2008 Turkey FOI Report Published

BilgiEdinmeHakki.Org Press Release: 08.05.2008

A report prepared by Dr. Yaman Akdeniz entitled Freedom of Information in Turkey: A Critical Assessment of the Implementation and Application of the Right to Information Act 2003 is made available by BilgiEdinmeHakki.Org, a Turkish pressure group on 08 May, 2008.

The report incorporates data and research gathered between 2004-2008, and provides a detailed analysis of the implementation and application of the Right to Information Act in Turkey. High numbers of right to information applications between 2004-2006 (1,886,962 in total) suggest wider awareness of the existence of the law and the availability of a right to information and access to official documents in Turkey.

The report includes an assessment of the work of the Turkish Right to Information Review Council (BEDK) between June 2004 and March 2008 as well as the assessment of the implementation of the law by central and local government agencies. The report further assesses whether the enactment of a freedom of information law in Turkey helped to achieve an open and transparent regulatory process and whether the new law promotes openness and good practice within government institutions in terms of provision of information.

The report highlights both positive and negative observations with regards to the application and implementation of the Right to Information Act and provides a set of recommendations for improvement of the application of the Right to Information Act in Turkey.

The author of the report, Dr. Yaman Akdeniz, stated that “Although the enactment of the Right to Information Act is a very important step towards openness, transparency, and democratisation in Turkey, the report has identified several problems with the application of the law. As the report will show despite Right to Information Review Council decisions and administrative court orders, there is still resistance to give information, and a high number of public authorities are disputing Council decisions, either by ignoring them, or by appealing to administrative courts to challenge such decisions. Therefore, there needs to be significant improvements to the current system to break down the culture of secrecy and resistance to provide information.”

The report is available at http://www.bilgiedinmehakki.org/doc/Turkey_FOI_2008_Report.pdf
For further information see the Turkish Right to Information Blog: http://foia.bilgiedinmehakki.info
Dr. Yaman Akdeniz can be contacted at akdeniz@bilgiedinmehakki.org

Dr. Yaman Akdeniz is a senior lecturer in law at the School of Law, University of Leeds, United Kingdom. Dr. Akdeniz has been following the enactment of the Turkish Right to Information Act 2003 which came into force on 24 April, 2004 since its inception. He has been a freedom of information activist since 1998 and is also the co-founder of the BilgiEdinmeHakki.Org pressure group which monitors the implementation and application of the Turkish law since 2003.

BilgiEdinmeHakki.Org (www.bilgiedinmehakki.org) has been set up as a pressure group on 09 October, 2003, the day the Turkish Government enacted the Right to Information Act 2003 (No: 4982) to ensure that the Act is effectively used by the Turkish citizens and a greater degree of openness and transparency is established in Turkey as part of its democratization. Bilgi Edinme Hakki stands for Right to Information in Turkish, and the name of the organisation is based upon the Turkish Act.

Turkish Right to Information Blog

This new blog is set up by Dr. Yaman Akdeniz who is a senior lecturer in law at the School of Law, Universit of Leeds, United Kingdom. Yaman has been following the enactment of the Turkish Right to Information Act 2003 which came into force on 24 April, 2004 since its inception. He has been a freedom of information activist since 1998 and is also the co-founder of the BilgiEdinmeHakki.Org pressure group which monitors the implementation and application of the Turkish law since 2003.

While the BilgiEdinmeHakki.Org pages are predominantly in Turkish this new blog at foia.bilgiedinmehakki.infowill provide information about the Turkish developments in English. It is my intention to inform the world at large about the freedom of information related developments from Turkey.

Turkish Right to Information Assessment Council started to publish its decisions.

BilgiEdinmeHakki.Org Press Release (12 March, 2007)
Subject: Turkish Right to Information Assessment (Review) Council started to publish its decisions.

BilgiEdinmeHakki.Org (www.bilgiedinmehakki.org), a Turkish pressure group, played a crucial role in ensuring that the decisions of the Turkish Right to Information Assessment (Review) Council are finally made public. BilgiEdinmeHakki.Org has lodged several freedom of information requests to the Turkish Council since August 2004 (requests dated: 03/08/2004, 29/06/2005, 16/02/2006, 21/02/2007) but the Council either failed to publish, or denied access to its decisions.

However, the Council decided to change its policy in terms of the publications of its decisions following BilgiEdinmeHakki.Org’s most recent request dated 21 February, 2007. It was revealed that the Council will start publishing all its decisions from 09 March, 2007, the day the Council’s decision (B.02.0.BHİ.796.001/203) was sent to BilgiEdinmeHakki.Org.

The Council in its reponse to BilgiEdinmeHakki.Org revealed that it has made 2475 decisions in relation to freedom of information appeals from the members of the public between 24/05/2004 – 26/02/2007.Until 09 March, 2007 only 74 of these were made available, and these were published in December 2004. Since then no further decisions of the Council were made public. On 09 March, 2007 the Council published 28 of its 69 decision books containing 641 decisions out of the 2475 decisions (roughly 495 pages in length). These involve the decisions made by the Council between 07. 06.2004 and 15.06.2005.

BilgiEdinmeHakki.Org requested further information from the Council on 12 March, 2007 in terms of when the remaining 41 decision books containing approximately 1834 decisions made by the Council between 15.06.2005 and 26.02.2007 will be made public.

BilgiEdinmeHakki.Org also requested detailed statistics from the Council and the following information was provided:

  • Total number of appeal applications to the Council between 24/05/2004 – 26/02/2007: 2,676
  • Number of applications proceeded: 2,321
  • Number of applications rejected: 355
  • Total Number of Council decisions between 24/05/2004 – 26/02/2007: 2,475
  • Total Number of successful appeals: 977
  • Total Number of partially successful appeals: 419
  • Total number of rejected appeals: 888
  • Total number of appeals in which further review was necessary: 10
  • Total number of appeal applications to be discussed by the Council: 213

Despite limited resources, BilgiEdinmeHakki.Org will start a new project assessing the decisions of the Turkish Right to Information Assessment Council. Dr. Yaman Akdeniz, on the behalf of the Turkish pressure group stated that “despite considerable and unacceptable delay, the publication of the Council’s decisions is a significant step towards openness and transparency in Turkey. We are now in a better position to assess the work of the Council as well as the functioning of the Turkish Right to Information Act 2003 (No: 4982). However, the remaining decisions need to be published swiftly and further requests for information has already been lodged with the Council to ensure that.”

Notes for the Release:

Contact: Dr. Yaman Akdeniz & Av. Avniye Tansuğ – akdeniz@bilgiedinmehakki.org

This press release will be available through: http://www.bilgiedinmehakki.org/en/

A PDF version of this release is also available at http://www.bilgiedinmehakki.org/doc/2007_01ENG.pdf

The Council’s decisions can be obtained through http://www.basbakanlik.gov.tr/sour.ce/index.asp?wpg=detay&did=838831BA-3CA1-4403-8789-CBF96C7A8B19 – These are provided only in Turkish.

A PDF single document version of the Council decisions (in Turkish) is available athttp://www.bilgiedinmehakki.org/doc/BEDK_kararlar.pdf

BilgiEdinmeHakki.Org (www.bilgiedinmehakki.org ) has been set up as a pressure group on 09 October, 2003, the day the Turkish Government enacted the Right to Information Act 2003 (No: 4982) to ensure that the Act is effectively used by the Turkish citizens and a greater degree of openness and transparency is established in Turkey as part of its democratization. Bilgi Edinme Hakki stands for Right to Information in Turkish, and the name of the organisation is based upon the Turkish Act.

Right to Information Act 2003
The Turkish Parliament enacted the Right to Information Act 2003, Bilgi Edinme Hakki Kanunu (No: 4982) in October 2003. The Right to Information Act 2003 came into force six months after the date of its publication on 24 April, 2004.

Right to Information Assessment (Review) Council

The formation of the Right to Information Assessment (Review) Council was required by article 14 of the Turkish Act and the Council reviews the administrative decisions rendered under the Act and makes decisions on the exercise of the right to information regarding public authorities.

The Procedure for Appeal
Within 15 days starting from the official notification from a public institution, an applicant whose request for access to information is rejected, may appeal to the Council before appealing for judicial review. The law requires that the Council shall render a decision within 30 days.

State Secret Law may encourage deputies to do their job on arms purchases…

When there is no parliamentary scrutiny or independent auditing mechanism, it becomes extremely hard to know if Turkey’s political and military decision makers are making the right choices while selecting the arms systems required by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) to defend the country. Past and current experiences, as well as data on the current strength of the local industry in producing military technology, have proven that in many arms purchases decisions Turkey ends up making the wrong choices mainly because of the lack of accountability and transparency in the process culminating with their acquisition.
Among several examples of such ill-defined decisions are Eryx anti-tank missiles, over which Turkey’s Defense Industries Undersecretariat (SSM) and French missile maker MBDA are now in a Geneva arbitration court to solve the dispute.
In 2004, MBDA took Turkey to the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce in Geneva on grounds that Turkey had allegedly violated contract terms when it cancelled a $486.5 million worth, 10-year-long program for the purchase of Eryx missiles.

Whoever wins the court case in the end does not change the fact that this agreement back in 1998 was signed by generals who claimed at the time that those missiles were needed. It is true that some defects occurred in MBDA missiles during tests in 2004. But terminating the contract on grounds that the Turkish military did not need them anymore does not seem to be very serious as the cancellation of the contract has already been imposing a serious burden on the Turkish tax payers, if not causing weakness within the TSK.

Even the existing mechanisms for democratic civilian oversight of arms purchases could prevent the repetition of such mistakes, provided that deputies have the courage to do so. On the local military technology level there is no bright picture either. Though Turkey has been earmarking around $4 billion per year for arms purchases, the country is dependent on foreign sources for an almost 80 percent for main systems, an unacceptable situation as stated several times by SSM Undersecretary Murat Bayar.

Well, this is of course an unacceptable situation. But how long should this unaccountability on arms purchases last as the country has been striving to adjust its economy to address the increased discrepancy between rich and poor? If members of parliament are not even exercising their already existing rights to debate multi-billion dollar arms purchases, who will do that for the sake of the people who have been generous enough to keep quiet over arms purchases while shouldering the burden themselves?

We, however, should not lose hope. For example, Turkish government spokesperson and Minister of Justice Cemil Çiçek announced on Feb. 26 that several amendments were made to the existing State Secrets Law that will pave the way to make information regarded as secret in the past available to the public. A State Secret Board headed by Prime Minister Erdoğan, comprising of the foreign affairs, justice, interior, as well as the national defense ministers, will be set up. It will decide which documents and information constitute state secrets.

I hope that this board will also play a role in breaking taboos on arms purchases, encouraging deputies to use their already existing authority to debate arms purchases while relaxing the strict rules existing on access to even simple military information. Amendments to the law, I hope, will also open the way for bureaucrats to be obliged to give information to the related authorities on suspected files.

But if we take into consideration the fact that Parliament could not pass a law last year that would have allowed the Court of Auditors to oversee the state property (land, facilities and arms) of the TSK under amendments made to Article 160 of the Constitution because of disagreements between ruling and opposition deputies, difficulties before democratic civilian oversight of the military can be observed.

Perhaps the State Secret Board may encourage deputies to do their job instead of wasting time with rhetoric as they did during the November 2006 debate on the Ministry of National Defense 2007 fiscal year budget at the Parliamentary Budget and Planning Commission.

http://www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/yazarDetay.do?haberno=104185

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.

Turkey Grows More Transparent Every Day

Zaman Online, Turkey Grows More Transparent Every Day

Turkey’s institutions are becoming increasingly transparent as the country continues its march towards European Union (EU) membership.

The government took a giant leap towards the democratic government concept by enacting the Right to Information Act on March 24, 2004. The fact that Chief of General Staff General Hilmi Ozkok ordered that the expenditures and tenders of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) be opened to the inspection of the Court of Accounts also brought Turkey into line with European standards. After the Public Government Reform Act is put into effect, Turkey’s transparency will take on a whole new dimension.

The cabinet also supports the growing transparency, with Speaker of the Parliament Bulent Arinc preparing to open his position to inspection. Arinc, answering Zaman’s questions, confirmed that he started some studies for a new law that would open his position in the Parliament to inspection

Prime Ministry Getting Smaller

The administrative structure of the Prime Ministry draws the most attention because it larger than the presidential system of some countries. There are two main service units in the body of Prime Ministry, and it is predicted that many of the units could be closed or merged with other units.

The Right to Information Act is a milestone for the provision of the democratic and transparent government concept. Put into effect on March 24, the law grants citizens the right to acquire knowledge in accordance with the principles of equality, objectivity and clarity.

Foreigners living in Turkey will also be able to benefit from this law, since it was given an extensive scope. Anyone who wants to learn about the activities of public institutions and occupational institutions will be able to do so.

BilgilenmeHakki.Org publishes report about the Turkish Freedom of Information Council

On 09 August, 2004 BilgilenmeHakki.Org published a report in PDF format about the Turkish Right to Information Assessment (Review) Council. Following a BilgilenmeHakki.Org investigation the following conclusions are made in the report:

• The Turkish Right to Information Act is in force.
• A considerable number of public institutions established their freedom of information units and started to accept access to information requests including through the Internet.
• The public started to use their right to information and several thousands of requests have been made to public institutions.
• The members of the Right to Information Assessment (Review) Council have been identified, and the Council have been established.
• With the publication of this report it is now public knowledge that the Council is fully functional and deals with appeals.
• So far the Council dealt with 73 appeals and 29 of these have been investigated and decided.

However, following this BilgilenmeHakki.Org investigation further significant questions are raised:

• There is no other publicly available document which provides the contact details of the Right to Information Assessment (Review) Council apart from this BilgilenmeHakki.Org report. So how will the public lodge appeals if necessary?
• Why does not the Council have an established website?
• Why is not the Council subject to the same regulations as laid down above in so far as the implementation plan is concerned? The public institutions were required to launch their websites by 27 June, 2004. Why does not this regulation apply to the Council?
• Why doesn’t the Council make public its decisions?

The enactment of a right to information law is a significant step towards openness, transparency, and democratisation in Turkey. Within such a short time, a considerable number of public institutions established their freedom of information units and the Act is fully functional. However, there are significant problems and question marks about the establishment of the Right to Information Assessment (Review) Council. It is unfortunate that we can only get information about the Council via a right to information request to the Prime Ministry.

BilgilenmeHakki.Org therefore recommends that

• The Right to Information Assessment (Review) Council is immediately brought to sunshine.
• The Council publishes its decisions and provides reasons for rejected appeals.
• The public institutions are informed about the whereabouts of the Council and that they provide the public information about how to appeal to the Right to Information Assessment (Review) Council if necessary.

BilgilenmeHakki.Org will make its recommendations to the Prime Ministry with the publication of this report and will continue to monitor the developments in Turkey.

50+ Countries Pass Freedom of Information Laws, More Than Half in Last Decade

New Global Survey Shows Increasing Right to Know, Active International Movement for Open Government

Washington D.C., 12 May 2004 – More than 50 countries now have guaranteed their citizens the right to know what their government is up to, and more than half of these freedom of information laws passed in the last decade, according to an updated global survey posted today on the Web by the virtual network of openness advocates, freedominfo.org.

Four countries have adopted new freedom of information laws just since the last edition of the survey was posted in September 2003. The global survey released today was compiled and edited for freedominfo.org by David Banisar of the University of Leeds and Privacy International as the third in his series on the site, and includes links to the texts of laws and concise commentary on their effectiveness or lack thereof.

Turkish Right to Information Act comes into force

From Monday, the 26th of April, 2004 Turkish citizens will be able to test the Right to Information Act. However, the implementation process has not been completed, and in some instances not even started. The following issues should be noted:

  • Article 30 of the Right to Information Act required a regulatory document to be prepared by the Ministry of Justice concerning the essentials for the application of this law and put into force by the Council of Ministers. However, this important document has not been finalised yet and remains in draft format as of today.
  • Although the law came into force, it is not clear how long the implementation process will take place. There is no indication on when the public institutions will establish the required Right to Information offices within their institutions and when the officers working in such offices will be trained.
  • The Board of Review of the Access to Information which will review the administrative decisions rendered under the Act and which will make decisions on the exercise of the right to information regarding public authorities has not yet been established. There is no information whatsoever as to when this Review Body which will handle the appeals will be formally constituted.
  • The draft State Secrecy and Trade Secrets Bills have not been discussed in Parliament yet. Therefore, the limitations and the exemptions of the Right to Information Act have not been clarified yet.

    Dr. Yaman Akdeniz stated that:

    “It remains to be seen when the Turkish citizens will be able to use this important law effectively. The enactment of a right to information law is a significant step towards openness, transparency, and democratisation in Turkey. However, if the implementation is slow, the Act may never be fully functional. The government should avoid the three year delay witnessed in setting up the Turkish Competition Authority following the enactment of the Competition Law.”

BilgilenmeHakki.Org will be asking a number of Ministries about how and when they will be complying with the requirements of the Right to Information Act with a formal request under the Right to Information Act later this week.

For further information please contact Dr. Yaman Akdeniz at lawya@NOSPAMcyber-rights.org (remove NOSPAM before contacting)

A PDF version of this press release is also available.