Bad policy and mass corruption in the Turkish construction industry are covered in the international media as the main reason for the disastrous outcome of the 6 February earthquakes, which caused massive damage to a dozen provinces in the south-east of the country.
In its Monday issue the British news weekly the Economist headlined Turkey’s “deadly extent of construction scams”, which has been boosted to the extreme during the two decades of Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule, despite strict building codes adopted shortly before it came into power.
The government’s delayed response and a shortage of heavy equipment compounded the suffering due to the disaster, the Economist said, adding, “The biggest cause of deaths, however, may have been shoddy building standards, corruption and bad policymaking.”
These factors, which made the already fragile region ripe for the catastrophe that has now taken at least 35,418 lives, “are parts of Turkey’s economic model, which is powered by construction and rent-seeking,” the UK’s weekly said.
“The government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s president, bears much of the blame, analysts say. But so do its predecessors, as well as municipalities – some run by the opposition –, developers and planners,” it said.
The business weekly also recalls that Turkey, in fact, owns strict building codes, adopted soon after the traumatic earthquake of 1999 which struck the İzmit region neighbouring on Istanbul and killed more than 17,000 people.
The Economist related scenes from Osmaniye and Adıyaman, two of the quake-hit Turkish provinces, telling of buildings with no reinforced steel or foundations collapsing like houses of cards, telling of a survivor who said that he himself, as a former construction worker, had witnessed contractors ignoring building codes.
“The problems lie in implementation and oversight,” Murat Güvenç, a Turkish urban planner and academic, told The Economist. “Building permits are easy to acquire and inspections are weak. Companies mandated by the government to carry them out are paid by the developers. Projects usually comply with government standards at the start of construction, but not by the end.”
Once the inspectors leave, it is very common for developers to reduce the amount and quality of the construction materials, or even to add an extra floor, before entering informal negotiations with local authorities.
“A lot of money may end up changing hands” said Güvenç, “We are talking about corruption par excellence.”