Why was Kanal Istanbul – the project to carve out a waterway on the European side of Istanbul and bypass the Bosphorus – placed on the government’s agenda as the country is still reeling from an economic crisis? The government recently suffered two fiascos, one involved thermal power plants while the other had to do with a plan to rescue the private company “Simit Sarayı”. So why would it press forward with the Kanal Istanbul project?
The Kanal Istanbul has gotten everyone up in arms in Turkey. Many point to how paradoxical this enterprise would be for the economy, the ecology, urban planning and the Montreux Convetion, an agreement brokered in 1936 which restricts the passage of naval ships that do not belong to the Black Sea.
The real Istanbul
Yet we do not know how the Kanal Istanbul project was devised. What we do know of it is an Environmental Impact Assessment (ÇED) report and objections based on that report. This does not suffice to evaluate the full consequences of the project. How can we object to a project whilst ignoring the full reality of it?
It is difficult for the public to hold a healthy and balance debate on an issue when it does not grasp all the information about it. While everyone focuses on the environmental dimension of the project, I chose to focus on its economic aspects. For one can only grasp the reality of something by questioning it from other angles.
The third Istanbul
What is currently happening in Istanbul fits right into the trajectory it has been set on for the past few years. Despite there being two airports, a third one was built only to demolish one of the first two. A third bridge was added to two already existing ones. For this purpose, sea transportation was halted and the Marmaray, rail tunnel that crosses the Bosphorus strait, was not functional for a while. Now, as an addition to the Bosphorus that naturally splits the city into two halves, they want to separate the Istanbul into three with an artificial canal.
A recent issue over thermal power plants in Turkey was left unresolved as it was widely deemed harmful to public health. It was when the project was disclosed in its entirety that society acted against it and vetoed a law that had already been passed in parliament.
Thus, I believe such a projects should be thoroughly discussed. That is what I will attempt to do in this piece.
Going back to our initial question: why was this project needed at such a time? Capital transfers give us a clue. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has gained 62.2 billion dollars through privatization policies between 2003 and 2019. From TürK Telekom to sugar factories and Tekel factories, valuable investments that were made with the labour and taxes of our parents and grandparents were have sold off to people for little more than the quarter of what they were worth. And we, as consumers, have been left to purchase goods and services at a higher price.
A second clue is Public-Private Partnerships (PPP). Between 2003 and 2019, the AKP has implemented exactly 179 projects through PPPs. Projects worth up to 53.3 billion dollars were carried out. While the companies or consortia that are awarded the contracts earn money through construction, the public provides the funds. The banks that keep our salaries and savings readily provide loans to these projects. The state then pays for operations to be carried out. As if this was not enough, in the even where customers do not show up, the state pays for the absent customers from the general budget.
As an example, the Kütahya’s Zafer Airport in Central Anatolia that was built in 2012 generates very little as it fails to attract passengers. The same goes for the Osmangazi Bridge that was erected in 2016 in the Gulf of Izmit.
To get an idea of how much we have been ripped off by privatizations, we ought to multiply purchasing costs by at least five. The same applies to PPP investment figures.
Looking at graphs, we see that after 2009, the number of privatizations had started to drop, though they went up again in 2013 with energy privatizations. PPPs began in 2010, and jumped in 2013, when a total of 35 billion dollars were made through privatization and PPP investments. In other words, 2013 was a particularly bad year for the public.
The government has made an average of 7.7 billion dollars in privatization every year. It has provided business investments for private companies by guaranteeing customers. The AKP has largely sustained its existence through this policy. In 2018, the privatization of sugar factories amounted to 1,359 million dollars. The same year, total PPP investments were worth a whopping 26 million dollars.
In the early years of AKP governance, privatization was used as a tool for capital transfer. After 2009, PPPs became dominant. In 2013, both privatization and PPP investments were breaking records. In 2018, sugar factories were privatized.
The government is now having recourse to a new tool to transfer capital. If privatizations can be termed Plunder 1.0 and PPPs Plunder 2.0, the government’s pioneering Kanal Istanbul project may be termed Plunder 3.0.
One more Kanal İstanbul scandal
Five solid alternatives have been put forward to Kanal Istanbul. The project is so unsound that cabinet ministers are making a fool of themselves by defending Erdoğan’s enterprise. What they are defending is a transportation line that would destroy Istanbul’s water source. But hasn’t long been this way? They utter the biggest lies because Erdoğan wants it. This defence has solely to do with being in power. Yet we have already seen that if a single pillar of the government crumbles, its rulers will immediately side with the people.
In short, the government is looking for new ways to plunder the people. For money that was lent during the economic crisis has to be paid back. That is why it wants to build the Kanal İstanbul that is worth 15 billion dollars, with people’s money. It wants to collateralize it and sustain its pattern of plunder.
Today, Ankara is not Wuhan. Wuhan is a good example compared to our capital city. Today, Ankara is a construction site. Ankara residents have to remind the city again that they do not want a municipal administration that works for contractors — alongside a presidential system that works for contractors.
This good news about the discovery of natural gas reserves in the Black Sea at the same time means a disaster for the environment. Turkey is a country in which environmental protection standards are very low, and it cannot control even this. This project will be the end of the Black Sea.
As Turkish politics have been reduced to a binary dichotomy between the government bloc and the opposition, İYİ Party plays a somewhat unifying and dampening effect in that regard. But while the government is out of touch with the people, the opposition is not tuned in with it either.
In the past four months, none of our municipalities prepared the infrastructure for washing our hands. They were not able to meet the sidewalk conditions of 1.5 meters width for the social distancing of pedestrians. Almost all of our 1,397 municipalities have failed according to these criteria, including opposition ones.
Even though there are now 163,000 cases detected in Turkey and even more cases that are undetected, the malls are opening. At what cost and for whose sake they are opening? It is quite apparent that they are not opening for our sake; the data is clear. When you review the equation from the point of view of the novel coronavirus, then you have five huge reasons not to step inside these malls.
In Turkey, the pandemic seems to have also opened asphalt season for some local administrations. Municipalities regarded this period as a huge opportunity to pave asphalt.
The Energy Ministry’s 2019-2023 Strategic Plan tells us a lot about the government's intentions. It is obviously a plan that still insists on coal and hydroelectric power policies, and that has solar and wind energy only as an accessory. The climate crisis is not even mentioned.
The first coronavirus month in Turkey will be recorded in history as the month of opportunism, the month of abusing a pandemic. It kept some of its people at home and others at mines and factories, turning the country into a labor camp. Only the local administrations were left, but there were policies to curb their powers as well.
As a host to 85 percent of all international travels, Istanbul has become an attraction center for coronavirus. And as a host to 38 percent of Turkey’s domestic travels, Istanbul spread the virus to the rest of the country.
The Turkish government has not taken steps related to the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak. They actually took steps in the opposite direction asking people to do their own homework and resisting a total lockdown in the country. Meanwhile, the opposition self-quarantined itself politically.
Both the stage that the capitalism has reached globally and Turkey’s implementation of it, cannot be neglected while discussing the underlying factors which tie the climate crisis and the COVID-19 outbreak to each other.
In 2019, the number of issues broke the record with 935 extreme meteorological issues recorded in Turkey. That's 9 times the overall number recorded for the second half of the 20th century. Last year, floods occurred in cities including Ordu, Düzce, Trabzon, Antalya and Mersin that cost the lives of many people.
While Russia needs to sell its energy to Turkey, the US must stay within the Middle East to get its oil. That is why they are both seeking Turkey on their side.At the moment, Turkey is paying for the Syrian war with its loved ones and poverty. It is only by achieving peace with its neighbors that we can attain a win-win situation.
Thanks to a Special Communication Tax that was introduced after the 1999 earthquake, some 67.5 billion Turkish Liras have been collected up to now for earthquake relief. But rather than on earthquake preparedness, the money was largely spent on construction projects.
Kanal Istanbul is a project based on unjust profit-earning that is well-known first to Turkish companies, followed by Arab, European, and even Pakistani capital owners. But we still don’t know the full truth of what is going on with the project. Good that we do not know, because if we did, the Kanal Istanbul project would end immediately.
According to OECD data, Turkey allocated 289 million dollars for waste management in 2008. Ever since, the country has developed and grown, right? Despite this, the money allocated for waste management fell to 147 million dollars in 2015. We have a government that does not want to manage waste and spend money on it. Burying trash is easy; the soil is free.
It is possible for us to close down all coal mines! The way to this has been paved with the veto on the proposed bill. But if we leave public policy unattended and representatives continue to leave parliament seats empty, the opposite will happen. I should point out as a warning that, just like the Environment and City Planning Minister could actually be referring to the business schedule when he says “we installed a filter in 6 months,” a similar wordplay could be at hand with the veto. We will go after the answer together, I promise.
We know how much the ministry earned from shopping bags in the first nine months of the year. At 25 kuruş (cents) for each nylon bag, 15 kuruş were deposited to the ministry and the total was 188 million lira. You heard it right, 18.8 billion kuruş.
The Ministry of Forestry routinely opens up forest ecosystems for economic exploitation. It distributes permits to use forests for mineral exploitation, mining, construction and even for oil drilling. In 2012, 2,810 permits were granted for those purposes. Between 2012 and 2018, that number rose to 18,515.
The government has found a way to take back the Bosphorus after losing İstanbul elections. The Ministry of Environment and Urbanization has drafted a 28 point legislative proposal called the Boshporus Law. With the new law, Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality and four provinces no longer have any authority in the Bosphorus.
Volkswagen's investment plan in Turkey is a scandal. It is no less than an attempt to rescue a drowning company ensnared in corruption. While the Turkish public will bear the economic costs of this plan, environmental damage will also be caused.
Erdoğan changed the climate of the UN Climate Action Summit. He talked about how he multiplied fossil fuels and how not recycling waste is a good thing, and he put concrete as a policy on the world stage.
Turkey wants to be a party to the Paris Agreement as the structure of the deal allows countries to increase emissions. Turkey, which is among the 12 countries that have not yet joined the agreement, had added 193.5 million tons to climate changing greenhouse gases in last 20 years before 2010.