The 15 million Euro project to transform the “carcinogenic” waste field of Porto-Romano into an ecological park for the city of Durres is shrouded in suspicion of favoritism and corruption – while the situation created by the November 26 earthquake was used to select the winners without an open competition.
In the landfill in Porto-Romano, about 6 kilometers north of the city of Durres, city dump trucks arrive one after the other in the middle of a heavy dust cloud on a sunny morning on May 1, while discharging inert and mixed urban waste.
A few feet away, two excavators dig into the decomposed pile of garbage and, with the help of heavy machinery, move them from one side of the field to the other.
Surrounded by dust and foul smell, two women accompanied by young children easily cross the entrance of the landfill, looking for plastic, cardboard and scrap metal. But our entry is blocked first by a guard and then by a workshop manager, who introduces himself as Albion.
“There’s no landfill here anymore, we’re going to build a flower field”, he said. “They told me to cut it short; do not give any information at the moment, postpone it for later”, he added, refusing my request for information.
The presence of excavators and the disposal of waste is related to the promise of the Albanian government to transform the largest source of pollution in Porto-Romano into an ecological park in favor of the city of Durres.
However, the 1.9 billion ALL project [15 million Euros] was shrouded in suspicion of favoritism and corruption, while the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Corruption and Organized Crime, SPAK, has launched an investigation into the method carried out for theselection of the consortium of companies to carry out the work.
Data provided by a joint investigation by Faktoje and the Albanian Center for Quality Journalism show that the emergency created after the November 26 earthquake was used to justify avoiding open competition and direct negotiation of a contract to close the landfill site in Porto-Romano in favor of Victoria Invest International and De Mare S.r.l.
The application of the accelerated procedure in the conditions of the earthquake emergency was ordered by the Prime Minister Edi Rama, in the capacity of the Chairman of the Inter-Ministerial Committee of Civil Emergencies.
The tendering of public works through the procedure “of negotiation, without announcement” is allowed only in special circumstances, as it can lead to avoidance of competition and discrimination of candidates in the race.
Asked about the progress of the investigation, the head of SPAK, ArbenKraja said that a criminal proceeding has been registered for the offenses of “violation of the equality of participants in tenders” and “passive corruption of persons exercising public functions.”
“The object of the investigation is the procedure followed for the selection of the winner. So far there are no accused persons, “Kraja said in a written response.
In the capacity of the Contracting Authority, the National Agency for Water Supply and Sewerage and Waste Infrastructure, AKUM said that the Porto-Romano project had started with an open procedure, but the tender was canceled after the November 26 earthquake by order of the Ministry of Finance and Economy.
AKUM attributes the selection of companies through negotiation to the decision of 16 December 2019, signed by Prime Minister Rama, through which he orders to follow the accelerated procedure for the project of encapsulating and revitalizing the Porto-Romano area, motivated by “the present emergency conditions”.
“It is a disaster out here”
The Municipality of Durrës – the second largest in Albania, has been depositing its urban waste since the early 1990s in a flat plain between Porto-Romano and the SektoriRinia in Katund I Ri, on parcels with an area of 14.4 hectares of land.
The municipality is estimated to dump about 80-90 thousand tons of waste into Porto-Romano each year, while the amount accumulated in 3 decades is estimated to be around 900 thousand tons.
In addition to urban waste disposal sites, the area also inherits high environmental pollution from the communist regime. The operation of the chemical plant for pesticide production has contaminated the Porto-Romano area, also due to the previous disposal of technological waste.
Planned to close down in 2015, the promises of the Municipality of Durrës remained on paper. The local waste management plan for the years 2010-2025, drafted with the help of the International Finance Corporation, IFC, remained unimplemented.
In July 2018, the Durrës Municipal Council declared an environmental emergency for the landfill in Porto-Romano and transferred the solution to the problem to the government. But even the government promises to quickly build an ecological park dragged on in time.
In June 2018, Prime Minister Edi Rama stated that “the cancer area of the waste field would be closed until the autumn of next year.” The new deadline promised for the construction of the Eco-Park has been postponed to May 2021.
The procrastination of a solution weighed heavily on the residents of Porto-Romano, who complain that pollution continues to be very high and threatens their health.
“It’s a catastrophe here, as it was, it’s not habitable. Trucks coming and unloading here have not stopped for a second. There is no measure”, says irritated NezirPeshkëpia, 81, a resident of the waste field.
A woman in her 60s, a neighbor of Peshkëpia, recalls that the area was very good before it turned into a giant garbage can – and where “air suffocates you”.
“The grass was up to my knees; the land was good. However, with the arrival of waste, both livestock and agriculture were destroyed”, she says.
DorinaNdreka, a lawyer at the Durrës Law Clinic, who has been defending the interests of the area’s residents for years, says that the landfill has existed for years without an environmental permit and in violation of waste management standards. According to her, this situation has violated the constitutional right of residents to a clean environment and has damaged their health.
“In this area there is a high percentage of respiratory diseases, but also other categories of diseases directly related to environmental pollution. Residents’ concerns have never been taken into account, although they have consistently pursued the matter with local and central institutions as well as through local and national media”, Ndreka said, citing a lawsuit filed in court.
Questions raisefor the winners
The construction project of the Eco-Park on the current waste field in Porto Romano was presented for the first time on the Facebook page of Prime Minister Edi Rama in May 2019.
It envisages the construction of a car park, sports fields, children’s playground and green fields for the elderly.
On October 16, 2019, AKUM announced in the Public Procurement Agency the tender with a limit fund of 1.6 billion ALL without VAT, but canceled it three days before the scheduled opening of bids, on December 6, 2019 due to the earthquake.
But just 10 days after the cancellation of the first tender, the quake again caused the call to be reopened with an expedited procedure. On a decision of 16 December 2019, Prime Minister Edi Rama authorized Porto-Romano as a landfill for inert waste caused by the earthquake. In the same decision, he ordered the start of the accelerated procedure of the project for the incorporation of the Porto-Romano area “in the conditions of the created emergency”.
Within 10 days, AKUM states that it invited 4 companies to the negotiations, assessed their capacities, negotiated the economic conditions and came up with a contract signed on December 27, 2019, in favor of the consortium of companies Victoria Invest International and De Mare S.r.l.
Victoria Invest International is a company established in Kosovo by businessman FatmirKuçi, while the Italian company De Mare S.r.l counts as experience in Albania the works carried out in the incinerator of Sharra on behalf of the concession company Integrated Energy B.V.
The company Integrated Technology Services owned by KlodianZoto, also connected to the incinerators, was invited to the negotiation, as well as the company Trema Engineering 2.
According to AKUM, the two winning companies were invited as separate entities and decided to join in the bidding process in a consortium for the implementation of the project worth 15 million Euros.
“The consortium of Victoria Invest International and De Mare S.r.l Italy was selected as the lowest economic bid submitted and as a union of operators that guaranteed the realization of this project successfully”, said AKUM through a spokeswoman.
The investigation launched by SPAK did not prevent the implementation of the project. AKUM said work at the Porto-Romano landfill has begun at a rapid pace and that “the contractor has made a commitment to complete the work by May 2021 [before the contractual deadline].”
On January 13, 2020, the National Council of the Territory approved the construction permit for the project “Closing the existing landfill of Eco-Park Durrës” and on February 3, 2020, AKUM provided the National Environmental Agency with the authorization to start work.
According to the preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment Decision, the National Environmental Agency argues that the project in question should not be subject to the procedure for in-depth Environmental Impact Assessment.
Durrës garbage towards the incinerator
After three decades of illegality and problems in the landfill of Porto-Romano, the management of urban waste for the Municipality of Durrës still remains without a final solution. The municipalities of Kavaja and Shijak are in the same situation, which have been depositing their waste in Porto-Romano for a year now.
In response to a request for information, the Municipality of Durrës said that solid waste is still being deposited in Porto-Romano, until a final solution is found.
“Currently the waste is deposited in the landfill in Porto Romano, as there is an agreement with the responsible Ministry, according to which the Municipality of Durres will continue to deposit waste in this landfill until the final settlement of the situation,” said the Municipality through a spokeswoman.
The Municipality of Durrës projects the solution of the waste issue in the National Sectoral Plan for solid waste management, approved on January 13, 2020 by the National Council of the Territory. This plan projects the creation of a joint Tirana-Durrës area of urban waste management, having the Sharra incinerator as a regional plant.
The construction of the incinerator in Tirana has been given on concession for 30 years to the company registered in the Netherlands and with unknown owners Integrated Energy B.V. The company has so far benefited from the payment of 2.4 billion ALL by the Municipality of Tirana, which is billed with 29 Euros for each ton of waste deposited in Sharra.
The disposal of waste from Durrës to Sharra was announced by the former mayor of Durrës, VangjushDako in 2018.
“All the waste will be sent to the new landfill in Sharra in Tirana and the government will cover the transportation costs,” Dako said.
While the urban waste of Durrës continues to be deposited in Porto-Romano probably by the end of the year, the Municipality of this city stated that it had set up a working group for the final solution of the situation.
“In fulfillment of legal obligations and its functions, the institution of Durrës Municipality has set up a working group which is working in compliance with these plans and legislation in force until a final conclusion on waste treatment in Durrës,” concluded the Municipality.
This article is published within the framework of the project “Facts and the Environment”, implemented by the Albanian Center for Quality Journalism and Faktoje, in the framework of the project “Towards Improving Labor Relations and Professionalism in the Albanian Media” supported by the European Union, implemented by the Albanian Media Instituteand the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). The sole responsibility for the content of this article lies with the author and under no circumstances can it be considered that it reflects the position of the European Union”.