Turkish gov't ignores the poor to protect big enterprises, energy companies: Study

Nearly 20 percent of households in Turkey have no electricity as the price of utilities has skyrocketed in recent years. With the lack of substantive government support, opposition lawmakers from metropolitan municipalities try to help residents with their utility bills via the promotion of Pay-It-Forward campaigns.

K. Murat Yıldız / Duvar English

Since the beginning of 2021, the Turkish Petroleum Pipeline Corporation (BOTAŞ) has increased natural gas prices every month. BOTAŞ's gas sale prices were increased by 44.9 percent for residential subscribers and small commercial/industrial enterprises between March 2019 and March 2021 according to a report recently released by The Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB).

Data provided by the TMMOB clearly shows that the government is still using subsidies in the sector while it continues to increase prices for housing and small industry subscribers by nearly 45 percent, while at the same time it protects large industrial enterprises and power plants by introducing lower rates for them.

Monthly utility expenses equal one-quarter of minimum wage

According to its highly-criticized data, the Turkish State Statistical Institute (TÜİK) announced a 27.78 percent annual increase in official inflation rates between March 2019 and March 2021. Yet, during the same period, electricity prices for households increased by 48.35 percent while natural gas prices increased by 44.9 percent for housing and small industrial companies.

Meanwhile, energy producers and major consumers saw price reductions between 4.6 and 6.9 percent between January 2019 and October 2020 from BOTAŞ, the report noted. Based on the same TMMOB study, households spend an average of over 700 Turkish liras just for their gas, electricity, and telecommunication needs which is equal to one-quarter of the minimum wage.

Anger and criticism on social media

“A year ago I was paying maximum 300 liras to heat my 2+1 apartment. This winter, I have had to pay an average of 700 liras each month,” a retired real estate agent from Ankara told Duvar English, adding that, “Our income remains the same but our expenses increase day by day."

The real estate agent is not alone in her complaints regarding the skyrocketing cost of living, which includes heating. Many people have taken to social media to share their utility bill prices and to criticize the government.

‘Bills Pending’

Meanwhile, opposition-controlled municipalities such as Istanbul and Ankara have launched campaigns such as “Askıda Fatura” (Bill Pending), where well-off residents show solidarity and anonymously help financially struggling individuals by paying off their utility bills.

As of March 5, in Istanbul alone, nearly 225 thousand bills were paid off worth 32.5 billion Turkish liras, while more than 73 thousand are still pending. In total, over 36 billion liras were donated by Istanbulites via such Pay-It-Forward campaigns from the metropolitan municipality.

Call on the government

In its statement, the TMMOB called on authorities to not terminate the services of subscribers that can’t take care of their bills and said the state should pay the bills of citizens who cannot pay off their electricity, water, natural gas, telephone, and internet bills.

“There is a present system in which the district governors under certain conditions take care of electricity bills of families with below-average incomes. This has to be expanded to water, natural gas, phone, and internet bills. No one should sit in the dark and cold,” TMMOB’s Energy Working Group President Oğuz Türkyılmaz told Duvar English.

Government plays deaf to opposition proposals

Given the record amount of food inflation in the country and the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of households are struggling to pay their utility bills.

According to main opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) lawmakers, more than 3 million subscribers had their services terminated due to unpaid bills. Government officials and President Erdoğan promised that no one’s gas, water, or electricity would be cut off during these difficult times, but this seems to not be the case.

Moreover, the CHP’s draft bill to reduce taxes on electricity as well as natural gas and to allocate a certain amount of such utilities for free was rejected by the government and not even brought to the parliament floor.

‘20 percent of Turkish households have no electricity'

“Unfortunately, there are currently 3.8 million households without electricity in Turkey. With 20 million households in total, this means that about 20 percent of the households in Turkey don’t have electricity right now. This is heartbreaking and unacceptable,” CHP Istanbul deputy Gürsel Tekin told Duvar English.

“They blame food inflation on supermarkets, farmers, and providers, calling them ‘terrorists’ and accusing them of profiteering during the pandemic. What can we do with a government that puts these inhuman price tags on basic needs and continuously increases them while it gives tax amnesties, subsidies, and discounts to big enterprises?”