Duvar English

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have voted down a motion calling for the parliament to look into the whereabouts of funds collected from citizens under the name of “earthquake tax.”

The motion was submitted by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which said that over 67 billion Turkish Liras have been so far collected as part of these special taxes.

In the face of a recent powerful earthquake that struck the eastern province of Elazığ, many citizens as well as opposition politicians have criticized the state’s unpreparedness for natural disasters despite the allocation of the earthquake tax. They have criticized the lack of transparency over the collection and allocation of these special taxes, which were imposed in the aftermath of Aug. 17, 1999 tremor that killed more than 17,000 people in northwest Turkey.

Social media was shaken after the head of the Turkish Red Crescent (“Kızılay”), Kerem Kınık, urged people to make donations for people affected by the Elazığ earthquake on Jan. 24. Thousands of people responded to a hashtag asking, “Where did the earthquake tax go?”

The HDP’s motion said Kızılay’s call for monetary aids from citizens “creates serious questions” regarding the issue of where the earthquake tax revenues have gone.

“The public has been awaiting to know how much the funds which were collected and allocated under the name of ‘earthquake tax’ grew and where they were channeled to…Tax experts say that the total amount of collected money between 2000-2019 surpasses 67.5 billion liras,” the HDP’s motion said.

The motion also recalled former Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek’s remarks in 2011, when he was asked to account for the funds collected in earthquake taxes, following the Erciş-Van earthquake of 2011.

Şimşek had said at the time that the government spent the funds on double highways, health care and education instead of preparing for earthquakes, causing a political stir.

“While citizens are expecting that this collected money should be spent on tents, assistance, food aid, earthquake awareness seminars and trainings, earthquake drills and assembly areas and should be transferred to institutions such as AFAD, AKUT, Kızılay etc., then-Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek had said [in 2011] that the earthquake taxes have been spent on double highways,” the HDP’s motion said.

The motion was rejected by the AKP-MHP bloc in the parliament, which holds the majority with 329 of total 589 seats.