for Turkish business. At home, she has proved an outspoken advocate of good governance, both corporate and political.

Ms Boyner has also had to contend with increasing competition from Musiad, the Independent Industry and Business Association , which is seen as close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and is supported by provincial businesses that have resented the power of Istanbul-based conglomerates.

A veteran western banker in Istanbul points out that the shift in their relative influence was reflected in a recent US congressional delegation’s decision to visit Musiad before Tusiad.

When the AKP first appeared on the horizon at the start of the decade, it received a warm welcome from Ms Boyner and her husband, Cem, who runs Boyner Holding, a family-controlled clothing retailer.

In contrast to much of Istanbul’s business elite, which fretted about the party’s roots in political Islam, the Boyners were more interested in the party’s liberal agenda on issues such as membership of the European Union.

Yet more recently, Boyner Holding’s former vice-president for finance has faced attack from some AKP politicians, both as a woman and in her role as Tusiad chief. In May, Bulent Arinc, deputy prime minister, accused her of supporting pornography when she spoke out against government curbs on the internet.

Ms Boyner dismissed the accusations during this spring’s election campaign as cheap political shots « at a time when we are all trying to make Turkey a more democratic country ».

She also chided Mr Arinc for bringing her children into the debate, when he said that, as a mother, she should welcome restrictions.
Bahadir Kaleagasi, international co-ordinator for Tusiad, says the 40-year-old organisation is in one of its « post-honeymoon » periods in which it criticises the government.

« Politicians don’t get that, » he says. « They think you are either with them or against them, » he says.

Asked about the rise of Musiad, Ms Boyner says she likes it, while pointing out that membership of Tusiad is not reserved for big companies in Istanbul.

On the contrary, she says the association, which accounts for 80 per cent of Turkish exports, includes « more and more » businesses of all sizes from across the country.

Moreover, « the more civil [society] organisations we have in this country, the better, » she says, before adding, in an apparent reference to Musiad’s perceived cheerleading for the government, « I think it is important for business organisations to uphold principles of independence. »

The 48-year-old businesswoman has become an expert at subtle warnings, especially when dealing with a government that has become less and less tolerant of criticism.

« The latest election results show people in this country yearn for good [public] services. That’s what the AKP has provided for low and middle income people and they’ve done a good job, » she says. « They’ve raised expectations [and how the party continues] depends on whether they fulfil those expectations. »

On the business front, she talks of the need for Ankara to boost competitiveness and attract foreign investment.
Ms Boyner is hopeful a long-awaited commercial code will go into effect in July, despite last-minute lobbying by some small and medium-sized businesses that fear new transparency requirements.

‘I don’t see potential for myself in politics,’ says Tusiad’s Umit Boyner

Asked whether such lobbying involves the likes of Musiad members, she says even SMEs can see that publishing accounts helps them attract finance and expand abroad.

She is unafraid to speak her mind on more emotive subjects, such as Kurdish terror attacks. The day after Kurdish guerrillas killed 24 soldiers in the south-east, Ms Boyner said it was up to the politicians – both the AKP and the Kurdish BHP – to « do their job » and negotiate an end to the violence.

When she steps down in January, hers will join a gallery of portraits of previous Tusiad presidents, including Cem, who occupied the post in 1989-90 before trying his hand at politics. Although his liberal New Democracy Movement failed at the ballot box in 1995, it was a rare instance of the Turkish business elite acting on dissatisfaction with the political class.

As the main Republican People’s Party (CHP) opposition has stalled while the economy has boomed and the AKP has gone from one success to another, Turkey appears set for domination by one party for the foreseeable future. That makes brave voices such as Ms Boyner’s all the more valuable at a time when large chunks of the media are also fearful of irritating the government, particularly if they are owned by diversified conglomerates that typically belong to Tusiad.

Asked whether she might follow in her husband’s footsteps, Ms Boyner says modestly: « I don’t see potential for myself in politics. »

But she stresses the importance of « independent non-governmental organisations » such as Tusiad speaking their mind.

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