A Dangerous Course: Decree-laws of 2011

Public administration in Turkey is now more centralized and less democratic, in contradiction with EU criteria.

Through a law enacted by Parliament in April 2011, the Government obtained the authorisation to issue decree-laws during a period of six months. The declared objective was to reshape ministries and make changes to the Civil Service Law in order to make the public administration more efficient. The scope of the decree-laws which was already very large initially, was broadened further once these started to be issued. They will have far reaching effects on the structure and principles of public administration and government in Turkey.

These decree-laws bring a large number of strikingly detrimental changes. One of the most significant backward steps concerns the independent regulatory and supervisory authorities including even the Banking Regulatory and Supervisory Agency. The relevant ministers are now empowered to supervise “any activity and act” of these bodies; the majority of the members of the Board of Directors of the İstanbul Stock Exchange, including the Director, are now appointed by the Government; furthermore, two thirds of the members of the Turkish Academy of Sciences will now be appointed by government controled bodies.

Another particularly worrying move is the granting of extensive powers including in such areas as land planning and construction permits to the newly created Ministry of Environment and Urban Affairs. In many cases this Ministry’s authority now restricts the powers of local governments. There is also an element of disorder in the restructuring decisions. For example a Ministry of Economy has been created but it is responsible for exports and incentives only. In fact, at present it is impossible to have a clear picture of the division of tasks and responsibilities in the public administration.

Some of the moves concern the core principles of the civil service. In fact, there will now be a deputy minister in 20 ministries; their function is defined as entirely political although they will have civil servant status. Recruitement of civil servants to several administrations is now immune from much of the conditions of the civil service entry exam. All senior management posts have been vacated across the public administration. This has allowed simultaneous replacements to a large number of these by new names with also disregard of career criteria.

It is also noteworthy that while previously there was a Minister of State responsible for Women’s Issues, now there is the Ministry for Family and Social Policies and the word “Women” does not appear any more in any Ministry’s name.

And, no stakeholder participation has been sought with regard to the preparation of these decree-laws or their application.

The following evaluations pertain to the changes brought by the decree-laws:

  • The changes are evidently contrary to contemporary reform and governance criteria and they harm and weaken the required impartiality of the state. The decree-laws’ direction toward more centralisation is another particularly noteworthy feature. At the same time, the incoherence and glaring lack of rationality of the decree-laws seems to also reflect successive interventions from several different government personnalities and groups. To legislate such wide ranging matters outside Parliament is also problematic from the viewpoint of parliamentary democracy. The recent law on the Constitutional Court stipulates that the President’s vote counts double in such cases; this is how the authorisation for these wide ranging decree-laws was validated.
  • The wide ranging changes reflect a tendency to pull the legislative and judicial powers under the executive’s control and the executive under the governing party’s control. They thereby also complement the moves realised through the two relevant clauses of the Constitutional Referandum of 12 september 2010 toward a mechanism ensuring strong government control of the judiciary.
  • Unfortunately, after having failed to refrain from backing without reservation the 2010 Referandum whose harmful consequences have become evident, the EU seems now to be making a mistake in the same direction with respect to the decree-laws. In fact the 2011 Progress Report qualifies the overall situation achieved in this domain as “some progress”. It would be fruitful if regarding both domains the EU could make a reassessment fully in line with EU principles.
  • The fact that the imminent constitution preparation stage has been disregarded during the elaboration of the decree-laws is particularly worrying. It is to be hoped that the positive attitude displayed notably by CHP under the leadership of its President Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu regarding the creation of a joint commission in Parliament toward the preparation of a new constitution will not remain fruitless and that the Government’s stand in this domain will not resemble its attitude concerning the case of the decree-laws.

A different and positive attitude by the Government concerning the preparation of a fully democratic new constitution would also give the opportunity to correct the significant damage caused through these decree-laws.

About Yusuf Işık