The Daily Telegraph
Pressure grows on Turkey to explain where £4bn earthquake tax was spent in 20 years
TURKISH officials have been accused of turning a blind eye to shoddy building developments and diverting the £4billion raised through a longstanding earthquake tax to other projects.
The country temporarily introduced a special levy after the 1999 earthquake that was made permanent under president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who pledged to spend it on reinforcing infrastructure.
It has raised about £3.9billion over the last 23 years yet large swatches of urban areas in south-eastern Turkey were damaged or levelled to the ground in Monday’s earthquake, raising questions about construction firms potentially cutting corners on safety.
“According to the former finance minister, most of the money was used to build roads,” said Murat Sabuncu, a journalist for T24, a Turkish independent news website.
“See how those roads turned out,” he added, referring to widespread damage to the area’s highways. “Why was this money not spent on the earthquake?”
The Turkish parliament has been urged to launch an investigation into how the tax revenues were spent.
Mr Erdogan’s allies have defended diverting those funds in the past saying they had been used within the scope of “treasury” and “could have been used for any expense”.
A woman in Malatya this week shared a tweet she posted two years ago complaining about a supermarket pulling down some of the building’s weightbearing beams to install a lift.
“It has been two years, and unfortunately I’m sharing the wreckage of my house that was destroyed in the earthquake today,” she said.
“Of the four apartment buildings you see in the video, only ours had a [store] on the ground floor.”
Turkey’s last devastating earthquake prompted the government to introduce stricter construction rules. Mr Erdogan was scathingly critical of the government’s response when he was in opposition but almost a quarter of a century on, critics say little appears to have changed on the ground.
The Erdogan-led government has declared several amnesties including one launched in 2018 called “zoning peace” which allowed anyone to legalise whatever property they may have built or renovated in violation of building regulations in exchange for a fee.
About 13million noncompliant buildings across Turkey have since become legal thanks to the loophole, according to industry estimates. “Many new buildings have become earthquake-fraught after unauthorised renovations,” said Prof Pelin Pinar Giritlioglu, head of the Istanbul branch of the Chamber of Turkish Engineers and Architects.
“The state has pardoned those buildings in exchange for money and promised to turn a blind eye to them… With the earthquake, we have come up with the tragic outcome of this set-up.”
The spokesman for Turkey’s presidential affairs has been asked to comment.