Montenegro authorities have exaggerated cost of highway, polls show

The first section of the Bar-Boljare highway in Montenegro. Photo: Government of Montenegro

The Ministry of Capital Investments on Tuesday released two previously confidential international feasibility studies which showed that the cost of $ 944 million for the construction of the first phase of the Bar-Boljare highway was exaggerated.

According to a feasibility study by URS Infrastructure and Environment, a British engineering firm, the first phase of the motorway is expected to cost 803 million euros, while a study by another British firm, Scott Wilson Group, estimated it should cost $ 570 million.

The feasibility studies were carried out in 2009 and 2012, but the previous government, which launched the highway project, classified them confidential.

“There was a lot of room for corruption, as the previous government persisted in hiding information about the financing of the highway,” Dejan Milovac of the local watchdog NGO MANS told Vijesti TV.

“More than six years have passed [since the project started], but we still don’t know exactly how much it cost Montenegrin citizens, ”Milovac added.

The Bar-Boljare highway represents the Montenegrin stage of a larger highway that will connect the Adriatic coast with the Serbian capital, Belgrade.

The China Road and Bridge Corporation, CRBC, is building the Montenegrin branch and 85 percent of the first section is covered by a $ 944 million loan from China’s Exim bank.

The Minister of Capital Investments, Mladen Bojanic, said that so far the government has paid investors 724 million euros for the basic part of the works and an additional 38 million euros for the additional works.

On November 12, Bojanic said the first phase would be completed by the end of November.

According to state data from December 2020, Montenegro’s public debt was then equal to 90.85% of GDP – a very high figure – while the cost of the first phase of 41 kilometers of the highway alone was estimated at 45% of GDP.

In another development on Tuesday, the Podgorica Magistrates’ Court ruled that Chinese construction company CRBC must pay 200,000 euros for causing damage to fish in the UNESCO-protected Tara River during construction from the highway. The local fishing club Tara and Moraca in the city of Kolasin filed a complaint against CRBC in April 2018.

“The builder used pipes to drain the cement water and other dirt from the highway into three smaller basins located on the banks of the Tara River. These were drained into the river without any purification, ”said the court ruling.

In March, the Montenegrin prosecutor’s office opened the first state investigation into environmental damage to the UNESCO-protected river, saying the company had started construction of a facility without obtaining environmental permits.

Kolasin prosecutors said it damaged the local environment to a large extent and over a wide area.

The United Nations educational and cultural body, UNESCO, in a June 2019 report also called on the Montenegrin authorities to closely monitor the impact of the construction of the highway on the Tara River.

The Tara is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful rivers in Europe and its deep canyons are popular with rafters.

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