COMMENTARY — No more an open government in Turkey

By Abdullah Bozkurt

Turkey has been disengaging itself more from the world under the repressive regime of the current government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has made it abundantly clear that he cannot bear the scrutiny, the transparency and accountability of a democratic society.

The appalling apathy of the Turkish government in its troubled relations with the Open Government Partnership (OGP) — an important global partnership between governments and civil society organizations to promote transparency and accountability, bolster citizen engagement and improve governance – provides a clear-cut example of how Turkey is quickly backsliding on its democratic path. The Erdoğan government did not even bother to respond to repeated inquiries from the OGP that initially placed Turkey in an inactive membership status, a first for the OGP, and later terminated Turkey’s membership when it failed to implement actions by set deadlines.

In a letter to Turkish Ambassador Serdar Kılıç on Sept. 21, 2017, Sanjay Pradhan, chief executive officer of the OGP, informed that Turkey would no longer be considered an OGP participating country. I think the OGP has been quite patient with Turkey’s unresponsiveness for far too long. The Erdoğan government had already been under review by the Criteria and Standards subcommittee for over two years, since 2014, because it did not implement steps recommended by the OGP. Finally, during a meeting in Cape Town, South Africa, on May 4, 2016, the OGP Steering Committee put Turkey on notice and gave four additional months to implement recommended actions before further steps would be taken by the OGP.

The four-point action plan asked by the OGP included (i) identifying both ministerial lead and point of contact to lead the development of proposals and engagement with civil society for a National Action Plan; (ii) producing a publicly available plan to produce a National Action Plan by May 31, 2016, which includes the timeline of key moments, meetings, and process, including ways for civil society to participate and co-create; (iii) collaborating with the OGP Support Unit to organize a visit during the drafting period, which will include a comprehensive public meeting with civil society organizations; and (iv) following through on its promise to complete a National Action Plan no later than Sept. 1, 2016.

Well, the Turkish government ignored the new deadline and did not take any action to retain its membership status and become active again. According to OGP rules, if a country remains inactive for 12 months without re-engaging in the OGP, the Criteria and Standards subcommittee informs the Steering Committee of the situation and recommends that the country be removed from inactive status and no longer be listed as an OGP participant. Again, the Erdoğan government did not lift a finger to prevent a move to kick Turkey out of the club, allowing the Sept. 1. 2017, deadline to expire.

I believe the major exposé of the pervasive corruption in the Erdoğan government in December 2013 when two investigations revealed how his family, business and political associates were buried neck-deep in bribery and kickback schemes led the government to do away with transparency, scrutiny and accountability altogether. What happened with the OGP participation process reflected the overall approach on the domestic front by the Erdoğan government, which locked up hundreds of investigative journalists, dismissed over 4,000 independent judges and prosecutors and shut down well over a thousand civil society organizations and foundations in the last year or so. Erdoğan did not want anybody to question his wealth amassed with corrupt policies and would not tolerate any international move to strengthen transparency in Turkey. Rather, he rolled back the gains Turkey had achieved in these areas over decades.

That is why the Turkish government did not even allow the OGP’s Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM), overseen by the International Experts Panel (IEP), comprising renowned experts in transparency, participation and accountability, to produce its first report on Turkey in violation of the country’s obligations when it became a member of the OGP in September 2011. In a letter sent by the OGP’s Support Unit to Ankara on April 30, 2014 in which it found “Turkey to be acting contrary to OGP process in its last National Action plan cycle,” Linda Frey, executive director of the OGP’s Support Unit, specifically noted how the IRM and SU were unable to make contact with a government representative, adding that no self-assessment report was submitted on the National Action Plan and that attempts to verify activities outlined in the National Action Plan found little evidence that OGP commitments were being implemented.

The Erdoğan government, which ignored all warnings from the OGP and did not even respond to inquiries, delivered a rather harsh message to the OGP in its own way by firing Engin Kücet, the long-time point of contact for the OGP who had been thwarted by political leaders from cooperating with the OGP, on Sept. 1, 2016, just three weeks before the deadline for Turkey to be listed as an inactive member. Kücet was dismissed along with 10,131 public servants by an executive decision of the Erdoğan government that branded all these people as “terrorists” without any administrative or judicial probes.

With some 160,000 public employees, many senior figures with a wealth of knowledge and expertise, abruptly and summarily fired from government jobs, Turkey’s institutions are crumbling. The Foreign Ministry has fired one-third of all its diplomats (some 500 employees including ambassadors) since July 2016 on fabricated charges of terrorism. Similar actions were taken in other government agencies and ministries. They were replaced by Islamists and neo-nationalists who want to turn Turkey into a closed society on par with Cuba, Myanmar, North Korea and Iran.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) does not even respond to most inquiries from opposition lawmakers in Parliament although they are obligated to so within two weeks under the law. The auditing reports on expenditures by government agencies were censored and in some cases waste in budgetary spending was simply whitewashed. No prosecutor dares launch a criminal probe on corruption and racketeering charges when it involves senior government officials or Erdoğan family members. The independent and critical media was decimated with the imprisonment of journalists and the closure of media outlets. Leading members of civil society organizations were either jailed or forced to live in exile. The judiciary has become totally subordinate to the whims and emotions of the one-man regime in Turkey.

As a result, the current government in Turkey has no interest in engaging with international partners as a responsible and rational actor but rather is bent on governing the 80-million-strong nation under an iron-grip rule that allows total impunity, no accountability and no transparency. (turkishminute.com)

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