A water supply project in Northern Cyprus and Turkish clientelism

A government-led and much-vaunted water supply project that connects Turkey to Northern Cyprus through an undersea pipeline has turned into a tender scandal.

A government-led and much-vaunted water supply project that aims to connect Turkey to Northern Cyprus through an undersea pipeline has turned into a tender scandal.

In order to repair pipes in the offshore waters of the southern Turkish city of Mersin, the government applied the “Public Procurement Law”. More specifically, it had recourse to the 21/b article which features a clause stating that “a negotiated procedure can be applied and tender procedures must be held immediately due to unexpected and unforeseen events such as natural disasters, epidemics, the risk of losing lives or properties or events that cannot predicted by the contracting authority.”

The government invited pro-government companies to partake in the bid. While the entire water line cost 630 million Turkish Liras, the cost of the repairs was estimated at 499 million liras. Who put forward the best bid for the repairs? As one might expect, the bid displayed yet another example of the state enriching a pro-government firm.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan unveiled the Northern Cyprus water supply project – which he referred to as the “project of the century” - in 2011. Erdoğan claimed the project would constitute “a work of engineering that would be the first of its kind.” In 2015, the undersea line was completed. 

The line brings water from the Alaköprü Dam, which is located in the Turkish province of Mersin. The dam collects 75 cubic meters of water annually. The water is then transferred to the Geçitköy Dam, which is located close to the city of Girne in Northern Cyprus. 

The project went through several stages. Its tenders were completed in 2012 and its total cost was announced to be 1.6 billion liras. The undersea pipeline stage of the project was granted to the Malaysian partnership of Sigur Ros Sdn Bhd - Kalyon Construction and Kutay Construction for a cost of 630 million liras.

Last January, pipes burst within 5 miles off the coast of Mersin. When the incident was disclosed, the pro-government mouthpieces, including the daily newspaper Sabah, claimed “terror organizations” had sabotaged the pipeline. Later still, pro-government media held “trawling fishermen” responsible for the incident. 

However, the State Hydraulic Works (DSİ) - a state agency under the aegis of the Turkish Ministry of the Environment and Forestry - issued a statement on Jan. 15 stating that the incident had to do with technical problems. The DSI maintained that claims referring to “sabotage” or “trawling” were unfounded. “The incident happened due to adverse climate conditions in the region, causing a groundswell that dislocated the last pipe that was laid on the seabed.” After the DSİ issued its statement, news stories estimated the cost of the repairs at around 35 million liras.  

The Water Supply Department of the State Hydraulic Works (DSİ) launched a tender based on the notorious 21/b article of the Public Procurement Law. The cost of the tender was determined at 499,825,632 liras. Six companies, which the Turkish public knows all too well, were invited to partake in the bid. Makyol was eliminated in the first session. Limak offered 492,700,000 liras, Kolin 518 million liras, Fernas 530,701,000 liras and Özaltın offered 554,700,024 liras. The lowest bid came from Kalyon, which had built the line at a cost of 483,830,000 liras.  

If the tender is approved as it is, Kalyon will receive 483.8 million liras this time to repair the line it built with its partners for 630 million liras. When one considers that the cost of the entire project amounts to 1.6 billion liras, the additional amount that will be spent on the repairs shows the true nature of the tenders. 

While the pandemic overshadowed the incident, Oğuz Kağan Salıcı, the vice-president of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) submitted a written question to the parliament for Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli to answer. The parliamentary question was the following: 

* The cost of this project is over 1.6 billion liras. It is referred to as “the project of the century”. The President praised it as an “unprecedented engineering method.” Why were spare pipes not produced when the pipeline was built in the first place? For only two pipes, the project has been halted for months. What kind of an engineering genius is behind this?

* When the cost of the repair tender is taken into account, with the water supply project rerunning, will there be a change in the cost of a unit of water?

* With the repair tender, 10 pipes will be produced. When the unit costs of these pipes and similar pipes are compared, is it true that these pipes will be produced at a higher rate than market prices?

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