Heavy debt burden of municipalities waits new mayors

Newly-elected opposition parties’ mayors are now announcing heavy municipal debts that they are incurring as they assume office across Turkey.

The new mayors will now occupy office after the March 31 local Turkish elections that saw the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) losing key mayoral seats.

With Turkey facing an economic downturn, the local elections were held against the backdrop of other economic factors like the recession, rising inflation, and high unemployment rates.

Ahead of the elections, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged the economic downturn in an interview but he said overcoming economic ploblems is not a duty of the mayors, they don’t have an impact on the economy and many of the municipalities are bankrupt.

Now revealed balance sheets, after handing over control to opposition parties’ candidates, confirm Erdogan’s statement regarding the financial position of the municipalities.

The new mayors have started making public announcements on the budget balance with huge banners hanging on facades of the townhalls or from their websites.

More public attention has been directed at provinces with a small economy and rising debts. Kirsehir, one of the central provinces with over 140 000 population, has a debt of 462 million Turkish Lira (TL). As another sample from the west, Orhangazi, county of well-known Bursa province with 78.000 population, has a 273 million TL debt.

Newly elected mayors of the Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in the east side of the country, are accusing Ankara-appointed trustees of the heavy debts.

Ahmet Turk, the new mayor of Mardin city, said they left the municipality to the Public Trustee with 95 million cash and 63 million TL debt but handed over the municipality after 30 months with 1 billion 26 million TL debt.

Turk added public procurements and expenditures during the Trustee term will be investigated.

Irfan Sarı, a new HDP mayor of Hakkari Yüksekova in the southeast region of Turkey, also revealed the municipality has a 680 million TL debt that’s carried over from the government-appointed administration term. Sarı said, a credit agreement with Ilbank, a government institution financing infrastructure investments, have been signed with a special article to cut the credit in case of election of a new different mayor.

Ayhan Bilgen, the mayor of Kars province from HDP, stated the muncipality has 338 million TL debt and all municipal buildings have been seized. Before the elections, the government removed 95 elected mayors and appointed Trustees instead. The HDP won many of them back on 31 March.

Besides the heavy debt burden, real estate and vehicles in some municipalities were transferred to the state before HDP mayors took the office.

In Cizre county of Sirnak and Bismil district of Diyarbakır, municipalities no longer service
buildings as town halls are allocated to governorate and the police department.

According to statistics of the Ministry of Treasury and Finance, the overall debt of the Municipalities in Turkey exceeded 3.5 billion $ by September 2018.

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