IBRAHIM – Soma disaster brings wisdom of rdovans system into question

Soma disaster brings wisdom of rdovans system into questionWith a death toll of 301 people, the deadliest mine disaster in Turkey’s history struck Soma last week, drawing attention to deficiencies in the mining industry, particularly the “rdovans” system, a usufructuary tenancy that centers on licensing a mine for a certain period of time in return for a percentage of its profits.Rdovans comes from the French word redevance, meaning royalty, and the system was first introduced in Turkey in the late 1980s as a means to prevent the continuation of unlicensed mining in illegal mines.

It became a widespread application during the 1990s, and was introduced into the country’s mining law by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in 2004.The Soma coal mine, which is estimated to contain 18 million tons of reserves, was licensed by Soma Holding from Turkish Coal Enterprises (TKI) in 2005 in line with the rdovans systemThis system has been criticized widely for its unavoidable mishaps in regards to the safety conditions of the workplace, since the beneficiary company does everything to keep costs as low as possible.

This was what happened in Soma as, according to worker testimonies and reports in the media following the incident, workers were for the most part deprived of even the most fundamental training on the dangers of working in the mine. They were also not educated sufficiently on occupational safety rules, which are extremely vital, particularly in such unpredictable work as coal mining.

Adding insult to injury, since the operating firm aims to maximize revenue while lowering costs at the same time, workers are forced to endure longer working hours with minimum time for breaks and miners are forced to take risks to increase output.Miner Sefa Kkmen was one of the few in Soma to talk about what was happening hundreds of meters below the earth on a TV show on Monday.

He detailed the hard working conditions, mentioning that the miners hardly had time even to have lunch. “They are nothing less than slaves,” he said.

Another problem with the rdovans system is that it deters mining companies from making capital investment in mines since this would require it to spend money and drive up costs to the detriment of its already-narrow profit margins. In addition to this, license periods in the mines are usually so short that large-scale investments are not feasible or reasonable for payee companies, which will eventually abandon the place to the state, the real ownerTurkish Mineworkers’ Union (Maden-II) General Secretary Vedat unal believes the abolishment of the rdovans system is imperative to preventing further casualties.

“All mines must be owned from tomorrow onward by the state,” unal told Today’s Zaman in a phone interview, asserting that the Eynez mine in Soma, where the disaster happened, witnessed only one deadly but minor accident between the time it was opened in 1984 and when it was granted to Soma Holding in 2006. Accidents spiraled out of control, with innumerable deaths.

unal thinks the defense of the rdovans system on the grounds that the state is inefficient at handling mining production is untrue. He references the Seyitmer coal mine, which was licensed a couple of months ago.

“It was making profits. [The issue is that] these mines [are being] offered to certain businessmen on a silver platter,” unal said.

If the rdovans system continues, the “mass murders” will also continue, he argued.In Turkey, mineral resources are owned by the state and private companies can only have temporary rights to operate mines and must pay shares from revenues to the state.

The State Audit Institution’s (DDK) mining sector report three years ago laid bare the shortfalls of the rdovans system, calling on authorities to take measures soon or face the consequences. The report underlined the lack of risk assessment failure to draw lessons from past accidents improvidently increasing production insufficient measures against the risk of firedamp irregularities in the drilling and blasting of mineral ores carelessness in drilling inrush and control wells not giving quality carbon dioxide masks to workers shortages in fortification of galleries against collapse and the failure to properly construct evacuation corridors, install ventilation and build rescue chambers.

These were only some of the problems in the mines being operated under the rdovans systemEnergy Minister Taner YIldIz said in a speech on Tuesday that Turkey uses 102 million tons of coal every year and obtains 80 percent of this amount from local production. According to the TKI numbers for 2012, 56 percent of domestic coal production is carried out in mines operating under the rdovans system.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman

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