Turkish Mayor Acquitted on Misconduct Charges ... For Giving Citizens Free Water
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The mayor of the Turkish Aegean town of Dikili has escaped charges of "misconduct of office" and "abuse of power" stemming from his decision to provide up to 10 tons of water free of charge to district residents in a stand against water privatization.
Mayor Osman Özgüven and other municipality officials were acquitted Wednesday in a Dikili criminal court after standing trial for not charging local households for monthly water consumption below 10 tons, giving discounts on usage above that amount to municipal employees, making public buses free to ride, providing affordable health services at a government clinic, and selling bread in municipal bakeries at lower than market prices.
According to the mayor, providing a certain amount of water for free also helped encourage people to consume no more than that, in addition to helping meet some of his citizens' financial needs.
Water is a 'Right of Life'
"The court accepted our activities as a public service. It registered that water should not have to be purchased with money and should not be commercialized," Özgüven told the human-rights-focused news service Bianet. "This is what we claimed from the very beginning. This is a right of life and addresses [the needs of] humanity."
The mayor's practices had been cited by the global progressive think-tank the Transnational Institute as an example of "progressive public water management."
Water privatization has been a controversial issue in Turkey, as it has been in other countries around the world. More than a dozen people were arrested in the northwestern city of Edirne in 2008 on corruption charges related to the transfer of the city's water and waste-water treatment facilities to a private-sector firm. And activists protested privatization at last year's World Water Forum in Istanbul, where most people of a variety of income classes drink home-delivered bottled water.
"One day they said that we should not drink tap water, that we might get poisoned. And then suddenly a demand for bottled drinking water was created. We were forced to spend a considerable percentage of our income on drinking water. I think this is all the game of companies, and when I think about it, I get angry," housewife Sevgi Demir told Bianet last year. "Allah creates the rain, but companies bottle it and sell it to us.... We used to say that water was sacred, but now you have to be rich to use it."