Government, Kurdish PKK politicians in row over energy bills

ANKARA – Doğan News Agency – 9.7.2014 – Power cuts in Turkey’s southeastern provinces have sparked a row between the government and People’s Democratic Party (HDP) as the energy minister accused the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) of inciting people in the region to avoid paying bills amid separate tension over sharing oil revenues with municipalities.

Fed up with the recurrent power cuts, citizens in eastern and southeastern provinces, where illegal electricity usage is markedly higher than the Turkish average, have begun to stage protests, adding to tension in an already-boiling region. In the latest of such incidents, hundreds of people in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa hit the streets carrying candles to demonstrate against cuts on the night of July 7.

When asked about the unrest at the region, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said the leakage and loss levels in the Dicle region, which provides electricity for 1 million subscribers living in the southeastern cities of Diyarbakır, Şanlıurfa, Mardin, Batman, Siirt and Şırnak,  had reached 75 to 80 percent and that authorities should take measures to collect payment.

But he put the blame on “PKK and other groups” for provoking people in the region to not pay their electricity bills. “We know the people in the region have strong character but we also know that there are some incitements. We know both the PKK and other elements say, ‘It will better if you don’t pay the electricity bill,’” he said.“We have to serve 77 million and we must display the difference between the ones who pay their bills and the one who don’t,” he added.

Hasip Kaplan, an HDP lawmaker for Şırnak, rushed to respond to the minister’s accusations and said neither the HDP’s presidential candidate, Selahattin Demirtaş, nor the PKK had ordered people not pay their bills.“The energy minister always warps the truth. He is a liar,” Kaplan said, claiming the electricity bill debts at issue stem from agricultural irrigation. He further claimed most of the farmers with debts “are located in Şanlıurfa and a big proportion of them are supporters of AKP [Justice and Development Party].”

Meanwhile, the Turkish government sees demands for the sharing of oil revenues with local governments as “extremely wrong and prejudicial,” Yıldız said amid the HDP’s increased push for the oil extracted from Kurdish-dominated eastern and southeastern provinces.

“Lately, some people have voiced claims on the right to oil extracted from our eastern and southeastern regions and on the state’s share. We find this extremely wrong and prejudicial,” Yıldız said yesterday.

“We know that this structure is a whole with all regions like how Antalya’s tourism, Rize’s tea and other products circulate all across Turkey,” he said.

Last week, Ayla Akat Ata, an HDP lawmaker for the southeastern province of Batman, which is home to Turkey’s largest oilfield, presented a legal proposal to share the central government’s oil revenues with local administrations, in a move that has been seen as a vital step for autonomy by Kurdish politicians.

Demirtaş, who is running for presidency against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the main opposition parties’ joint candidate Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, also backed the request, saying all provincial administrations need a share from the revenues to better fulfill the public’s needs.The energy minister also slammed Demirtaş’s support for the demand. “A presidential candidate says he wants to embrace 77 million people [the total of the Turkish population], but here he says a ‘special share’ should be given. We find this very wrong,” he said. “We make a 1 billion-lira investment there [in the eastern and southeastern provinces]. And we know that our investment provides employment for our citizens there. We don’t find the request to give a separate state share to the region to be devoid of ulterior motives and we find this prejudicial,” he said.