September 22, 2014

Leaving a unique mark on economic history

Ali Aslan Kılıç

While explaining the "trust" factor in economies, professors at economics faculties underline the importance of social psychology. They list examples of how people panic and trigger economic crises when speculation about a bank is voiced.

Human psychology works in a similar way everywhere in the world; people will rush to a bank if claims are made that it will sink, and they'll want to withdraw their money. This panic would not only sink the bank, but also create a negative effect on the country's economy, since it could trigger crises in other sectors.

Currently, we are going through a period that will leave a unique mark on economic history.

Despite the government-led campaign against it, Bank Asya still stands firm.

While conducting this campaign, the pro-government media has published fabricated news and attempted to discredit the bank.

Those who are in the top positions of the executive branch have committed crimes by making defamatory remarks against the bank. First, state companies and institutions withdrew massive amounts of money from Bank Asya in order to push it into insolvency by choking its liquidity. But they failed. Pressure on the bank intensified when an agreement between the Finance Ministry and Bank Asya allowing the bank to handle its transactions was canceled. The Social Security Institution (SGK) also announced that it had ended its services agreement with Bank Asya. In this way, they tried to make the bank's clients close their accounts. But they failed. They tried to create chaos via social media trolls. But they failed. Trading shares of the bank was suspended by Borsa İstanbul (BİST) following a remark by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Then, the government waited for Bank Asya's shares to crash. But they didn't.

They were expecting Bank Asya to sink, but the opposite happened...

Bank Asya has issued a statement saying the large portion of their clients did not pay any heed to a smear campaign against the private lender. In the statement, Bank Asya also noted that after state companies and institutions withdrew large amounts of money from the bank, they received a high number of new clients. And as a response to their clients' trust in the bank, it decided to increase its capital adequacy ratio.

Over the last 10 months, the bank has been facing a defamation campaign. Speaking on a TV program aired on the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT), Efkan Ala -- who was appointed interior minister after a major corruption probe was made public on Dec. 17, 2013 -- voiced unfounded claims. He claimed that the Dec. 17 probe was an operation against the government. Ala said that before the corruption scandal went public, the bank had made $2 billion in profit after buying a large amount of US dollars when the greenback surged against the lira -- which is exactly the same figure that pro-government dailies also said Bank Asya made. He also said he had proof to support his claim. Soon it was revealed that none of these claims was true. However, Ala, who has failed to produce any evidence to support his claim, has declined to offer an apology to the bank. Now it seems that the aim of this was to discredit the bank in the eyes of the public.

The banking industry in the past cost Turkey a lot -- the collapse of 25 banks and the loss of one-third of the national income. Depositors were victimized. The people of this country had to pay the price for the lack of regulatory and supervisory measures in the banking sector.

And several measures were taken in order to prevent new crises. The aim of the laws on banking should be to protect the interests of the depositors. One of the main problems of the Turkish economy is an insufficiency of savings. Savings cannot be increased without reinforcing trust in the banking sector.

It cannot be argued that President Erdoğan and people influenced by his remarks have not drawn a lesson from the previous banking crisis. So there is only one explanation for their actions: They are trying to distract people from the corruption investigation by sinking a bank. For outsiders, this may seem contradictory, but those who have done wrong know the real price of these actions. They may be taking a big risk and committing a crime in order to cover up a previous wrongdoing, but in the end, the price of being found guilty in the corruption investigation is much higher.

The government's decision to launch a witch-hunt, using hate speech and polarizing society, can also be explained by this as well.

The Turkish banking sector, particularly Bank Asya and its clients, are leaving a unique mark on economic history. Despite the government-led smear campaign and the president's defamatory remarks, Bank Asya's clients have not panicked, and the bank still stands firm.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 21 September 2014, Sunday