Questions grow over construction standards following Turkey earthquake
The Turkish authorities area under fire for allegedly allowing individuals and construction companies to cut corners while raising some £4 billion through a longstanding earthquake tax.
Turkey 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 88 billion liras (about £3.9 billion) over the last 23 years, with 9.3 billion collected last year alone.
Large swatches of urban areas in south-eastern Turkey were damaged or levelled to the ground in Monday’s earthquake, raising questions about the extent to which his government and its allies have ignored individuals and construction firms cutting corners on safety.
“According to the former finance minister, most of the money was used to build roads,” claimed Murat Sabuncu, a journalist for T24, Turkey’s most popular independent news website in a column on Tuesday.
“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 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.
Then-economy minister Lütfi Elvan said in 2021 that the funds from the tax had been used within the scope of "treasury", adding that "it could have been used for any expense".
Malatya'da yeni yapılan bir bina da #deprem sonrası yıkıldı. pic.twitter.com/pVMQSEysiM
— Onedio (@onediocom) February 6, 2023
Monday’s earthquake, described as Turkey’s worst since 1939, also laid bare what appears to be wide scale violations of construction regulations, which compounded the damage.
A woman in Malatya on Monday shared a tweet she posted two years ago complaining about a supermarket pulling down some of the building’s weight-bearing beams to install an elevator.
“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 new, stricter requirements for construction.
Then an opposition politician, Mr Erdogan was scathingly critical of the government’s response, saying it was his administration that “helped those cities get back on their feet”.
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 “zoning amnesties”, the most recent of which was dubbed “zoning peace” and allowed anyone to legalise whatever property they may have built or renovated in violation of zoning and construction procedures in exchange for a fee. That was passed in 2018 - the year of the last presidential election.
About 13 million non-compliant buildings across Turkey have since become legal thanks to the procedure, according to industry estimates.
“Many new buildings have become earthquake-fraught after unauthorised renovations,” Professor Pelin Pinar Giritlioglu, head of the Istanbul branch of the Chamber of Turkish Engineers and Architects, claimed to the Telegraph.
“The state has pardoned those buildings in exchange for money… With the earthquake, we have come up with the tragic outcome of this set-up.”
The Telegraph has approached the spokesperson for presidential affairs for comment.