No deal on Cyprus water

No deal on Cyprus water

The way the water issue is handled by the left-dominated Turkish Cypriot coalition government is an ideological and very problematic one. Diehard opposition to the private sector, insisting on giving administration of a vital resource to a politically over-crowded water administration that is incapable of performing cannot be “progressive governance.”

Ankara’s offer to authorize Turkey’s State Hydraulic Works Administration (which itself has been a rare public success story ever since Turkey engaged in the process of controlling its water resources by building dams in the late 1950s) with the administration of the water has been unreasonable as well. Is northern Cyprus a province of Turkey? Why would the State Hydraulic Works Administration be in charge of the water Turkey provides to the island through a suspended pipeline project? Even if the status and independence of northern Cyprus is problematic, in which Turkish province does a municipality leave the administration of water resources in its jurisdiction in the state’s administration just because the state provided the infrastructure to bring water to that province?

The latest Turkish offer was equally problematic. Why should the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus sign a state-to-state agreement with Turkey to establish a new “state water works” administration and pledge to privatize it within one year? Is the Turkish Cypriot government fool enough not to understand that handing over the administration of water to a private company immediately or establishing a public authority with an agreement that it will be privatized within a year is nothing further than postponing privatization just by one year? Come on, Turkish Cypriots have been dealing with the Greek Cypriots and their Byzantine-style negotiation tactics for the past half century. Could Turkish Cypriots be fooled by such amateur offers?

Thus, in a meeting behind closed doors last week, the party executive of Mehmet Ali Talat’s Republican Turks’ Party (CTP) agreed unanimously to reject the latest offer by Ankara regarding water management and risk the possibility of further delaying the use of water provided by Turkey.

On one side of the coin, there is of course applause for a Turkish Cypriot government that could oppose Ankara. Turkish Cypriots must be able to say “no” even to Turkey. On the other side of the coin, however, there is a bitter truth: The Turkish Cypriot position has been an ideologically contaminated one and, even if agreed on by Ankara, cannot be sustainable.

It is very much like that story on how a war was lost. If an army has run out of ammunition, explaining why the war was lost is nonsense. The current Turkish Cypriot water authority – as well as the electricity board – is politically contaminated. It is over-crowded with political appointments (mostly by center-right governments). It cannot even collect the money for the water it provided from the Finance Ministry, let alone private consumers or hotels.

If just purification and pumping costs of the water provided by Turkey will cost around 150,000 Turkish Liras a day, and even if Turkey provided water at a price that might be considered almost gratis, who will finance the costs? If the water provided by Turkey will be a “peace pipeline project,” (in other words, it must be shared or at least have a possibility of being shared with Greek Cypriots one day), is not there a need to leave the administration to a private company? A Cyprus deal might be just around the corner. Perhaps with some miraculous effort and a magic touch, the remaining and very challenging issues might be ironed out and Cypriots of all ethnicities will walk to a brighter future together. Yet that day is not anytime near nor does it appear to be so. However, sharing such a resource in confidence building measures might accelerate the process. Secondly, together with water, there is the possibility of the island receiving electricity from Turkey at a fraction of the cost of the fuel-powered plants that are currently operated separately by the two sides.

Cheaper and abundant fresh water and electricity… Such a possibility would be more important than even a Cyprus deal for Cypriots on either side of the divide. That is why, including this writer, many people consider the flow of water from Anatolia as something even bigger than the 1974 Turkish intervention. Such existential and landmark potential should not be wasted with ideological handicaps.