BEIRUT (Reuters) – The ease with which some state-built homes collapsed in Sunday’s earthquake in western Iran showed corrupt practices when they were constructed, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday in a sentiment shared by many ordinary Iranians.
Some of the houses which collapsed in an earthquake that killed at least 530 people and injured thousands of others were built under an affordable housing scheme initiated in 2011 by Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“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,” Rouhani told a cabinet meeting, state media said.
“It’s clear there has been corruption in construction contracts,” he said.
Sarpol-e Zahab is the town hardest hit by Sunday’s 7.3 magnitude quake, the deadliest in Iran in more than a decade.
A picture widely circulated by ordinary Iranians on social media shows a building with relatively little damage in Sarpol-e Zahab next to a heavily damaged government-constructed building.
This has fueled speculation that shoddy construction in the building of government housing had led to a higher number of casualties from the earthquake.
Rouhani said on Tuesday that any shortcomings in government constructed buildings in the earthquake zone will be punished.
Mohammad Hossein Sadeghi, the prosecutor general in Kermanshah, the largest city in the earthquake zone, said on Wednesday that the quality of construction of new buildings that were heavily damaged would be investigated and charges may be brought against anyone deemed responsible.
“If there are any problems with the construction, the individuals who were negligent must answer for their deeds,” Sadeghi said, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA).
An arrest warrant has been issued for a contractor responsible for a recently built hospital which was heavily damaged in the town of Islamabad-e Gharb, parliamentarian Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh said on Tuesday, according to the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA).
Residents in the earthquake zone have also complained about the slow and inadequate government response as they struggle to find food, water and shelter.
Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Richard Balmforth