Staying Focused on Facts about the Ring Road Protests

In the face of the frenetic government propaganda regarding the protest at the outer ring road, procedures, and transparency of project, below brings the important facts of the matter known so far.

Facts of the matter:

May 2018 — Prime Minister Edi Rama and Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj presented in public the rendering images of two projects: the Outer Ring Road and the Tirana-Durres Railroad. No mentioning of expropriating citizens of their houses and businesses.

5 November 2018 — Officers of the Albanian Road Authority (ARA) and Municipality Police drew cross marks on several buildings on the side of the Outer Ring Road. Questioned by their owners, officers said they should leave their buildings within 15 days, so as to open the way for the new ring road project. According to officers, owners had two choices: demolish their houses on their own, or let the government do it and pay for the service a fine about 5 thousand Euros.

The demolition process seemingly having started, and the failure of the government to provide any proper information, consultation, and compensation for the inhabitants of the area, led to protests. Police indiscriminately detained several protesters.

Five government institutions involved in the process announced that the project necessitates the demolition of 317 private properties, 123 of which are legalized, 22 disqualified, and 163 still in the process of legalization.

7 November 2018 — Media discovered limited information on the announcement of the winning bidders for the project’s three lots. Several more issues come to light with this information. The cost of the project amounts to about 38 million Euros for a 2.2 km-long road, which is an unusually high cost, and details of cost break-down are not available.

Winning bids for each of the three lots are almost equal (100%, 99.8%, and 99.1%) to the available budget. Winning bidders are companies close to the government – Biba X and DH Albania, Salillari shpk and Viktoria Invest Internacional.

Biba X has no experience whatsoever in road construction – it had added “road construction, civil construction, reconstruction” to the company’s objectives only two days before the tender procedure closed. The same company was under sequestration until October 2018, as a result of unpaid bills to various contractors – accepting its bid while under sequestration was illegal.

DH Albania is the Albanian branch (registered in July 2018) of a shell company registered in a tax heaven (Delaware) with its legal representative from another tax heaven (Seychelles).

Salillari shpk and Viktoria Invest Internacional are two of the companies that continuously win government bids.

In biddings for each lot, only two bidders participated: the winning bidder and a company called Vëllezërit Hysa – which is a ghost company bidding with no offer, with the purpose of reaching the necessary bidder number for the bid to qualify. Overall, the bidding process has been non-transparent and apparently fictive.

13 November 2018 — Following citizens’ protest in front of the Municipality, Mayor Veliaj called protesters “cavemen” and “primitive species”, while expressing his firmness in implementing a project the government has never disclosed.

On the same day, Mayor Veliaj promised compensation to owners of fully legal buildings, and three years of rent coverage for others. The process of legalization for other buildings stopped. No official documents to support any of Veliaj’s promises have been issued so far.

Mayor Veliaj also promised “bonuses” to families whose houses are set to be demolished. However, the government is obliged by law to follow a detailed 75-day-long procedure, after which people affected can take the case to the Administrative Court. The affected citizens are not asking for preferential treatment through “bonuses”; all they want is the rule of law and justice.

The most obvious violations by the Government and Municipality in this process amount to violation of the constitutional right to property; violation of the European Convention of Human Rights, Art. 8, which also relates the right to property; violation of the Aarhus Convention, which guarantees citizens’ access to information and participation in all decisions relating their environment; violation of one of the five conditions for the opening of EU accession negotiations, namely the implementation of human rights, including property rights; violation of a number of laws regarding transparency, access to public information, public participation in decision-making, and citizens’ environmental rights.

17 November 2018 — The government cut the power to buildings awaiting demolition.

22 November 2018 — Following their daily protests, the inhabitants of the Astir area gathered in front of Parliament in a bigger protest. Clashes with regular police forces in front lines led to several protesters and police officers injured, as well as tens of protesters arrested indiscriminately.

In his speech in the Parliament during the protest outside, Prime Minister Edi Rama told protesters that their illegal houses would be demolished without any compensation and that only 40 legalized buildings will receive compensation. PM Rama threatened that the government will file lawsuits against those who have legalized these buildings. PM Rama repeated the 3-year “bonus” rent for families in need that have illegal houses.

23 November 2018 – The Albanian Road Authority and the Albanian Telegraphic Agency publish a 10-line-table supposedly with more detailed cost information. In fact, the table only offers a partial breaking down of the costs of the project but is far from minimum requirements for transparency. Once again the government fails to disclose how the project started, whole bidding procedures and selection of winning bidders, and projections and volume of works to be carried out. It also fails to justify or even inform inhabitants on procedures to be followed regarding their compensation.

Government-controlled public news agency Albanian Telegraphic Agency argues that the information on the bidding process and winners are published in full on the Albanian Road Authority’s website. This is not true.

It was revealed that the project for the Ring Road was initiated, suggested and designed for free by one of the winning bidders, and later adopted by the Albanian Road Authority (ARrSh). The cost of such services would normally amount to 1.2-1.5 million €. Previously PM Rama and Mayor Veliaj had stated the project was designed at government’s request. ARRSH Chairman said he had no idea why the company had offered an otherwise expensive service for free.

On their 20th day of protests, inhabitants find themselves without enough information to answer their questions and worries regarding governments’ plan for their houses demolition, and Albanian citizens have no information of government’s procedures regarding the tender for the Outer Ring Road.