Who is going to take responsibility?
“IF YOU have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them,” wrote 19th century American author Henry David Thoreau.
It’s been 45 years since North Cyprus came under Turkish Cypriot control and the quality of life has improved immeasurably. From security to selfdetermination, we have at our disposal the means to lead a healthy and happy life.
And yet fundamental flaws exist in the way we manage this beautiful country; issues which can and should be addressed and eliminated.
Last month, we saw the tragic outcome of mismanaging our natural habitat and infrastructure when the newly re-opened stretch of the Girne-Lefkoşa highway by Ciklos did not have the right drainage to deal with floodwaters. As a result, four young people travelling in a car were swept to their deaths.
With the escalation of extreme weather conditions due to climate change, flash floods have become a common occurrence in Cyprus, as elsewhere. Unlawful construction and dumping in dried riverbeds have long been blamed for exacerbating the damage, but political pledges to resolve the problems and bring the culprits to justice have been mere empty rhetoric.
December’s torrential rains caused extensive damage in Girne, Lapta, Alsancak, Dikmen and at Ciklos, bringing this issue to the fore again. While there is little we can do to combat the terrifying power of nature, on this occasion the government has admitted human error was responsible for the loss of life on the Ciklos bend.
A report, presented by Prime Minister Tufan Erhürman and his deputy, Kudret Özersay, to the public via a press conference last week, states that roadworks on the Girne-Lefkoşa highway did not adhere to legal requirements. The engineers responsible for the road widening works seemingly did not undertake and submit a risk assessment of the local environment, including the course of nearby streams and water flow from the mountain, and the likely impact of adverse weather conditions such as heavy rain. The absence of these details meant the project plans were not modified and the widening of the road went ahead without factoring in such vital calculations, elevating the risks “to a disaster level”.
The report, backed by a technical study published by the TRNC’s Chamber of Civil Engineers, noted the drainage was insufficient for the conditions and the lack of continuous barriers on the roadside meant the car was vulnerable to being swept down the ravine when torrential rain took hold on December 5.
Despite the damning evidence, Transport and Public Works Minister Tolga Atakan has resisted pressure to step down. His lofty behaviour is in stark contrast to what he preached in November 2016, when he heavily criticised Kemal Dürüst on social media and demanded the UBP minister resign following the devastating Girne mountain road traffic accident involving a school minibus that claimed the lives of three and injured eight others. At that time, Atakan criticised Dürüst for his “indifference” and “lack of accountability”. Yet now in power, Atakan has also been found wanting.
His refusal to accept any responsibility for the engineering failures his ministry’s Highways Department signed off on is not only hypocritical, it also runs counter to the pledge his People’s Party (HP) made on responsible and transparent governance before coming into power. In short, HP has shown it is no different to any other TRNC party because it prefers to preserve the power of one of its senior officers instead of doing the right thing. The electorate will not be so quick to forgive or forget when HP appeals for votes in the next election.
The case has rightly caused outrage among all sectors of society, but we cannot allow the untimely deaths of Günay Kandaz, 18, Gaye Soyutok, 18, Tolga Bekçi, 21, and Ahmet Kılıç, 23, to become mere statistics. Nor should their case become used as a political football. We owe it to them and their families that lessons are learned, and guilty parties face stiff legal penalties for their failures.
The media, civil society and professional bodies must all become better at calling out those whose work falls below legally permitted standards. We should not need to wait for a disaster to address such significant problems.
One of the most important outcomes from the Ciklos tragedy is for the state to create a more robust system of checks and balances, so such a situation is never permitted to occur again.
The Girne-Lefkoşa roadworks were hardly secret — any number of civil servants or indeed the Chamber of Civil Engineers should have highlighted that the relevant paperwork was missing when the work first started. If that failed, they must turn whistle-blower.
Lawyers acting for the families of the victims should also take the matter to court, so those responsible for their deaths are held accountable. It won’t bring back the four young people, but it should make the authorities and companies live up to their legal responsibilities and ensure they are liable for their actions.
I pray we will not face such a tragedy in 2019 and my thoughts are with the four families who lost their loved ones needlessly.
Grand designs for a better North Cyprus will never be realised if we keep cutting corners and fail to build adequate foundations. Environmental considerations must be at the forefront of all our planning and development, and we need to get tough on lawbreakers — the state included.