Insider news & Analysis in Iran

By INU Staff

INU -During Sunday’s earthquake in western Iran, state-built homes collapsed, displaying the corrupt practices of the builders. This has led to speculation that shoddy construction in the building of government housing led to a higher number of casualties from the quake.

Some of the houses that collapsed were built under an affordable housing scheme initiated in 2011 by then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

However, the new wing of the Imam Khomeini hospital was opened only last year. More than 100 beds were added in a $15 million construction project that had taken more than eight years to complete and had made the hospital the largest in the region. During the 30-second earthquake on Sunday, the new wing crumpled, while the original hospital building, 40 years old, stood beside the wreckage, barely damaged.

An arrest warrant has been issued for a contractor responsible for the recently built hospital, according to parliamentarian Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, as reported on Tuesday, by the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA).

The magnitude 7.3 earthquake killed more than 500 people in Iran. Officials say that more than 40,000 properties became uninhabitable, including many newly built state hospitals, schools, apartment complexes, and army barracks. It is unclear how many people died in collapsed government buildings.

This revealed what many Iranians have been saying — corruption inside state organizations has led to shoddy construction work and undermined Iran’s infrastructure.

State media quoted President Rouhani, “That a house built by (ordinary) people in the Sarpol-e Zahab region has remained standing while in front of it a government-built building has collapsed is a sign of corruption.” He told a cabinet meeting, “It’s clear there has been corruption in construction contracts.”

The truth of this was demonstrated in the town of Sarpol-e Zahab, hardest hit by Sunday’s 7.3 magnitude quake. A picture circulated on social media shows an older building with relatively little damage in Sarpol-e Zahab, next to a heavily damaged newly government-constructed building.

On Wednesday, Mohammad Hossein Sadeghi, the prosecutor general in Kermanshah, the largest city in the earthquake zone, said that the quality of construction of heavily damaged new buildings would be investigated and charges may be brought against anyone deemed responsible. He told the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA), “If there are any problems with the construction, the individuals who were negligent must answer for their deeds.”

It is reported that building permits can be bought, and developers are allowed to economize on safety regulations. Insiders allege that some quality-control inspectors make more of their living from bribes than salaries.

Iran has experienced a sharp increase in industrial accidents in recent years. In fact, just this year, a poorly maintained high-rise building in the center of Tehran burned and collapsed, leaving 20 firefighters dead. The building reportedly did not have a sprinkler system. A government report concluded that government agencies had failed to enforce 22 national building regulations. No one was punished.

In the city of Boomehen, outside Tehran, around 40 high rises have been erected and have had construction issues.

Analysts say the root problem is widespread corruption. “State institutions tasked with fighting corruption are themselves corrupted,” said economist Saeed Laylaz. “There is no short-term remedy.” He pointed out that the government had not paid contractors for their jobs, instead giving them i.o.u.’s that quickly lost half their worth. “Naturally next time they get a job they try to cheat wherever they can,” Mr. Laylaz said.

A local member of Parliament, Ahmad Safari, from Kermanshah Province in western Iran, spoke out in an angry interview with the semiofficial news agency ILNA. He said that he believed the number of dead may be roughly double the the official toll. “In my opinion, more than 1,000 people lost their lives,” Mr. Safari was quoted as saying. “Seventy people were killed only in one street in Sarpol-e-Zahab. More than 250 people were killed in the Mehr apartments.” He was referring to the housing complexes built for the poor.

Safari also criticized the lack of relief supplies for the victims. He is quoted as saying, “Unfortunately, aid has not yet been distributed to all villages, perhaps only 10 percent of the villages have tents.”

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