I see that Turkey and its citizens are becoming more and more like a group of theatrical actors. We act as if we care about freedom of speech even when we shut down Web sites left, right and center. We act like we provide equal opportunity to all even though we have one of the greatest digital divides in the world.
The latest act was to alter the computers in the International Monetary Fund/World Bank meetings so that the people who used them could log on to any website that is currently banned in Turkey. This will be recorded as one of the most hypocritical acts in history. The authorities tried to smooth over the issue of internet freedom by granting foreign visitors the ability to roam freely. The people who are responsible for controlling the internet in this country thought they could get away with it.
However, they are only fooling themselves. The Economist Intelligence Unit issued its e-readiness report for 2009 and Turkey is still 43rd out of 70 countries. Just like the year before. Just like it has been since 2005. No matter how hard the officials try, they cannot hide the fact that Turkey is not progressing, it is going backwards. Turkey is a G-20 member, but its record on technology is lagging badly behind.
Meanwhile, on the “best countries to live” list, namely the U.N.’s Human Development Index, Turkey is 79th, one step further down the ladder compared to last year. The extent of the digital divide doesn’t help matters either. So what can be done and how can it be done?
Actually it is pretty simple.
The authorities could start by trusting its citizens. It is what countries that are far better in both lists do.
When you trust your citizens, then you don’t feel the need to ban Web sites; instead, you believe that each individual can assess what is wrong and what is right. If you do this, then you don’t have to pretend to care about freedoms to a select group of foreigners just to cover up what you “know” is wrong.
When you trust your citizens, you can put the “e” in governance much more easily. Turkey’s e-governance project has been continually talked about since 1998. It’s name was Kamunet back then. Ten years later, we are still at the exact same stage. Some progress has been made, but the citizens cannot use the e-governance portal as they would like. There are only seven services listed out of more than a thousand the government has promised to provide.
Furthermore, none of these services can be fully accessed by the internet. You still have to go to a government office to really get what you want.
In an off-the-record discussion, a person involved in the e-governance project reported that the initiative will never be realized because various government authorities ask for hundreds of various documents for performing even the simplest task. He continued, saying that there is no IT infrastructure that could possibly handle so many requests from so many different authorities using so many different systems.
So, either the government will learn to trust its people or Turkey will remain somewhere in the middle in all indices.