Is the labor minister to pay the bill?
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan was no more nervous than usual while addressing his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) MPs on May 20. After paying his respects to the 301 miners who died in the May 13 coal mine disaster in Soma, in the west of Turkey, with a moment of silence, and before slamming the domestic and foreign media that are critical of his government’s handling of things, Erdoğan thanked almost everyone who contributed to the rescue efforts after the incident.
Energy Minister Taner Yıldız received the most credit, “May God bless him,” Erdoğan said after praising his full-time presence throughout the week-long efforts to contain the crisis.
The other Cabinet minister who has direct involvement in with the mining industry, together with the energy minister, is Labor Minister Faruk Çelik, but he received no praise. Erdoğan thanked his deputy by name, but Çelik’s name was not even mentioned.
This is not Kremlinology, but you don’t need to be an Erdoğan-ologist to understand that Erdoğan is not happy with his labor minister’s performance in coping with the situation. His visit to the site two days after the disaster had been a matter of criticism, but when an official statement was made, giving his medical treatment as being related to “suspicion of cancer,” people simply ignored the case.
But when on May 20, Utku Çakırözer of newspaper Cumhuriyet published a report with quotes from Çelik, saying that he was in favor of the suspension of mining activities until all necessary safety measures are taken and scrutinized by the Energy Ministry - as licenses have been given to mines that are not keen on employing sub-contractors - it added up to a blame game over the mine disaster.
A day before, in the first hearing of the court case in Soma, when Ramazan Doğru, the General Manager of the company, said his signature had been forged by CEO Can Gürkan, also the son of Alp Gürkan, the founder and biggest shareholder of the company, the judge put both of them under arrest. The inspection reports that had stated that everything was all right in the mines had skipped those forged signatures, among other alleged wrongdoings.
But after all, it was the Labor Ministry - not the Energy Ministry, according to sources in Ankara - that held negative opinions about Turkey signing the International Labor Organization (ILO) standards agreement on mining. Signing this agreement would mean more investment in miners’ security, for companies that see this as a challenge to their profits. The government is now considering adopting the ILO standards, with the AK Parti agreeing to open up an investigation into the mining sector, despite rejecting a similar proposal from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) two weeks before the disaster.
Energy Minister Yıldız represented the government in the parliamentary debate yesterday afternoon, and said that if any disaster is not natural, then at some point there has to be some fault: Human, political, administrative or technical. This is a toning down by the government and it signals that some people might pay the bill.
It is clear that Çelik is not the most comfortable minister in the Cabinet right now. On the other hand, Erdoğan does not like to be seen yielding over something going wrong, because it might be interpreted by the opposition as weakness. It is possible that Çelik might keep his post until the next Cabinet reshuffle, which is likely to happen right after the presidential elections in August anyway.