Who is go­ing to take re­spon­si­bil­ity?

Cyprus Today - - OPINION - With Ipek Öz­erim

“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.

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