writes Gültan Kışanak* for Yeni Yaşam.o this is how they do business, with those companies called “the gang of five”. They extort money from the people with the “build-operate-transfer” model after they block a project that could finance itself,”
Nowadays a new scandal pops up every day about the mafia-politics-media relations. It seems like the mentality that everything is justifiable to stay in power has imported the term “sit on”**, very meaningful in street jargon, to politics. While the government pretends not to hear anything about the revelations that rocks the public, I wanted to share with you two cases of “sitting on” in Diyarbakır.
Let me tell you first that what I’ll write here is not any secret; it’ll only serve as a reminder. Many things are known about thousands of crimes commited through relationships between gangs and politics in this country. The two cases which I’m about to write about are very well known by everyone in Diyarbakır, too.
Once, I tried very hard to defend the rights of Diyarbakır, but I couldn’t succeed. I was arrested and they took control of the local government in Diyarbakır. It has been five years since the will of the people was seized. The trustee regime is used as a tool to forcibly take possession of the local government’s resources. The two cases I’ll tell about in this article, will help you understand why trustees are appointed to local governments.
Let me also note here that the person accused nowadays of being a key figure in the mafia-politics relations is both an economics consultant in the Presidency and also the vice chairman for local governments in the governing party. This will help understand correctly what I’m about to write.
And now, for the events in Diyarbakır.
Diyarbakır is a big city of 2 million. During the term of dear Osman Baydemir, the former mayor, two important projects were prepared to solve the transportation and waste problems. Since it wasn’t possible to realize them with only the city’s budget, external financial support was needed. I looked for financial resources after I was elected.
A World Bank loan was provided very favorable conditions for the “light rail system” designed to solve the transportation problem. The technical team from the World Bank came to the city for a preliminary study, assessing the passenger capacity/potential, and reported that the project would be able to finance itself. The World Bank accepted this report to provide loans without any back payment for 10 years, and on a quite low interest rate afterwards. We made detailed presentations to the City Council, and the Council voted unanimously in favor of the loan.
The only remaining thing was to get the approval of the Ministry of Development. We met many times with Cevdet Yılmaz, the minister at the time. Each time he said, “OK, I look into it,”, but he did not. The only thing required to do was to include Diyarbakır’s light railway project in the list of the development program. We wanted nothing from the government. City Council members with the Justice and Development Party, AKP, business people close to AKP tried to lobby for us, but nothing came out.
I felt obliged to write this article when I heard that the trustee in Diyarbakır announced that they were going to build a light railway system in the city with the “build-operate-transfer” model. So this is how they do business with those companies called “the gang of five”. They extort money from the people with the “build-operate-transfer” model after they block a project that could finance itself. They will either rob the people by authorizing the company to set the ticket prices, or they will use up the city’s budget by giving guaranteed passenger quotas to the company. They obviously need a trustee regime in order to be able to do that.
The second case I’ll highlight is even worse. The project for solving the waste problem of Diyarbakır was presented to the European Union (EU). All the waste in the city, including the districts, would be collected, and everything recyclable (paper, plastic, glass, metal) would be processed in plants and reused. The remaining wet waste would be piled without contaminating underground water and energy (biogas) would be produced from it. Trees would be planted in related areas after decomposition was complete.
We met with the EU officials many times, and told them about the significance of the project. The project was worth around 100 million liras. İt was impossible for the city council to build such a plant complex with its own resources. The EU accepted to finance the project with the “environment and infrastructure grant fund” provided for local governments. 90 percent of the project cost would be given in grants, and the remaining 10 million would be provided by us.
The EU funds were delivered to local governments through the ministry. In other words, the bidding for the project was to be implemented by the related ministry, and the local government was acting as the supervisor of the work done on the local level. Progress payment was made directly to the company in accordance with the work done. The Ministry of Environment and Urbanization first resorted to various tactics for not having the project realized. They made up excuses. We completed everything required. Finally, with the insistence of the EU Turkey delegation, they had to go for the bidding in 2016. A contract was made with the company which won the bidding.
In a short while, the construction site was hit by a barrage of fire with heavy weaponry. The company filed a criminal complaint. Then there were attacks again, and more criminal complaints filed. I had a meeting with the city administrator and requested security measures around the site. The administrator said he had contacted the gendarmerie for action, but there were no measures taken. In the meanwhile there’s been a rumor that one of the nearby villages, politically close to AKP, was against the project. We went there and met the villagers to inform them about the project. Although there were a few who seemed to be opposed to the project, most of the villagers said they were not against it. After our contact with them, we realized that there were certain armed groups behind the attacks, and they would listen only to AKP officials.
So I talked to the City Council members within the AKP group and requested their help for solving the problem. They said they would help; without any result. I informed the city administrator about what we learned from the villagers. I said, “Please do not regard this project as a project of the city government. This is a project for the future of our city. If the city administration owns it too, the gendarmerie will take measures and these armed groups will stay back.” The administrator said he would be involved, but he couldn’t do anything.
There were more attacks. We were afraid of fatalities. The company wanted to quit. I talked to executive director of the company and told him we were trying to solve the problem. He said, “I’ve done work everywhere in Turkey, but haven’t seen anything like that. There have been 23 armed assaults on the construction site. I filed criminal complaints many times but there’s been no inquiry opened, no measure taken. There are shady relations behind the assaults.”
We requested support from the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization as well. I went to Ankara when I heard that the minister was intending to cancel the bidding instead of solving the project. We met with the minister, Mehmet Ozhaseki. We told him that the project was for the future of the city and the grants were important both for Diyarbakır and Turkey. He said he would look into it and solve the problem.
I returned to Diyarbakır. A few days later we received a letter from the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization informing that the project was canceled. The minister didn’t talk to me when I called. As a matter of fact I was soon arrested and a trustee was appointed. The 90 million lira grant from the EU to Diyarbakır never came.
Now when I hear Sedat Peker’s revelations, I think about the attacks on the construction site in Diyarbakır. Things like political ethics, democracy and people’s benefit aside, if we can’t shed light on the shady relations network, the future of all of us will be stolen.
* Two years after she was elected mayor, Former mayor of Diyarbakır (Amed), Gültan Kışanak was detained on October 2016, and a trustee was appointed by the government in her place. She has been imprisoned for almost five years now, having been sentenced to 14 years and 3 months for “being a member of a terrorist organization” and for “propaganda of a terrorist organization”.
** A recently popular Turkish slang for “forcibly taking possesion of”