President Refuses to Sign €260 mln Bill on Highway Construction – Government Violated Constitution, Undermined Public Interest

On Thursday, President Ilir Meta returned to Parliament the law on the controversial €260 million concession contract for the construction of the 17.2 km-long Milot–Balldre highway.

Meta argued that while the government had already signed a concession contract with the company through an “illegal process”, it was now attempting to pass this “unconstitutional” draft-law in order to “pass the responsibility to Parliament, with the aim of granting an amnesty to the whole process done under complete illegality.”

He stated in his decision that the procedures and contract between the government and ANK and Bardhi Konstruksion companies violated the Constitution, principles of rule of law, transparency, and free competition, and undermined the public interest.

Below are the main points made by the President in refusing to sign the draft-law:

– The government violated legal requirements by not getting an approval from the Ministry of Finance for the concession contract project. Furthermore, in its informative note on the draft-law, the government lied to the Parliament, stating the Ministry of Finance had approved it.

– While the belated feasibility study estimates a cost of € 161,500,000 (including VAT) for the project, the government awarded the contract to the private company for € 217,318,500 (excluding VAT), or about €260 million with VAT included. This undermines the public interest.

– The Public Procurement Agency had announced the project value at €161,500,000 but the government awarded it to the private company for € 213,665,040 without VAT (about €260 million including VAT). This has violated the principle of fair competition, as other companies with possible lower offers than the awarded contract have not participated in the tender.

– The government made no comparative analysis whatsoever to determine if a private-public partnership was necessary at all, and why it could not use a regular public procurement procedure. A comparative analysis to determine the economically most favorable procedure is required by law.

ANK shpk’s offer was €217,318,500 (excluding VAT), but it could only provide guarantee €213,665,040; or €4 million less. The government negotiated the sum with the company, in “flagrant violation of competition rules” and laws, which prescribe that a bid offer is final and unnegotiable.

– Moreover, on the day of signing the contract, the government changed its own decision on concession contracts, demanding the Parliament’s approval for it. According to the President, this unusual move was done with the purpose of taking off of the government the responsibility for numerous legal violations, and make institutions and officials involved unaccountable.

– Whilst the Milot-Balldre highway is part of the Adriatic-Ionian Motorway, the government signed the concession contract for the former one year ahead of deciding on the motorway blueprint, namely the route it would take.

– The draft-law was not reviewed by the parliamentary committee of Legal Affairs and that on Production Activities, both reviews required by law. The review by the committee of Economy and Finance was “superficial and not objective at all”, according to Meta.

The President also brought to the attention of Parliament the repeated criticism by international institutions regarding the government use of unsolicited proposals and PPPs.

The World BankEuropean Bank for Reconstruction and DevelopmentInternational Monetary FundEuropean Union have all criticized the government use of unsolicited proposals and PPPs.

President Meta requested the Parliament to review this draft-law after October 1, when the government could not accept more unsolicited proposals. This request would mean for the Parliament to practically cancel the €260 million government concession contract for the Milot-Ballre highway.

Three concession contracts in particular have been denounced as potentially corrupt during the last months – Milot-Ballre highway, Dukat-Orikum road, and Thumane-Kashar highway. The government has awarded these projects to private companies for a total cost of about €660 million.