Turkey has been ranked 82nd out of a total 102 countries surveyed in the latest index measuring openness of government, performing worse than countries such as Russia, the UAE, Nigeria and Belarus.
The World Justice Project (WJP) released its Open Government Index 2015 on Thursday, measuring government openness based on the general public's experiences and perceptions. Turkey is the worst performer among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries and one of the worst among upper middle-income countries when it comes to the justice system.
The WJP is an independent, multidisciplinary organization working to advance the rule of law around the world.
The index showed that Turkey's overall score placed it 11th out of 13 countries in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region, 26th out of 31 among upper middle-income countries and 82nd out of 102 countries worldwide. The top overall performer in the index was Sweden, while the bottom performer was Zimbabwe.
Countries such as Jordan, Madagascar, Malawi and Zambia performed better than Turkey in this year's index, which is based on mostly face-to-face surveys with over 100,000 respondents worldwide and expert questionnaires.
The WJP said the index covers 102 countries and jurisdictions and is organized around four dimensions: publicized laws and government data; the right to information; the right to petition and citizen participation; and complaint mechanisms.
According to the report, Turkey's highest-ranking dimension was the right to information (ranked 59th out of 102 countries) while its lowest-ranking dimension was civic participation (96th).
Critics in Turkey have criticized the government over a series of laws that curtail the independence of the judiciary under the authorities' tight control. A recent law on the top judicial body that is responsible for appointing judges and prosecutors has raised eyebrows, while a recent judicial package that restructured top courts and restricted freedoms has invited criticism from jurists and Western governments.
A government-sponsored bill to improve transparency was shelved in Parliament after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan openly criticized it.
The WJP said less than half (40 percent) of survey respondents knew of any laws supporting their right to access government-held information. In Turkey, 25 percent of households said they were aware of such laws. Of the 5 percent of respondents who requested information from the government, only 83 percent had reported receiving it. Of those, 49 percent received in less than a week.
A total of 74 percent of those who received any information rated the information as "pertinent and complete," while the rest said the information was "incomplete, vague, unclear or evasive." Thirty-one percent of the respondents were not satisfied with the process of requesting information and 6 percent had bribed an official to obtain the information.
In the index's "Publicized laws and government data" dimension, Turkey is ranked 61st worldwide, 10th out of the 13 countries in the region and 18th out of 31 countries based on income. This dimension measures whether basic laws and information on legal rights are publicly available, presented in plain language and are made accessible in all languages used by significant segments of the population.
When asked how well the government informs people about their rights, 39 percent of respondents said either “good” or “very good.” Nearly half of respondents (47 percent) said the government is doing a good job in informing people about expenditures.
The survey results in fact stand in stark contrast to actual government transparency in declaring public spending. Public institutions have for years been refusing to send their expenditures to the Court of Accounts, prompting fierce criticism in Parliament at the end of each year, when the new year's budget is debated and approved.
Seventy-four percent of respondents rated the quality of information published by the government as good, while 64 percent said the information is accessible and reliable.
The WJP also measured civic participation, namely, the effectiveness of civic participation mechanisms, including the protection of the freedoms of opinion and expression and assembly and association, and the right to petition the government.
In this category, only six countries performed worse than Turkey worldwide, one in the region and two in upper income countries.
More than half of respondents (57 percent) said they can present their concerns to members of Parliament, 66 percent said they can convey their concerns to local government officials and 68 percent said people can freely assemble with others to draw attention to an issue or sign a petition.
A total of 54 percent of respondents, 10 percent higher than the regional average, said civil society organizations can freely express opinions against government policies, while 62 percent said political parties can do the same, again, 6 percent higher than the region.
In press freedom, less than half of respondents agreed that media outlets can freely express opinions against the government, yet this figure was higher than the regional average and 6 percent lower than the upper middle-income countries.
Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey 149th out of 180 countries in its latest press freedom index, while Freedom House listed Turkey in the “Not Free” category in media freedoms.
Sixty-eight percent said people can freely join any legal political organization that they want.
The WJP index said 46 percent of people rated as “well” or “very well” how the local government provides ways to make complaints about public services.
In terms of complaint mechanisms, the index measures whether people can, in practice, make complaints about public officials or public services to various government officers and how government officials respond to such complaints.
A total of 56 percent of respondents said the local government is doing a poor job in providing ways to handle complaints against local officials.