Court Orders Publication of Chinese Highway Construction Contract
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Start of highway construction ceremony. Photo: Republika Srpska Government
In a first-instance verdict, the District Court in Banja Luka Under has ordered Republika Srpska’s Ministry of Transport and Communication to provide to Transparency International a contract which the ministry awarded to Chinese company Shandong Hi-Speed International, SDHS, the NGO said.
The contact, worth several hundred million euros, is for construction of the Banja Luka-Prijedor highway.
The court found that the ministry looked after the interests of a foreign company instead of putting the public interest first.
Experts and non-governmental organisations had criticised the ministry because it did not publish the details of the contract, which will leave the public indebted for construction of the highway.
As BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina reported, Republika Srpska’s Ministry of Transport and Communication rejected previous requests by non-governmental organisation and media to provide the contract for the construction of the Banja Luka-Prijedor highway, which was signed in 2018 with the Chinese company.
A ceremony to mark the start of constriction was held in November 2021, but since the signing of the contract the government of Republika Srpska has only announced that the 40-kilometre highway will cost 297 million euros.
The ministry rejected requests by BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina and other media, so the Transparency International brought a case against the ministry.
After the District Court in Banja Luka handed down its verdict, Transparency International’s executive director Ivana Korajlic said the NGO has yet to receive the contract.
“Now we will see how the ministry conducts the process again and whether it will respect the court’s decision. Previously we have seen situations in which we waited a long time for action on court decisions in similar cases and even certain situations in which they insisted on not providing the information even after carrying out the procedure again,” Korajlic said.
The District Court’s verdict of the District Court, which BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina has seen, found that “the existence of public interest in the construction of road infrastructure on the specific section is undeniable and the public interest that has been determined is above the right to protection of confidential and commercial interests of the third party, which is why the obligation of the public authority is precisely defined” according to Republika Srpska’s Law on Free Access to Information and Law on Concessions.
“The defendant should be reminded that its task was not to protect the interests of the concessionaire because, given that it is a ministry which is a part of the executive branch, as such it should serve the interests of citizens and not look after the commercial secrecy or any other financial concerns of the contractor, which was given 30 years to exploit and collect revenues from public property,” the verdict reads.
Korajlic said that the court clearly stated that the ministry directly protected the Chinese company’s interests.
“It is a practice which is becoming increasingly established, not only when it comes to the authorities in Republika Srpska and the ministry, but also the government of the Federation and cantonal governments, which refused to submit contracts with Chinese companies using the same excuses,” she said.
The Ministry of Transport of the Sarajevo Canton previously also rejected requests to provide a contract for the reconstruction of tram rails in Sarajevo, which was signed with the same Chinese company that is building the highway in Republika Sprska.
“For that reason, this verdict and the stance taken are important, as they have clearly underlined that Chinese companies’ commercial interests must not be put before the public interest and that the role of public authorities is to protect the interests of their citizens,” Korajlic said.