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North Macedonia Hints at Scrapping Stalled Motorway Project

Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski and Vice Prime Minister Artan Grubi said they would seek a revision of the project to build the key Kicevo-Ohrid motorway, with possibility of canceling the deal with China’s Sinohydro altogether and seeking alternative contractors to finish it.

“It’s inadmissible for a 40-kilometre motorway to be under construction for over ten years without the completion of a single meter in sight, while at the same time requesting further extensions,” Kovacevski told a road construction conference in Ohrid on Thursday.

The motorway, which in fact is 57 kilometers long, is supposed to link Ohrid to nearby Kicevo and then the capital, Skopje. It is part of the East-West Corridor 8 that should eventually offer a connection to Albania in the west and Bulgaria to the east.

Launched in 2014 by the former right-wing government of Nikola Gruevski, the project was initially costed at some 411 million euros, with the money coming from a Chinese loan.

By the time Gruevski’s regime was ousted in 2017, construction had already halted. Sinohydro cited the need to reroute parts of the road that it said had been badly planned and were potentially unsafe.

The original deadline expired in 2018. That year, the new Social Democrat-led government extended it to mid-2021. When this did not work out, the government extended the deadline for a third time to the end of this year. That is also going to be missed.

Meanwhile, the cost has jumped to 598 million euros, because in four annexes to the original contract the government had to stump up additional funds for unforeseen expenditures on the construction site.

Speaking at the same event as the PM, Vice PM Grubi said they would also seek responsibility from the project planners, arguing that the number of unforeseen problems that have piled up over the years, leading to delays and higher costs, is inexcusable.

Earlier this year, in a bid to speed up the construction of the country’s highways, the Social Democrat-led government of Kovacevski struck a deal with Turkish-US giant Bechtel-ENKA. For a price of more than 1.3 billion euros, the company will have just over four years to build four key stretches of highway corridors, including adjacent stretches of the Corridor 8 connection to Albania.

But while insisting that construction this time will be much quicker, the government faces similar concerns as with the stalled Ohrid-Kicevo motorway. This is because, like the Gruevski-led government, the current one made the deal in a very speedy manner, without holding a proper tendering procedure.

Source : Balkan Insight