“Milot-Morina”, problems with maintenance, MI notes that it has exceeded the plan: the concessionaire is sacrificing from its own income
The data made available by the Ministry of Infrastructure confirms that out of 12 components contained in the concession contract for this road, 6 of them have not yet been fulfilled. However, the ministry states the investment performance exceeds the plan, while saying that the concessionaire is sacrificing its own income, also regarding the unfavorable euro/all exchange rate, which is applied on this route.
Author: Emirjon Senja
Alban felt twice lucky that Sunday morning in February, while traveling from Tirana to Vushtrri in Kosovo through the Rruga kombit. Just a few kilometers before entering the Thirra tunnel, he could not avoid a mass of stones, which had fallen some time ago from the mountainside, completely occupying the axis of the road in the Milot-Morina direction.
One of the rocks ruptured the right, front tire and deformed the weel, causing the car to risk losing control. A quick maneuver by the driver caused the accident to be avoided.
Alban, the young man from Vushtrri, Kosovo, after changing the tire damaged by stones on the road on the Rrëshen-Kalimash axis
The young man from Kosovo, who often visits Albania for work reasons, was also “betrayed” by the spare tire. Investigative Network Albania met him on the side of the road, as he was trying to find a solution, until he went to the nearest tyre shop.
After we gave him our spare tire until he reached Kukës, he also narrated the circumstances of how he found himself in that situation.
The damaged tire of the “Volkswagen Passat” car from the stones on the Rrëshen-Kalimash axis
Photo: INA MEDIA
“As you can see, a few meters further, the road is filled with stones that have fallen from above. I could not avoid them. I can say that this would never have happened to me on the part of the road from the Kosovo side, and we don’t even have tolls there”, – the worried young man confesses.
“I don’t know if it’s worth it to pay the toll anymore”, – he says, as he pulls out a 5 euro banknote from his pocket.
Alban, however, considers himself lucky to have ended up like that. A dozen vehicle drivers have been involved in various accidents, due to neglecting the maintenance of the Rruga e Kombit.
The falling of stones from the slopes of the mountains, as they have not yet been completely covered with protective nets, the lack of protective barriers in dangerous areas or the lack of signage on bridges have turned this road, which has cost millions of euros, into a source of accidents.
The state is not “parsimonious”, but the road leaves much to be desired
Referring to the contract with the Albanian state, the concessionaire “Albanian Highway Concession” has undertaken to perform not only the maintenance of the Milot-Morina axis, but also the construction of the remaining part, including the bridges. After that, Rruga e Kombit will be a two-carriage highway, with two lanes each way, in addition to the emergency ones.
However, the data and facts collected by Investigative Network Albania prove that the concessionaire received the money, but did not perform the works according to the contractual obligations. More specifically, the data made available by the Ministry of Infrastructure confirm that, of the 12 components contained in the contract, 6 of them had not yet been fulfilled by the first half of 2022.
The rehabilitation of the existing bridge over the river Drin has been carried out to the extent of 39.5%, the implementation of environmental measures has been implemented to the extent of 54% and 64.5% of corrective measures on bridges have been fulfilled.
The construction of the beam square budget resulted in a 385% overrun; the item “traffic furniture” has also exceeded the budget by almost three times, being realized at the rate of 271%; the construction/improvement component of overpasses and intersections was also exceeded the budget by 142%.
“There is no provision for reimbursement or additional invoices for the state budget in relation to the highest investments, made or ongoing by the concessionaire”, – the Ministry of Infrastructure clarifies, while noting that all additional costs are obligations of the concessionaire.
INA MEDIA has ascertained on the ground significant deficiencies in the realization of investments, which result in paper with good progress or exceeding the plan.
The concession contract obliges the company to start capital works on the Milot-Morina axis, starting from the date of its signing, which coincides with the fall of 2017.
From this moment (ie, the year 2017) the concessionaire undertakes to carry out capital works, as well as maintenance works on the highway, which start from routine services to the installation of side nets for protection from stones and small slides; asphalt and bridge maintenance; removal of inert materials on the road; bridge maintenance; other geo-technical works, up to the works for the construction of the big bridge in Kukës, as well as a pedestrian bridge at the entrance of the city.
The contractual obligation starts from Milot, but from the observation on the ground it is found that, although the concession has entered its sixth year, so far no works have been carried out to widen or asphalt the road, which should have started at least in 2019 according to the contract.
Milot-Morinë axis, kilometer 3
Photo: INA MEDIA
Contrary to what the contract specifies, the road continues to have one carriageway and two lanes from Milot to Rrëshen, where the rest begins with two carriageways with two lanes each.
The beginning of the Rrëshen-Kukas axis, where the road has two carriageways with two lanes each
Photo: INA MEDIA
In this axis, the other contractual obligation, that of the side fence, has not been fulfilled either, which is completely absent. Also, the concessionaire has not taken measures for protective nets against the fall of inerts on the road, an obligation defined in the concession contract, which the company should have completed by the end of the second year of the start of collecting the user fee.
According to this calendar, all these works should have been completed in 2020, since September 2018 is known as the date of the start of collecting the fee, but the Ministry of Infrastructure, which monitors this contract, does not seem to see what happens on the ground.
“The works carried out on 31 dangerous escarpments along the highway have reduced the risk of landslides or falling stones on the highway, thus increasing road safety for users”, – the Ministry of Infrastructure told INA MEDIA in a written response .
Surprisingly, the Ministry of Infrastructure admits that, before sending the requested answer regarding the situation of the Milot-Morina road to the editorial office of Investigative Network Albania , it sent it to the concessionaire for confirmation.
“The above information has been confirmed by the concession company, ” Albanian Highway Concession “, as well as by the independent engineer, ” Dolsar Engineering inc.co “, – says the ministry.
Unlike the part where the contract charges the concessionaire to carry out the investments, the Kukës-Rrëshen axis seems to be the most well-maintained part of the road, which was actually handed over by the Albanian state to the concessionaire.
The company has the obligation in the contract to complete the trafic bridge in Kukës, as well as the pedestrian bridge within the first 4 years of the operation of the concession. So far it turns out that none of them have been completed.
Progress of works on the big bridge in Kukës
Photo: INA MEDIA
This bridge was initially promised to be completed in the fall of 2021, but recently Prime Minister Rama gave another new deadline: the spring of 2023.
Despite all the optimism and exceeding the deadlines by two years, the large traffic bridge is in the middle of construction, while the pedestrian bridge has not yet started.
Delays in the construction of bridges are also confirmed by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Energy (MIE) for INA MEDIA , where it is emphasized that until the first half of 2022 there is no euro invested in the construction of the pedestrian bridge, while the investments of the company , according to her, for the car bridge are at 83%.
However, this 83% does not coincide with fieldwork. The ministry itself clarifies that the concessionaire has increased the value of the investment in this bridge, bringing it from the planned 15 million euros to 24 million euros, while so far 12 million euros of work has been completed. So, if we take as the final cost 24 million euros and not 15 million, on which the Ministry of Infrastructure has done the calculations, then even in this facility only 50% of the works have been carried out and not 83%, as MIE says. This is also confirmed by the images provided on the ground by INA MEDIA in February 2023, where it is evident that the works on the large bridge are not even half completed.
MIE declares that the total investment for capital works has increased, reaching the figure of 60 million euros, from the 40.8 million euros that were anticipated.
But, on the other hand, the concessionaire “shrunk” the investments for the lateral protective nets. They are absent for a good part of the road, being placed only in the hot spots, where rocks mostly fall on the road.
Protective nets on the slopes of the mountain are completely missing on the axis Milot-Rrëshen and partially on the axis Rrëshen-Kukës
Photo: INA MEDIA
Furthermore, INA MEDIA found on the ground that the perimeter net against animals, is damaged in many segments of the road, and even where it is functional, it has a height of no higher than 1.5 meters, not being able to completely prevent wild animals from entering the road.
Despite this situation on the ground, the Ministry of Infrastructure seems satisfied with the company’s work, as far as this element is concerned, clarifying that this investment has cost the concessionaire millions of euros.
“The company has completed more than 92% of the works for fencing the road with a net. The investment for surrounding the road with such a net has cost the concessionaire company about 2 million euros”, – is specified in the progress table of the components, served by the Ministry of Infrastructure.
Vehicle tires blowout while crossing bridges is another “normality” that is often encountered on this axis. Even the MIE acknowledges the problems with the corrective measures in the bridges, which turn out to have improved by only 65%.
Meanwhile, just a few kilometers beyond the border, Kosovo applies a completely different standard regarding the maintenance of bridges, the installation of protective nets, fencing, as well as the quality of the asphalt.
Bridge on the Rrëshen-Kalimash axis. The damaged part carries a permanent risk to road users
Photo: INA MEDIA
INA MEDIA addressed a request for comment to the concessionaire company regarding these issues, but until the publication of this article the company did not wish to respond.
But, if the concession company has not yet fulfilled all the obligations arising from the contract, the Albanian government has fulfilled in time every financial obligation arising from the concession contract with the “Albanian Highway Concession” company.
The concession contract, awarded to “Albanian Highway Concession ” by the Albanian state, is one of the most protected with guarantees in the service of the private sector. In addition to the direct, budgetary transfers that are made every year for the purpose of building the remaining unfinished parts of this axis, the government also burdens itself with the obligation to compensate for any non-realization of the concessionaire’s income from the toll for road users.
The data provided by INA MEDIA confirm that during the years 2018-2022, the Albanian state has transferred more than 3.2 billion ALL to the private company, in order for the latter to continue the completion of the works and the maintenance of the highway.
Transfers from the state budget for AHC 2018-2022
Source: Ministry of Finance
Graphic processing: INA MEDIA
During the year 2022, the Ministry of Infrastructure has made two payments to the concessionaire. The first payment was made on March 29, 2022, worth 380 million ALL, while the other, in September 2022, worth 360 million ALL.
While the transfers of the state budget have been carried out regularly according to a predetermined calendar between the Albanian state and the concessionaire, the concessionaire company has not fulfilled all obligations within the deadlines set according to the contract.
The data of the concessionaire shows that since 2019 the company has continuously exceeded the planned revenues from the collection of the fee, making it a business with extremely high profits, massively subsidized by the state coffers as well.
Overbilling with the exchange rate
2021 was a prosperous year for the Milot-Morina road concessionaire despite some restrictions due to the pandemic. The data provided by INA MEDIA show that the company has exceeded the revenue plan from the collection of the road usage fee, collecting more than 1.7 billion ALL, from about 1 billion 360 million ALL that were planned.
The government also showed complacency, passing as direct transfers from the state budget 790 million ALL, from the 740 million ALL it had allocated before, thus exceeding the planning by 50 million ALL.
The year 2022 has also been a record year in terms of fee collection, starting from the large number of visitors from Kosovo during the summer months in Albania.
Part of the revenue generated by the fee is money collected by the concessionaire, due to the euro/all exchange rate that is applied, which is 1 euro=132 all. Currently, according to the Bank of Albania, the exchange rate is 1 euro = 115 all, so almost 17 ALL less per euro.
Currently, the road toll is paid in Euros and converted into ALL for those using the local currency according to a fixed exchange rate, determined from the moment the toll collection began.
Clause 11 of the Concession Agreement provides for the revision of the exchange rate in case of a 5% change in the ratio between the euro and the lek, but this revision has not happened.
The data from the Bank of Albania confirm a significant devaluation of the euro in relation to the ALL (lek) during the last two years. However, as INA MEDIA learns, the exchange rate in the tolls where the payment for the use of the road is made, has been kept fixed throughout the period, since the beginning of collecting the fee in September 2018.
Changes in the euro/ALL exchange rate in the period February 1, 2021-February 1, 2023
Source: Bank of Albania
The vehicles that use the road are divided into five categories and each one pays according to a predetermined coefficient in the contract.
Revenues from the collection of the fee for the use of the road
Source: Ministry of Finance
Graphic processing: INA MEDIA
According to the contract, motorcycles pay 2.5 euros, cars 5 euros, buses and vans 11.25 euros, trucks 16.25 euros and heavy trucks pay 22.5 euros.
The irony lies in the fact that a citizen, who makes the Tirana-Kukas round trip, can pay a different price on the way out and another on the way back, if he does not have euros with him on one of the trips. This happens because the company applies an exchange rate of 1 euro=132 ALL, bringing the total cost of a car to 660 ALL.
The “Albanian Highway Concession” company refused to comment on why the exchange rate has not been revised, despite the fact that this is defined as a condition in the contract in case of strong changes in the foreign exchange market.
On the other hand, the Ministry of Infrastructure states that, not only were the road users not over-billed, but the concessionaire has even sacrificed it’s income by not changing the exchange rate. According to MIE, if it did this, according to a complicated formula found in the contract, then the cost would be even higher for every road user.
“Referring to clause 11.4.4A, the concessionaire has the right to review the fee 3 times a year. The fee calculation mechanism is regulated based on the formula and indexes established in the agreement; the calculations resulted in a higher fee in Euros, as well as in ALL”, – says MIE in a written response to INA MEDIA.
According to the Bank of Albania, during the last year, the euro only once had a price of 125 lek in the local market, while throughout the entire period February 2022-February 2023 it hovered between 116-118 ALL.
If the exchange rate were to be reviewed, applying an average of it throughout the year, then a car, which today uses the Milot-Morina axis, would not pay 660 ALL, but 580 to 600 ALL at most.
The difference due to the unchanged exchange rate for a car is 60 ALL, while for a heavy truck the plus difference is on average 300 ALL.
Considering that throughout 2021, about 2.3 million cars have paid the toll, where about 300 thousand are residents of Kukes, who pay a reduced toll, while the rest have paid the full toll, all those who they paid in ALL, were over-invoiced.
Residents of Kukës, a victory at a high cost
With their protest in spring of 2018, the residents forced the government and the concessionaire to apply lower rates to them as frequent users of the road, but this was not a victory without costs. Currently, reduced fees apply to them: 100 ALL for cars and 50 ALL for motorcycles.
Ervin Meshi has been wandering around the doors of the court for more than four years, after he was arrested by the police during the protest of the residents of the area in Kalimash.
Ervin Meshi, Kukës
Photo: INA MEDIA
He tells INA MEDIA that he is still persecuted for participating in that protest.
“They arrested me for nothing. I didn’t do anything illegal there. Like me, there were many others”, – he says, while emphasizing that he often had to be blocked on the road, coming from Kukësi to Tirana or vice versa, due to the delayed interventions of the concession company in cleaning up the fallen inerts on the road or even the snow.
During this protest, the infrastructure built earlier by the concessionaire to collect the road toll was completely destroyed. Its restoration was also accompanied by a significant reduction in fees for the residents of Kukës.
However, this does not apply either according to Rifat Demaliaj, director of the Center for Youth Progress, Kukës. He explains to INA MEDIA that, contrary to what was expected, the concession has caused social and economic problems for the city.
Rifat Demalia, Kukës
Photo: INA MEDIA
“The tariff has increased the cost of living in Kukës even more. Businesses come and go to Tirana with higher expenses, reflecting this in the prices of products and services”, – he confesses, listing the reasons that led to the organization of protests against the toll fee.
The Milot-Morin axis is the first concession contract of this type, granted by the Albanian state, which aims to enable the completion of capital works on the road, such as: its expansion or the construction of the remaining bridges, the increase of safety conditions, as well as periodic maintenance. This contract is owned 50% by Kastrati Group and 50% by Salillari.
“The road was not built yet and it was given with a concession. Maintenance was better when the state had it than now, while the company has also found a loophole to not compensate the accident victims, by placing 60 km/h speed limit signs in areas where you can move faster and, if you have an accident, take the blame on yourself”, – concludes Rifat Demalia, activist and resident of Kukës.
Ky shkrim është pjesë e projektit që mbështetet financiarisht nga Zyra e Mardhënieve me Publikun e Ambasadës së SH.B.A. në Tiranë. Opinionet, gjetjet, konkluzionet dhe rekomandimet e shprehura janë te autor-it/ve dhe nuk përfaqesojnë domosdoshmërisht ato të Departamentit të Shtetit. / This article is part of a project that is financially supported by the Public Relations Office of the US Embassy in Tirana. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the Department of State.