From: Exit Staff
EU Bidders Excluded from Albania’s Post-Earthquake Reconstruction Projects to Be Financed with EU Funds

The Albanian government has effectively excluded European companies from participating in tenders for the November earthquake reconstruction projects, despite the fact that the EU and member states have pledged hundreds of millions of euros in aid.

In the international tender worth €33.4 million for the (re)construction of schools damaged by the earthquake, only Albanian companies have expressed their interest.

According to Open Data Albania , 21 Albanian companies expressed interest in all 7 lots of the tender, including government favorites Fusha shpk, Albstar shpk, Salillari shpk, Gjikuria shpk and Vëllezërit Hysa shpk. In the second phase, the government will decide which of the companies can place bids, and then assess them and select the winners.

Exit News warned earlier that, even though it was announced as an international tender, the participation of foreign companies was practically impossible due to the deadline for applications set by the government – only 9 days out of the 20 that the law provides.

The government applied a so-called ‘restricted procedure’ for these tenders, which takes place in two phases: expression of interest following the call for bids, and a selection phase. According to the procurement law, each phase unfolds over at least 20 days.

However, the government allotted only 9-10 days for offering bids for the 7 lots, making it practically impossible for international companies to be notified about the tender, assess the risks of their investment, draft and place a bid.

The outcome of cutting the legally required time available for applications in half, particularly during the ongoing pandemic restrictions worldwide, was easy to predict: no international company would offer bids.

Indeed, the “international” tender resulted only in Albanian bidders, many of them being the usual government’s favorite contractors.

Initially, the government claimed it would provide budget money for the tender, as funds pledged by the European Union and other donors had not been disbursed yet. However, the EU granted its first €15 million (of €115 million pledged) to support construction of schools.

At this point, it is unclear whether the government will use the EU grant for this particular procurement. If yes, the European Commission would risk making European taxpayers’ money part of the Albanian government’s dubious and non-transparent procurement that violate the country’s procurement law.

Furthermore, it is a fundamental obligation of the EC to ensure that companies in member countries have full access to all procurements done with EU funds. That alone is enough for the EC to require that at least for their part of the funding, the Albanian government launch a new procurement procedure that meets EU standards.

Following the donors’ conference organized by the European Commission, Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi warned that any corruption resulting from the donations will not be tolerated.

As argued before at Exit News, the hasty procedure employed by the government is against the law, it restricts competition and enables the government to select the contractors it wants, practically without competition.

This is corroborated now by the fact that there is no single international company participating in the tender, and that many of the government favorite contractors are among the 21 Albanian companies that have expressed interest.

Fusha shpk and Albstar shpk are the two companies that have benefited the most from public contracts in 2019 – Fusha €32.5 million and Alb-Star €19 million.

Salillari shpk has also been involved in questionable public procurements, including the undergrounding parking lot in the Italia Square in Tirana.

Vëllezërit Hysa shpk served as a ghost company for the corrupt tender of the New Ring of Tirana, and it continues to benefit from public works contracts.

Their expression of interest during the first phase of what was claimed to be an international tender, gives the government a free hand to contract them again.