After an earthquake hit Izmit, a city about 100 kilometres east of Istanbul, in 1999 it became obvious that buildings in Turkey built during the previous decades generally were of low quality in terms of earthquake safety. Many of the buildings in Izmit collapsed, leaving its inhabitants crushed between the concrete floors.
To fund preparations for future earthquakes, not least the one awaiting Istanbul, a special earthquake tax was enacted and made permanent in 2003. This tax, called Özel Iletişim Vergisi, meant that an extra 25 percent was added to all Internet, mobile and telephone landline bills in Turkey. However, when an earthquake hit the city Van in eastern Turkey in 2011, the finance minister Mehmet Şimşek, admitted that the money had been used to build roads, and had not been spent for the intended purpose. “There is no such thing as an earthquake tax!” prime minister Tayyip Erdogan lectured in his usual manner as the critique grew more fierce a couple of days after the news broke, meaning that tax money can’t be earmarked for certain purposes. Considering the high probability of a big quake in Istanbul and the low quality of buildings there, this talk is naturally nonsense and might just hide a disease too common in Turkey: corruption.
To understand how much 25 percent of all the mobile, internet and telephone landlines bills is, lets take a look at the most recent number of mobile subscriptions in Turkey. As of 2013, there was a total of 68.9 million subscriptions and a very modest assumption would be that each of these are billed about 20 TL every month. Knowing that a 25 percent tax is in that that price, we consequently get about 4 TL in tax per subscription, adding up to:
275 million TL per month and 3,3 billion TL per year!
…and mark well that this is only the money that is collected from mobile subscriptions, leaving out the telephone land line bills and the internet subscriptions.
And now I wonder: Correctly spent on its intended purpose, how many lives would this money be able to save just in Istanbul?
The answer: many
Reinforcements of unsafe buildings, informing the public about what to do when an earthquake hits, or just handing out earthquake kits or changing old gas pipes to flexible ones in plastic, are overall measures that cost very little, but might still mean the difference between life and death.
It’s a shame that this is not discussed more in the Turkish media before it is too late. Many politicians of today will have blood on their hands when the earthquake hits Istanbul.