Gjakova’s year-long wait for the biomass heating plant

An EU grant of 12 million euro for a new central heating plant in Gjakova is threatened by bureaucratic hampering in the expropriation of 2.3 hectares of land.

For over a year, the local government of Gjakova, a small town in western Kosovo, has been held hostage to government bureaucracy in its effort to implement a new central heating plant that will be vital for the townspeople.

Last year, the municipality was granted an EU donation to build a ‘green’ central heating plant. But the expropriation of the currently socially-owned land on which the plant will be built has held the project back.

Only after countless letters, an official request, the Gjakova mayor’s public appearance, and direct requests from our investigative team did the Kosovo  government finally decided to take the municipality’s request for expropriation under consideration. The expropriation process will take at least another four months.

A 12 million euros EU grant, designated to support energy efficiency,  is supposed to finance the construction of a plant fueled by biomass (agricultural waste and wood). This plan is one of the largest projects in Gjakova during the past few decades.

The plant will replace the current 40-year-old inefficient system and will provide electricity to approximately 100,000 Gjakova inhabitants.

Amir Shala, the director of the current plant, listed a number of benefits of the new plant.

“It will improve heating, it is more cost-effective, decreases pollution, produces electricity at 1.5 megawatts, and increase Kosovo’s performance in producing efficient energy,” Shala said.

“The waste that is traditionally burned in fields can be repurposed for our boilers,” Shala stressed

Stuck in the spiderweb of government bureaucracy

The request for the 2.3 hectares of land was an arduous journey that traversed official letters, legal files, delayed state procedures and passed – often unnecessarily – through several central government institutions.

In an interview for Life in Kosovo, Janez Kopac, the director of the Energy Community Secretariat, a  warned that delaying the administrative decision would endanger the project.

“Currently, the land is owned by the state and it has to be transferred to the municipality,” Kopac said. “It is scandalous that a grant this big and this great project might disappear due to an incomprehensible administrative barrier.”

Yet, it took the municipality of Gjakova a whole year to just initiate the process of the necessary property transfer.

The plant is planned to be built in the property of the socially-owned enterprise Ereniku, which is administered by the Kosovo Privatization Agency, AKP.

At the moment, 4,600 hectares of agricultural land in Gjakova have not been yet privatized.

Since June 2015, Gjakova mayor Mimoza Kusari-Lila wrote to Prime Minister Isa Mustafa, Chairman of the Assembly of Kosovo Kadri Veseli, Minister of Environment and Spatial Planning Ferid Agani, Minister of Economic Development Blerand Stavileci, Minister of Finance Avdullah Hoti, and Minister of Trade and Industry Hikmete Bajrami about the project.

The mayor’s first request was sent to the Prime Minister’s cabinet last year.

“[We] received only a short reply saying that they do not have time for such a meeting, thus it never happened,” explained Kusari-Lila.

It is unclear why a request for a technical process needed to first pass through the prime minister.

After the first failed attempt, the municipality decided to try another institution.

Kusari-Lila said that she sent a letter requesting Minister of Environment and Spatial Planning Ferid Agani to make a decision on the transfer.

A month later, Kusari-Lila also addressed a letter to the Minister of Finance Avdullah Hoti requesting him to present the expropriation request to the government and initiate the procedure for the financial assessment.

“We did not receive a reply from Minister Hoti either, and we sent another letter to Minister Agani together with a proposal for a government decision [on the matter],” Kusari-Lila said. Two of the letters sent to Agani received no reply.

The municipality wrote to the Ministry of Environment at least three times. Often the correspondence would be forwarded from the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Environment.

Kusari-Lila claims that, despite the lack of official replies, a game of institutional ping-pong was being played behind the scenes as well.

“The letter was once again sent on May 17 to Minister [Agani] and the financial department at the Ministry of Environment,” Kusari-Lila said.

After a series of back-and-forths, the Ministry of Integration arranged a meeting with the Municipality of Gjakova and other relevant institutions – the Ministry of Environment, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Local Governance, and the European Commission – to see why the process had floundered.

In the meeting, the representative from the prime minister’s office pledged that the request for expropriation would be raised at the upcoming government meeting on May 23.

Yet on June 1, when Life in Kosovo interviewed Mayor Kusari-Lila, the initial proposal for expropriation of the 2.3 hectares had not been processed at the government meeting held that day.

Finally, on June 8 the government decided to look into the request for the expropriation of 2.3 hectares for the new heating plant project in Gjakova.

One day earlier, Life in Kosovo directed a few questions towards the government cabinet and the prime minister’s advisors regarding the delayed procedures of the project.

Servet Spahiu, director of the Department for Expropriation at the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning said that his department received the request only six months prior. These requests, however, did not only address the heating plant.

“I received the first request on January 26, 2016,” explained Spahiu, adding that the request was a request of “transfer of property” for four different projects.

“After the vetting, we gave our remarks and suggestions regarding the shape it must have, the technical documentation, and requirements that need to be fulfilled for the expropriation,” Spahiu explained.

It was only after a discussion with the municipality that he received a proper request on May 25.

Although the request has been accepted, several procedures, decisions, and the involvement of some institutions have to happen for the expropriation to be considered complete.

Spahiu explained that after the first government decision, a public hearing involving stakeholders will be held in Gjakova in June or the beginning of July.

The public hearing will be followed by the second decision by the Kosovo government and then the request will be assessed by the Ministry of Finance, paving the way for the final decision.

“This procedure will last about four months if everything goes as planned without any problems,” Spahiu concluded.

The Municipality of Gjakova confirmed that it requested an acceleration of due process, with the hope of functionalizing the plant in two years.

It remains unclear why it took some government offices this much time to address the issue towards relevant departments or to tell the municipality where to send its request.

On the other hand, it is even less clear why, for a whole year, the Municipality of Gjakova and its legal office did not figure out how and where to address their request for expropriation.

At any rate, as long as the transferral of the 2.3 hectares to the municipality is not finalized, the 12 million euro grant continues to hang on a thread.

22/06/2016 - 15:41

22 June 2016 - 15:41

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