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The first stretch of the Bar-Boljare highway in Montenegro. Photo: Government of Montenegro
The Ministry of Capital Investments on Tuesday published two previously confidential international feasibility studies which showed that the $944 million cost for building the first phase of the Bar-Boljare highway was exaggerated.
According to a feasibility study by URS Infrastructure and Environment, a British engineering consultancy, the first phase of the highway should cost $803 million euros, while a study by another British consultancy, Scott Wilson Group, said 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 as confidential.
“There was a lot of room for corruption, as the previous government was persistent in hiding information about the financing of the highway,” Dejan Milovac from the prominent local watchdog NGO MANS told Vijesti TV.
“More than six years have passed [since the project started], but we still don’t know precisely how much it all cost Montenegrin citizens,” Milovac added.
The Bar-Boljare highway represents the Montenegrin leg of a larger highway that will run from the Adriatic coast to the Serbian capital, Belgrade.
The China Road and Bridge Corporation, CRBC, is building the Montenegrin leg and 85 per cent of the first section is being covered by a $944 million loan from China’s Exim Bank.
Minister for Capital Investments Mladen Bojanic has said that so far the government has paid 724 million euros to investors for the basic part of the works and another 38 million euros for the additional works.
On November 12, Bojanic said that the first phase will be finished by the end of November.
According to state data from December 2020, Montenegro’s public debt was then equal to 90.85 per cent of GDP – a very high figure – while the cost of the 41-kilometre first phase of the highway alone was estimated to be equal to 45 per cent of GDP.
In a separate development on Tuesday, the Basic Court in Podgorica ruled that Chinese construction firm CRBC must pay 200,000 euros for causing damage to fish in the UNESCO-protected Tara river while building the highway. Local fishing club Tara and Moraca from the town of Kolasin filed a lawsuit against CRBC in April 2018.
“The constructor used pipes to drain 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,” the court ruling said.
In March, the Montenegrin prosecution launched the first state investigation into environmental damage done to the UNESCO-protected river, claiming the company started construction of a facility without getting environmental permits.
Prosecutors in Kolasin said it had damaged the local environment to a great extent and over a wide area.
The UN educational and cultural body UNESCO, in a report in June 2019, also called on the Montenegrin authorities to closely monitor the impact of the highway’s construction on the Tara river.
The Tara is widely seen as one of the most beautiful rivers in Europe, and its deep canyons are popular among rafters.