Pressure grows on Turkish government over use of earthquake taxes

Pressure grows on Turkish government over use of earthquake taxes
Rescue workers search for survivors in the debris of a collapsed building on November 1, 2020 in Izmir, after a powerful earthquake struck Turkey's western coast and parts of Greece. (AFP)
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Updated 05 November 2020

Pressure grows on Turkish government over use of earthquake taxes

Pressure grows on Turkish government over use of earthquake taxes
  • The tax was introduced after a magnitude 7.4 quake in the Marmara region in 1999 that killed 17,000 people
  • However, experts say that much of the revenue from the tax was not spent on earthquake-protection measures

JEDDAH: In the aftermath of the magnitude 7.0 earthquake in Izmir last Friday that killed at least 110 people, pressure is growing on the Turkish government to explain what happened to billions of dollars raised by a mandatory earthquake tax Turks have been paying for more than 20 years.
The tax was introduced after a magnitude 7.4 quake in the Marmara region in 1999 that killed 17,000 people. The money from it is supposed to be used to fund projects to reinforce buildings and prepare cities to better cope with earthquakes.
However, experts and opposition politicians say that much of the revenue from the tax was not spent on earthquake-protection measures, and there are growing calls for detailed information about how the money was used.
Turkish citizens have paid as much as 147.2 billion Turkish lira ($17.5 billion) in earthquake taxes since 1999. The country’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) accuses the government of misusing more than 71 billion lira that should have been used to protect cities from quakes.
On Thursday, prominent Turkish journalist Fatih Altayli said that since 2011 some of these taxes might have been spent on dealing with about 5 million Syrian refugees. Turkey has received €6 billion ($7bn) in EU aid to help the country cope with migrants and refugees.
This allegation was also raised by CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu during a parliamentary speech. He asked where the earthquake taxes went and added: “But when it comes to Syrians, there is a lot of money.”
Alpay Antmen, a lawyer and CHP politician, told Arab News: “This money was meant to be used for urban transformation and for making housing areas in the earthquake zones much more resilient. However, about 70 billion lira of these taxes was spent on other purposes, and this capital was transferred to the builders close to the government.”
Last year, he said he submitted a parliamentary inquiry to Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak about the use of earthquake taxes. He was referred to the Interior Ministry, which told him it had no information.
“They are collecting these taxes from taxpayers as earthquake taxes, then they merge it into the general budget,” said Antmen. “The financial resources of the government are so depleted that it uses all available tools.”
AFAD, Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Agency, which operates under the Interior Ministry, was harshly criticized for its response to the Izmir earthquake, after it asked people to send a text message if they needed blankets.
Allegations of corruption in the use of earthquake taxes are not new. In January, for example, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded to such claims by saying: “We spent it where it was meant to be spent … we do not have the time to provide accountability for matters like this.”
The CHP is now calling the government to account and demanding full transparency about how the taxes were used.
“When you spend the money of the citizens, you have to account for it,” said Antmen. “Otherwise it is unacceptable. Tens of billions of dollars have, however, been squandered for the relief of pro-government contractors’ debt burdens.”
CHP said that had revenue from the earthquake tax been used properly, millions of buildings around the country could have been strengthened to help them survive powerful earthquakes that are expected to hit Turkey, which lies on several active fault lines, in the coming decades.


US urges Iran to show ‘good faith’ in talks resumption

US urges Iran to show ‘good faith’ in talks resumption
Updated 17 sec ago

US urges Iran to show ‘good faith’ in talks resumption

US urges Iran to show ‘good faith’ in talks resumption
WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday urged Iran to show “good faith” and quickly revive a nuclear deal after the clerical state indicated it would return to negotiations in Vienna next month.
“This window will not remain open forever as Iran continues to take provocative nuclear steps, so we hope that they come to Vienna to negotiate quickly and in good faith,” a State Department spokesperson said.

Arab coalition says 105 rebels killed in latest Yemen strikes

Arab coalition says 105 rebels killed in latest Yemen strikes
Updated 31 min 44 sec ago

Arab coalition says 105 rebels killed in latest Yemen strikes

Arab coalition says 105 rebels killed in latest Yemen strikes
  • EU delegation in Aden to support government, implementation of Riyadh Agreement
  • Coalition has claimed the deaths of 2,000 Houthis around Marib in strikes it has reported since Oct. 11

AL-MUKALLA: The Arab coalition said on Wednesday it killed 105 Houthi rebels in airstrikes around Yemen’s strategic city of Marib.

The coalition, supporting the internationally recognized government, has claimed the deaths of 2,000 Houthis around Marib in strikes it has reported almost daily since Oct. 11.

“Thirteen military vehicles were destroyed and 105” insurgents were killed in strikes in the past 24 hours, the coalition said, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

The latest bombing was carried out in Al-Jawba, about 50 km south of Marib, and Al-Kassara, 30 km to the northwest.

Marib, capital of the oil-rich province of the same name, is the internationally recognized government’s last bastion in northern Yemen.

The UN Security Council last week called for “de-escalation” in Yemen, in a unanimously adopted statement to counter “the growing risk of large-scale famine” in the country.

Meanwhile, a group of EU diplomats visiting the port city of Aden, the interim capital of Yemen, has expressed support for the internationally recognized government of Yemen, hailed its return to Aden, and called upon the country’s political forces to accelerate the full implementation of the Saudi-brokered Riyadh Agreement. 

The EU delegation also urged the Iran-backed Houthis to end their deadly offensive in the central province of Marib and engage with peace efforts to end the war in Yemen.

The delegation includes the deputy head of the EU mission in Yemen, Marion Lalisse, French Ambassador Jean-Marie Safa, German Ambassador Hubert Jaeger, Dutch Ambassador Peter-Derrek Hof, and Swedish Envoy for Yemen Peter Semneby. 

“The EU ambassadors welcome the return of the Yemen government to Aden, express full support for the government and call for the full implementation of the Riyadh agreement,” the mission said in a statement.

The EU delegation touched down in Aden airport on Tuesday and then headed to the presidential palace for a meeting with Yemen’s Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Saeed. 

The official news agency SABA reported that the prime minister told the EU envoys that the Houthis are spoiling efforts to end the war by aggressively attacking internally displaced people in Marib and civilian targets in Saudi Arabia. 

He called for the Houthis and their supporters in Iran to be punished for undermining peace and security in Yemen. 

“The terrorist behavior of the Houthis, their war crimes against civilians and IDPs in Marib, and the attack on civilian properties in Saudi Arabia test the international community,” Saeed said. 

“Peace process should be based on effective pressure and sanctions on the Houthis and their sponsors in Tehran,” the premier said, urging international donors to expand their assistance to Yemen to include supporting the country’s exacerbating economic meltdown. 

Yemen’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Awadh bin Mubarak, who also met the delegation, said that the Europeans discussed offering assistance to the economy and to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis. 

“There is great European interest in discussing ways to support the Yemeni government, especially in the economic field,” Bin Mubarak said. 

The Dutch ambassador to Yemen said they held an “excellent” meeting with the government and discussed ways to help address the devaluation of the riyal, fight corruption and tackle other economic challenges. 

“Excellent meeting today with @Yemen_PM in Aden, expressing EU support for the Government of Yemen and discussing the economic challenges including the exchange rate, inflation, boosting revenues, the needed government reforms and the fight against corruption,” Peter Derrek Hof said on Twitter.

During a meeting with the EU delegation on Wednesday, Aden Gov. Ahmed Hamid Lamlis thanked the Europeans for visiting Aden, stressing that the visit carries a message that the city is safe and ready to receive international delegations. 

The Europeans also discussed the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement and supporting the government to smoothly resume its duties in Aden with the leader of the pro-independence Southern Transitional Council Aidarous Al-Zubaidi.

Yemeni officials and experts believe that the EU mission visit to Aden would spur the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, help the government function effectively in Aden and convince many international diplomats to visit the city. 

“This is an indication that Aden is safe. The presence of the Europeans in Aden mounts pressure on parties to put into place the Riyadh Agreement and end hostilities in the city,” Najeeb Ghallab, undersecretary at Yemen’s Information Ministry and a political analyst, told Arab News.


Israel advances plans for more than 3,000 settler homes

Israel advances plans for more than 3,000 settler homes
Updated 27 October 2021

Israel advances plans for more than 3,000 settler homes

Israel advances plans for more than 3,000 settler homes
  • The Civil Administration’s high planning committee gave the final green light to 1,800 homes and initial approval for another 1,344
  • About 475,000 Israeli Jews live in settlements in the West Bank, which are considered illegal under international law

JERUSALEM: Israel advanced plans for building more than 3,000 settler homes in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, a military spokesman said, a day after the US forcefully criticized such construction.
The Civil Administration’s high planning committee gave the final green light to 1,800 homes and initial approval for another 1,344, a spokesman for the military body that oversees civilian matters in the Palestinian territories told AFP.
The approvals came a day after the United States criticized Israel for its policy of building settlements, with President Joe Biden’s administration saying it “strongly” opposed new construction on the West Bank.
His administration’s position on the matter stands in stark contrast to that of his predecessor Donald Trump, whose presidency saw the US offer a green light to Israel’s activity on occupied Palestinian land.
The homes approved on Wednesday were spread across the West Bank, from the suburbs of Jerusalem to new neighborhoods of settlements deep inside the territory.
Israel’s housing ministry had separately on Sunday published tenders to build 1,355 new homes in the West Bank.
About 475,000 Israeli Jews live in settlements in the West Bank, which are considered illegal under international law, on land Palestinians claim as part of their future state.
Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem has continued under every Israeli government since 1967.


World Bank suspends aid to Sudan after military coup

World Bank suspends aid to Sudan after military coup
Updated 27 October 2021

World Bank suspends aid to Sudan after military coup

World Bank suspends aid to Sudan after military coup
  • It is the latest blow to the impoverished African nation
  • The military on Monday seized Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and briefly detained him in a coup

WASHINGTON: The World Bank said Wednesday it has suspended aid to Sudan following the military takeover that deposed the prime minister.
“I am greatly concerned by recent events in Sudan, and I fear the dramatic impact this can have on the country’s social and economic recovery and development,” World Bank President David Malpass said in a statement.
It was the latest blow to the impoverished African nation that had just won its way back into good standing with major Washington-based development lenders after years in the wilderness.
The military on Monday seized Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and briefly detained him in the coup that came just over two years into a precarious power-sharing arrangement between the military and civilians after the army ousted longtime autocrat Omar Al-Bashir in April 2019.
The World Bank “paused disbursements in all of its operations in Sudan on Monday and it has stopped processing any new operations as we closely monitor and assess the situation,” Malpass said.
The United States also suspended aid to the country.
“We hope that peace and the integrity of the transition process will be restored, so that Sudan can restart its path of economic development and can take its rightful place in the international financial community,” Malpass said.
Sudan had been emerging from decades of stringent US sanctions after Washington removed the country from its state sponsor of terrorism blacklist in December 2020, eliminating a major hurdle to much-needed aid and financial investment.
The World Bank and IMF in June granted Sudan debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, cutting the nation’s debt in half to about $28 billion, and the institutions have offered additional help if economic reforms continue.


UAE coronavirus cases below 100 for seventh day

UAE coronavirus cases below 100 for seventh day
Updated 27 October 2021

UAE coronavirus cases below 100 for seventh day

UAE coronavirus cases below 100 for seventh day
  • The Ministry of Health said the country conducted 295,380 tests in the past 24 hours
  • The country’s total caseload of recorded infections since the pandemic started now stands at 739,566

DUBAI: Daily coronavirus cases in the UAE were below 100 for the seventh straight day, with 95 new COVID-19 infections reported by health authorities.
The Ministry of Health said the country conducted 295,380 tests in the past 24 hours, state news agency WAM reported. It further reported one death and 136 recoveries.
The country’s total caseload of recorded infections since the pandemic started now stands at 739,566, with 2,135 deaths and 733,640 recoveries.
Coronavirus cases in the UAE have been falling in recent weeks with a total number of COVID-19 vaccination doses reaching 20,999,143.