The implementation and application of the Right to Information Act by the Turkish Ministries

Bilgiedinmehakki.org / BilgilenmeHakki.Org Press Release
BilgilenmeHakki.Org / Bilgiedinmehakki.org published a report entitled How do you contact the Turkish Freedom of Information Council? In August 2004. Following the publication of this report, we started to monitor the implementation and application of the Turkish Right to Information Act No. 4982 by the 15 Ministries in Turkey. BilgilenmeHakki.Org / Bilgiedinmehakki.org published an 11 page report on the World Freedom of Information Day (only in Turkish for the moment) following its research conducted through-out August and early September 2004.

Firstly, BilgilenmeHakki.Org / Bilgiedinmehakki.org examined whether the 15 Ministries implemented the Right to Information Act according to the requirements set out in the implementation plan which was published as part of the related Regulations published in April 2004 following the law coming into force on 24 April, 2004. This part of the research was conducted by collecting data from the ministries’ websites. Following this research, we contacted each Ministry and made an access to information request with a set of standard questions. The report that analysed the responses and information provided by the Ministries is published at /doc/tr_uygulama_rapor.pdf in Turkish. An updated version of this report is available at /doc/tr_uygulama_rapor_upd1.pdf.

The summary of the BilgilenmeHakki.Org / Bilgiedinmehakki.org research is provided below:
• The Turkish Right to Information Act has been in force for approximately 5 months.
• All the 15 Ministries monitored in this report established their freedom of information units and started to accept access to information requests including requests sent through the Internet.
• We observed that the information provided in the Ministries’ websites was not standard. There are still freedom of information units with missing communication details and some do not provide full information about the law and the related regulations.
• The members of the public have started to use their right to information and several hundreds of requests have been made to the Ministries.
• 9 Ministries that provided a response and information received a total of 2519 access to information requests by mid August 2004. 1929 (%77) of these requests resulted with information being provided. 590 (%23) of these requests were denied information.
• The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs received the most requests (7265) and this Ministry did not deny information to any requests it received. So far the Ministry of Trade and Industry (197), and the Ministry of Defence (126) lead the chart of refusals.
• The Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Trade and Industry replied to the access to information requests providing detailed information within the same day of application and provided further information on follow-up questions within 24hrs.
• Despite the formation of freedom of information units, three Ministries, namely Ministry of Health, Minisitry of Labour and Social Security, and Ministry of Education, did not reply to the access to information requests within 15 working days as required by law. In fact, these four Ministries ignored the requests and have never been in touch with us.
• A reply from the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources is still expected. This Ministry was 3 months late in establishing its freedom of information unit and therefore a request was only made in early September 2004.
• The Ministry of Defence, and the Ministry of Social Prosperity and Housing replied but refused to provide the information requested but they did provide the information after we appealed and wrote them a second time.
• We also appealed the decision of the Ministry of Interior Affairs not to provide us with the requested information. We are still waiting to hear from this Ministry in terms of our appeal.
• It has been noticed that none of the Ministries provide communications details for the Right to Information Assessment (Review) Council. This information was not communicated to us in detail when we asked for it. As should be noted BilgilenmeHakki.Org published contact details for the Council in its August 2004 report.

The short history, and the implementation and application of the Turkish Right to Information Law by the 15 Ministries therefore provides a complex picture. Serious problems associated with the application of the Law have been documented in this research study and the four Ministries that failed to respond cast a dark shadow on some of the good work done in terms of implementation and application by other Ministries.

The enactment of a right to information law is a significant step towards openness, transparency, and democratisation in Turkey. But if the Law is applied in a very arbitray way by the Ministries, this means there are serious problems in terms of implementation. It should not be forgotten that the emactment of a Right to Information Law is only the first step towards openness and transparency in Turkey. But for a more open and transparent Turkey, the proper implementation and applications of the law is crucial.

BilgilenmeHakki.Org asked the Prime Ministry and the Right to Information Assessment (Review) Council to address the problems identified and witnessed in its research and report.

BilgilenmeHakki.Org will continue to monitor the developments in Turkey.

For further information please contact Dr. Yaman Akdeniz at lawya@cyber-rights.org
Dr. Yaman Akdeniz, Lecturer in CyberLaw, University of Leeds, United Kingdom. Director, Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK), and a 2003-04 Fellow of the International Policy and Information Policy Fellowship programmes of the Open Society Institute.