Our 100-year adventure with municipalities

Published 11.06.2019 00:01
Updated 11.06.2019 00:14

The transition from the classic state structure to Western style institutions was a troubled process. Since the new institutions were created with an old mentality in the absence of good planning and since the old ones were hastily abolished, the state structure had remained in disorder for many years. The process of establishing Istanbul Municipality, which started in 1826, was finally concluded in 1963 with local elections. In other words, we managed to create today's municipality in 137 years.

During the Ottoman era and until the first quarter of the 19th century, municipal services were usually performed by kadis (judges). In Istanbul, municipal services were rendered by the kadi of Istanbul. After the forced disbandment of the Janissary corps in 1826, Sultan Mahmud II established the Office of the Superintendent of Guild and Markets (Ihtisab Nezareti) and assigned it duties like inspections of markets and tradesmen, tax collection and security. But it failed to achieve the desired goals. The establishment of municipal services took a long time to complete. In their works on the history of municipalities, İlber Ortaylı and Zafer Toprak narrate the history of municipal services in Turkey.

Establishment of Şehremaneti

By the mid-19th century, Istanbul was among the biggest cities in Europe, with a population of nearly half a million. But there were problems with food supplies, sanitation and security in the city. The disorder in Istanbul caused by the Crimean War in 1853 revealed the deficiencies in municipal services. As a result, the Ihtisab Nezareti was abolished in 1855 and a local authority named "Istanbul Şehremaneti (Municipality)" was founded. The Şehremaneti was assigned various duties like ensuring the food supply to the city; the inspection of tradesmen, buildings and maintenance of roads; cleaning the city; and collecting taxes and submitting them to the Treasury. The decision-making and executive power of the municipality consisted of two bodies, namely the şehremini (mayor) and the city assembly. The şehremini was an appointed mayor. The City Assembly, however, was to be composed of esteemed city residents from every walk of life. Though the Istanbul Şehremaneti had not introduced much change to the administration of the city, an order with rules about city management began to emerge anyway. Since the city's budget and sources of income were not compatible with the new structure, infrastructure works were carried out by the central government.

While the İhtisab Nezareti was transformed into the Şehremaneti, the structure of the municipal government did not undergo a thorough change. The City Assembly could not become an active body since townspeople did not participate in management. With the 1864 Provincial Regulation (Vilayet Nizamnamesi), municipal administrations began to be created in major cities across the country. After the adoption of the 1877 Law on Provincial Municipalities (Vilayetler Belediye Kanunu), municipal administrations proliferated across the country.

Frequent changes to municipal organization

In 1868, Istanbul was divided into 14 municipal districts, and the first municipality was named the Sixth Office (Altıncı Daire), following the example in Paris where the most modern and elite district was called the 6th Arrondissement (Precinct). The Sixth Office was comprised of Galata and Beyoğlu. Efforts toward extending this example to other regions eventually failed. Again in 1868, the Şehremaneti authority was reorganized. But due to the municipality's lack of revenue sources, the desired outcome could not be obtained here, either.

In 1877, the first Ottoman Parliament (Meclis-i Mebusan) adopted two laws envisaging separate management structures for Istanbul and other provincial municipalities. The Dersaadet Municipal Law, which gave special status to the municipalities of Istanbul, was criticized by deputies from the provinces. How to organize Istanbul Municipality was a subject of constant debate. The number of municipal districts was increased now and reduced later. The city was divided first into 14, then 20, and later into 10 municipal districts. The number was eventually reduced to nine. The initial decision was to organize each municipal office as a separate branch, but they were subordinated to district governorships later, or not established at all. Technical staff meant to carry out the real works in the city could not be recruited. During the tenure of Mazhar Paşa as mayor (1881-1890), the formerly private Water Company (Terkos Şirketi) and the Istanbul Gas Administration (Gazhane) were integrated into the municipality, along with the police department. However, the water and gas administrations and the police department were later taken over by the government again.

Under the mayorship of Rıdvan Paşa (1891-1906), measures were taken against cholera, and inspectorates of public hygiene and veterinary services were created. Cobblestone roads and sidewalks were constructed in major districts of the city. Doctors were brought from France to prevent the spread of epidemics and contagious diseases in the city. Constant transfer of municipal services between the Şehremaneti and the government, and the indecision over what do had prevented rapid institutionalization of the municipality.

The New Municipal Structure

With the Second Constitutional Period (II. Meşrutiyet), a new era began for municipalities. In 1912, a new law named the Provisional Act on Istanbul Municipal Organization (Dersaadet Teşkilat-ı Belediyesi Hakkında Kanun-ı Muvakkat) was passed. This law reorganized the Şehremaneti as a centralized body. The municipal department model was abolished, and the Şehremaneti was transformed into a single municipal department consisting of nine bureaus. In 1877, the Şehremaneti was controlling the activities of municipal departments and conducting joint operations related to the departments.

In 1912, however, municipal departments became a part of the Şehremaneti. During the Second Constitutional Period, new developments for urban planning took place. Topuzlu Cemil Paşa, who served as mayor between 1912 and 1914, introduced urban transformation and development policies. The municipality devoted a portion of the loans it borrowed to buy facilities that were owned by the Treasury and had a capacity to generate revenue.

Thus, it funded the government during the Balkan wars, allowing it to make immediate payments. Some amount of these loans was used to construct parks like the Gülhane Park. Several roads were expanded, dust carts were bought, a modern slaughterhouse was built and a city map was prepared.

On the one hand, initiatives about transportation were launched and measures were taken to ensure hygiene in food production facilities. While serving as mayor again during the Mütareke (Armistice) period between 1919 and 1920, Topuzlu Cemil Paşa focused on town planning. Efforts toward rendering municipalities capable of providing services to the entire city had previously failed.

Many institutions operating within the municipality's service area had not collaborated with it. A new Local Administration Act introduced in 1930 marked a turning point in the approach toward municipal organization and structure.

Under the new law, Şehremaneti was changed to "belediye," and the municipality and the Istanbul governorate were merged. But the municipality and the governorate were detached by March 1957. The first municipal elections in Istanbul were held on Nov. 17, 1963 and in 1984 the city became a metropolitan municipality.

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