DiplomacyIR & Politics

The Problems of Turkish Bureaucracy in 21st Century and Solution Proposals

Bureaucracy is a concept that has emerged with the phenomenon of the state and is the subject of the most research and discussion by the social scientists. This concept, which is used to describe a system where bureaucrats are active in political life until the conception of classical management, has no complete consensus on what the word meaning is. Therefore, the meaning and scope of this concept which is important in the state and society structure in the modern world should be determined.

The bureaucracy, which is used in the sense of public administration, is the institution that is primarily responsible for organizing public services resources, taking necessary decisions in this regard and controlling services. It is desirable that the bureaucracy in the sense of public administration, with globalization and rapid technological change, to provide fast and effective services that are sensitive to the expectations of the people. There is a general conviction that the Turkish public bureaucracy has a cumbersome and incapable structure. Therefore, the current situation of the public bureaucracy and its shortcomings need to be addressed against the new changes and new needs and services. Otherwise, it may be difficult for the public bureaucracy to develop visions and strategies for the future.

  1. Definition of Bureaucracy

“A system of administration distinguished by its (a) clear hierarchy of authority, (b) rigid division of labour, (c) written and inflexible rules, regulations, and procedures, and (d) impersonal relationships. Once instituted, bureaucracies are difficult to dislodge or change”[1]“An administrative or social system that relies on a set of rules and procedures, separation of functions and a hierarchical structure in implementing controls over an organization, government or social system.”[2]

“A system of government in which most of the important decisions are taken by state officials rather than by elected representatives.”[3] Moreover, bureaucracy is “a system of government or business that has many complicated rules and ways of doing things.”[4]

The word bureaucracy is derived from French word bureaucratic which is also derived from another word bureau means desk or office in Ancient Greek, if used with cratos means rule or political power. The word bureaucracy was first used by the French Trade Minister Vincent de Gournay, who lived in the 18th century and was later translated into many languages. According to Hague, Harrop and Breslin, the definition of bureaucracy is the institution which carries out the functions and responsibilities of the state (Hague, Harrop, & Breslin, 1992). According to Wriston, a bureaucracy can be characterized as a special kind of organization, one which is characterized by;

  1. its hierarchical relationships, culminating in one boss at the top;
  2. its attempt to prescribe all action and authority through written rules and regulations;
  3. its relative isolation from outside evaluation or ‘feedback’;
  4. its attempt to hire and promote staff, and divide work, based on specialization and technical competence;
  5. its attempt to adhere to the strict rule of rationality;
  6. its dependent membership – i.e., its members are dependent on it for their livelihood (Wriston, 1980).
  1. Bureaucracy Theories

There are many theories about bureaucracy. But, in terms of the scope of the study, it is not possible to examine each of these theories in detail. Therefore, the main subject of the study, the Turkish bureaucracy to create a theoretical framework in terms of some of the major approaches will be discussed briefly here.

3.1. Hegelian Theory

Hegel described the ideal state and ideal bureaucracy; he argued that the basic function of the State was to defend the common interests of the members of society (Heper, 1983). He also sees bureaucracy as a means of transforming the interests of society into the general interests represented by the state (Mouzelis, 1975).

As it is seen, Hegel installs a limited function in the bureaucracy and it never overcomes this limited function of the bureaucracy or attempts to impose its own values on society, nor does it ever approve bureaucratic despotism (Heper, 1983)

3.2. Bureaucracy in Marxist Approach

The role of bureaucracy in politics is the basic subject of Marxist debates on the state in capitalist societies. Nevertheless, the details of bureaucratic processes and structures are not given importance. Marx discusses two bureaucracy views in his articles. In one of these views, the bureaucracy is a means of protecting the interests of the ruling class, in the other; he sees the bureaucracy as a tool of power (Smith, 1998). In this sense, according to Marx, which opposes the way Hegel interpreted the state, the state represents the interests of the ruling class, not its general or universal interest. Bureaucracy is the most important tool to implement this sovereignty. The task of the bureaucracy is to establish a system of social relations to strengthen class sovereignty. Marx examined and used the theory of bureaucracy in a limited context related to state administration by criticizing the state philosophy of Hegel (Mouzelis, 1975). Briefly, according to Marx, bureaucracy is not an effective executive power, but rather a social formation and an inefficient public service (Smith, 1998).

3.3. Weberian Bureaucracy

In 20th century, the definition of bureaucracy was expanded by German sociologist Max Weber, who was the pioneer in terms of “Theory of Bureaucracy”. Theory of Bureaucracy is a significant contribution to the field of public administration and notes the first major developments in the theory of organisation. This theory was responding to the needs of industrial organisations. Theory of bureaucracy was needed to bring the efficiency in its functioning.

Max Weber’s concept of bureaucracy is nearly related to his ideas on legitimacy of authority. For Weber, ‘authority’ was identical with ‘authoritarian power of command’ (Prasad, 1991). Max Weber made three distinctions of authority as follows;

  • Traditional Authority; “resting upon established belief in the sanctity of immemorial traditions”
  • Charismatic Authority; “resting upon devotion to the specific and exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person”
  • Rational Authority; “resting on a belief in the legality of normative rules” (Weber, 1978).

Each of these authority types tends to justify the right of rulers to rule and represents power- administration relations under certain circumstances which are linked to legitimacy.

3.4. Robert Michael’s “The Bronze Law of Oligarchy”

Unlike Weber, who examined the effects of bureaucratic organizations on the social structure, A. R. Michels directed his attention to the internal problems of large-scale organizations and in this respect, he initiated his analysis from where Weber left off (Fişek, 1979: 78). He sees increasing bureaucratization in contemporary societies as a preventive factor for the realization of democracy (Ergun, 1997: 63).

Based on his analysis of socialist parties in Germany, Robert Michels developed his theory of the “Bronze Law of the Oligarchy” in 1911. It is possible to summarise the theory briefly as follows;

The members and leaders of the party bodies want to employ full-time salaried staff. These officers specialize in certain branches after they start working in party organs. Organizational leaders, also specialize in what they do and have professional leadership by time. These rulers forget their social origins and become a kind of clan. These managers work to maintain their current status and maintain their power. When they realise that they cannot maintain their current status, they develop methods that are in their own interest to determine who will take their place after them. In this case, official elections have no meaning other than voting. Thus, all organizations, even those whose official structures are democratic, are subject to a “bronze law” that actually transforms their structures into oligarchy (Dereli, 1976: 140).

In short, bureaucracies are an obstacle to the development of democracy. Because the political parties, which are called the indispensable elements of democracy and therefore should be the most democratic institutions, constitute an obstacle to democracy by putting an oligarchic structure in the way that democracy remains only formal and so-called.

3.5. Bruno Rizzi’s “Bureaucratic Collectivism”

According to Rizzi, bureaucracy has an “organic” place in the Soviet system. The current Soviet bureaucracy causes the exploitation and oppression of workers, just as the capitalists do. The reason for this is that the bureaucracy holds all the means of production. In Soviets, means of production were not socialized, but only nationalized. In this case, the only distinction between the capitalist system is that exploitation is collective, not individual. In this type of exploitation, the state is not the vehicle of the ruling class, but itself. This is the last stage before the transition to classless society, and with the proletarian revolution to be made, the “communist” society will be passed and the bureaucracy will disappear with the only remaining proletarian class (Ergun, 2004: 39).

Like every Marxist, Rizzi says that sovereignty depends on the allocation of means of production. The only difference between this and the capitalist system is that this allocation is not individual but collective. According to Rizzi, the means of production in the Soviet Union were not socialized, but only nationalized. Therefore, the means of production do not belong to the public, but ultimately to the state-owned bureaucracy. In the final analysis, some of the bureaucracy (technicians, directors and experts, etc.) exploit the proletariat collectively and collectively surplus labour (Fişek, 1979: 79).

3.6. Warren G. Bennis

While defining the anatomy of Bennis bureaucracy, he saw the bureaucracy model developed by Weber as a useful social formation for organization and firm activities during the industrial

revolution. According to Bennis, bureaucracy is a useful social invention perfected during the industrial revolution and its anatomy consists of the following elements (Şimşek, 1994: 55):

  • A division of labour based on functional specialization,
  • A very well-defined authority hierarchy,
  • A system of rules covering the rights and duties of employees,
  • Human relationships not based on personal factors, selection and promotion system based on technical competence (Ergun, 1997: 67).

According to Bennis, this bureaucratic model developed by Weber cannot keep up with the twentieth century conditions. The bureaucracy has an advantage in managing routine, predictable, human events.

  1. Problems of Turkish Bureaucracy

Turkish bureaucratic system, as in all systems is affected from its surroundings and also it affects these environments. The problems of the bureaucracy cannot be explained satisfactorily by isolating the economic, social, cultural, political and technological conditions of the country. Therefore, taking into account all these environmental factors, “the problems of bureaucracy” will be tried to be put forward. In general, it is possible to see that the problems are focused in the following areas.

4.1. Centralism in Management

The most important problem of Turkey since the Tanzimat period; centralization in management. Although the principles of autonomy and authority are accepted in the laws, the managers and the senior managers have a monopoly understanding about making all decisions. Each administrative structure is dominated by the bureaucracy. However, the bureaucracy created by excessive centralization is a disease, intense paperwork, confusion, anarchy, being unauthorised and uncertainty. Again, centralized centralism has eliminated the flexibility in seeing services and led to the overwhelming suppression of the upper authorities. As a result, this practice prevents executives from performing their tasks (Yazıcıoğlu, 2000).

4.2. Organizational Growth

State; it must be organized according to the services and the requirements of the service. This is a constitutional obligation. Turkey a geographical position in terms of central administrative structure, according to their economic conditions and public services to the provinces, the provinces are further divided into sections gradually (Turkish Constitution article:126). Thus, the service organizations to be determined will perform their duties with the public personnel. (Öztekin, 1997). However, despite their unfortunately the clear provisions constitution, to reach the complex dimensions of bureaucracy expansion and bureaucratic process in Turkey, people of prestige addiction and is closely related to work on increasing influence and authority in a way that would address their interests. As a matter of fact, the bureaucrats at the head of the institution usually;

  • To increase monetary revenues,
  • To increase the power of fame, power and patronage,
  • They try to meet their own office needs.

Therefore, bureaucrats are trying to maximize the size of their offices or the offices they manage (Sakal, 1997).

4.3. Failure of Adaptation

In the country, managers and officials, the processes and habits they have been doing a long time away from evaluating the old conditions and practices are seen to be tightly connected to the bureaucracy as it is closed to change in itself, trying to prevent all kinds of change or change attempts to prevent all kinds of methods (Eryılmaz, 2013).

4.4. Formalism and Escape from Responsibility

Our management system’s adherence to the detailed rules and formality leads to delays in operations. Excessive extension of operations causes excessive paperwork and heavy processing of the system. Instead of solving the problem in the essence of the work, only the conformity with the shape comes to the fore. On the other hand, the detailed rules in the country do not have the flexibility to bring harmony with time and new conditions. As a result of this, it becomes obsolete in a short period of time and therefore frequently changes the laws and regulations.

4.5. Nepotism

Another problem observed in the Turkish public bureaucracy is nepotism. The fact that state cadres in the country are not considered as a service but as a tool of employment is the basis of a messy favouritism. Sometimes it is seen as a virtue in the community, to favour their relatives, and to hire them first. The bureaucrat who does not behave in that way is exposed to pressure from his environment, and those bureaucrats who protect his relatives by breaking the bureaucratic rules can be respected (Büyüklü, 1976)

4.6. Politicization of Bureaucracy

The politicization of the bureaucracy or, in other words, the political effect on the bureaucracy is the fact that party policies affect the bureaucracy and that political parties emphasize their own benefits against the national policy (Boräng, Cornell, Grimes, & Schuster, 2014). The problem of politicization is generally addressed in two aspects. One of these measures is to prioritize political goals and party thinking in appointments, and the other is the degree of freedom of political activity given to public officials and the attitude of political power in this regard (Merikoski, 1973).

Thus, the politicization of the bureaucracy is embodied in the public personnel policy followed by the government. It is natural for political power to bring its own elements to some bureaucratic positions in order to implement their own policies and programs. In order for the government to succeed, it should be given such a possibility. However, it should not go over the limit the size of the applications in this direction. When political power changes, undersecretary, general manager, heads of departments, governors, police chiefs and ambassadors are changing; this change extends to the lower and middle levels of the bureaucracy. In this context, political powers are trying to form new cadres and authorities in order to facilitate politicization in the administration. The top cadres in the country are mostly used for this purpose (Eryılmaz, 2013). To make a judgment in accordance with the statements made possible; in Turkey, senior bureaucrats or administrators be chosen in the selection and appointment, according to be credible, to store secrets, keep everything in front of the interests of the party, such qualities come to the fore rather than criteria such as virtue and experience. As an addition to that, in recent years, high-level bureaucrats are involved in an effort to become a member of parliament and that political parties are also in the race of showing nationwide bureaucrats as deputies, it can be considered as an extension of the politicization of the bureaucracy.

  1. Recommendations for the Problems of Turkish Public Bureaucracy

In terms of structure and operation, Turkish bureaucracy away from fulfilling the expected services or functions quickly and effectively, and it does not have flexibility to adapt to the economic, social, cultural, political and technological developments in the world (Karaer, 1987). Turkish bureaucratic system needs to be restructured to implement Weber’s principles that are in his “Ideal Type of Bureaucracy” such as; punctuality, continuity, discipline, security, speed, certainty, solidarity, elimination of disagreements, into the country. Turkish bureaucracy must get rid of the structure which is incapable of doing something and unable to produce solutions, and must have a suitable structure which is effective and efficient in public administration.

Confidentiality and closedness have become a rule in public administration. The manager of the institution or the employee of the institution can decide what is confidential and what is open. It should be given that the right to information about transactions and other public policies to everyone. What is hidden and what is open should be determined by law.

In order to prevent politicization in the administration, merit system should be adopted in recruitment and promotion. In other words, management forms such as technocracy and meritocracy should be used which can easily adapt to the rapid change tempo of our era, which can bring new solutions to serious problems and make use of the knowledge and expertise of the trained manpower.

  1. Conclusion

The problems of the Turkish public bureaucracy are not solely due to our bureaucratic system. When generating a solution to a problem, the reasons for its emergence must be completely analysed. From this point of view, the Turkish public bureaucracy operates in the environment of many systems such as economy, technology, culture, social structure and politics. Problems in these systems are reflected in our bureaucratic structure. Therefore, the other systems mentioned in the restructuring process of bureaucracy should be restructured in the same parallel. At various times in Turkey, reform efforts have been made to give effect to the bureaucracy, but success was not achieved. Because reorganization work requires a long process and cost. First of all, it should be taken into consideration that the understanding of classical state and bureaucracy is too old to be able to adapt to the fast and changing structure of the age. In this context, historical state understanding should be reshaped, training programs on contemporary state, corporate culture and business ethics should be prepared and implemented. Post-modern management techniques that will solve variable events and problems of the era very fast, should be applied to bureaucratic structure.

In summary, within the framework of a functional-structural theoretical understanding, a public management approach and all institutions and organisations should be re-evaluated and necessary regulatory strategies should be developed and implemented.


[1] Business dictionary, http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/bureaucracy.html

[2] Investopedia, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/bureaucracy.asp

[3] Oxford dictionaries, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/bureaucracy

[4] Merriam Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bureaucracy


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Erhan Aygün

Erhan Aygun is PhD candidate at National University of Public Service in Budapest. His main research fields concern on migration, public administration, security studies, international theories and political science. He studied international relations in his master at Pécs University and bachelor degree at Çağ University.
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