Friday, August 20, 1999

Shoddy construction
made disaster worse

Bullet The issue: The death toll from Turkey's earthquake was higher because many buildings were poorly constructed.

Bullet Our view: Enforcement of building codes that require earthquake-resistant structure is imperative to prevent such disasters.

Earthquakes are natural events that are beyond the power of man to prevent. But it is not beyond his power to limit their disastrous effects. One obvious way is to erect buildings designed to withstand earthquakes.

The effects of the earthquake that has devastated western Turkey were much worse than they might have been because many buildings were poorly constructed. Corrupt and inefficient government agencies failed to enforce building codes. The result was thousands of deaths and injuries.

In recent years Turks by the millions have poured into Istanbul from the countryside looking for work, swelling the population from about 1 million in 1960 to 12 million today.

When the earthquake struck, many of the cheaply made, never-inspected housing blocks built for these newcomers pancaked into the ground, crushing thousands as they slept.

Although the region has suffered several quakes over the past decade, little has been done to address the problems of shady contractors who don't bother with permits and skimp on materials, or corrupt officials who don't enforce building codes.

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit promised a crackdown on unscrupulous builders. "The price for irresponsible behavior is very high for our people," he told reporters. "We shall take measures against it."

But others complained that the powerful construction lobby and a corruption-riddled political system hinder reforms.

In Southern California, scientists say it is just a matter of time before an enormous earthquake occurs. Officials have been working to prepare for the disaster they know is coming.

They realize the importance of making buildings earthquake-resistant. This can be expensive, but the cost is trivial compared to the price of inaction.

In many Third World countries, enforcement of building codes is weak. This is an area in which government corruption and indifference can directly cost lives.

Even in Honolulu, where the danger of a major earthquake is relatively low, there is a need for realistically tough building codes and strict enforcement.

Bosnia corruption

Bullet The issue: Corruption has resulted in the theft of up to $1 billion in public funds in Bosnia.

Bullet Our view: Western nations should work to end the corruption to avert a cutoff of foreign aid.

THEFT of as much as $1 billion in public funds, including some of the $5.1 billion in international aid that has been given to Bosnia since the 1995 Dayton peace agreement brought an end to ethnic conflict could block that country's road to recovery. Western pressure is needed to reduce corruption and continue relief to a population in great need.

An investigation by an American-led anti-fraud unit set up by the international agency responsible for implementation of the Dayton agreement's civilian aspects has exposed the corruption. Although the 4,000-page report resulted in the dismissal of 15 officials, most of them retain authority.

The corruption has included the schools in one city being painted four times last year at double or triple the normal price for such work. In another town, the aid was spent on construction of a horse race track. Millions of dollars deposited in Bosnian banks was lent to fictional businesses or given as personal loans to owners of the banks.

The corruption seems to extend to the highest echelons of the Bosnian government. Occupancy rights to 80,000 publicly owned apartments in Sarajevo have been given to members of the Muslim-led Social Democratic Party by a city institute headed by the son of Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic. Not surprisingly, Izetbegovic has dismissed the international investigators' allegation of official corruption within his government.

The corruption could be a severe blow to Bosnia's recovery, causing international donors to reconsider their assistance and discouraging foreign investment needed to free Bosnia from reliance on foreign assistance.

Cleaning up the Bosnian corruption may be as daunting a task as ending the 31/2-year war. Bosnian courts offer no redress because they may be as corrupt as other branches of government. Western nations supporting the Bosnian peace accord must take measures to fight corruption in Bosnia and to prevent the same situation from developing in Kosovo.

Mamoru Yamasaki

MAMORU Yamasaki, who died Tuesday at 82, served quietly in the state Legislature for 33 years, representing Maui. For 12 of those years, until his retirement in 1992, he was chairman of the powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee.

That job thrust Yamasaki into the budget battles that frequently dominated legislative sessions. But his cheerful, easy-going personality and fairness enabled him to survive those struggles with few scars.

His favorite causes in the Legislature were health care and children.

Yamasaki was an ILWU business agent from 1963 to 1981.

He earned the respect of his colleagues and served Hawaii well.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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