The cheapest price was the determining criterion for the selection of the company to build an underground parking lot in the center of Prishtina. But, before the project was inaugurated, prices went up.
The underground parking lot inaugurated in Prishtina a few days ago has more expensive prices than those determined in the initial contract, BIRN has found out.
In the contract signed in 2019, the “Parking Center” consortium and the Municipality of Prishtina agreed that the price for parking a car for one hour would be 0.80 euros. This has become 1 euro, an increase of 25 per cent.
The entire investment in 1.4 hectares of land of the municipality in the centre of the capital was over 10 million euros by the company; 15 per cent of the revenues go to the Municipality.
The municipality has not participated in any part of the investment, except for leasing the property for 35 years.
Work on the parking lot and in the two business premises started, and is continuing in the green space. At the end of November, inauguration of the city’s first underground parking lot with a public-private partnership contract was due.
BIRN has analyzed the full contract for the underground parking lot at the campus of the University of Prishtina “Hasan Prishtina”, which is dated September 30, 2019 between the Municipality and Parking Center.
According to the contract signed in 2019, for 12 hours of stay, the price was to be 6 euros. On the current price list placed in parts of the parking lot, prices range from 15 euros a day to 2,500 euros for an annual subscription.
According to the contract, appendix 9, regulated fees will be indexed every three years, using the accumulated inflation index, as published by the Kosovo Statistics Agency, KSA.
It emphasized that any change in the regulated fees must be made with the agreement of the two parties, the Municipality of Prishtina and Parking Center.
But before the works were near the end, a few days before the parking lot was opened, the two sides added an annex-contract that would allow the company to alter the prices.
On November 16, BIRN saw the annex-contract, dated November 8. In this, signed by the municipal chairman Perparim Rama and the director of Parking Center, Korab Fazliu, the parties agree on the change to the price list.
Both the Municipality and the company justify the increase in prices with rising inflation.
The latest data show that the overall consumer prices rose by 12.7 per cent in October 2022 compared to October 2021.
According to the Municipality, the determination of parking fees is based on the market price, taking into account “the concessionaire’s high investments in providing high security and much more favorable conditions compared to other parking lots with these prices.
“However, the purpose of this parking lot is to serve as a temporary parking station for visitors to Zone 1 – Center, and the Municipality of Prishtina encourages walking and the use of public transport for the benefit of the environment and all citizens of Prishtina,” added the press release of the Municipality published on November 10.
While the Municipality did not provide detailed information about the price increase process, Parking Center confirmed the annex-contract, signed by the two parties.
Director Korab Fazliu told BIRN that two weeks ago they signed the annex-contract with the Municipality, which, according to him, provides for price changes.
Like the Municipality, Fazliu says prices have risen due to changes in the market, and that the construction price has risen due to inflation.
Fazliu says the high price for a six-month and annual subscription was set so that citizens could avoid this, because, as he says, the purpose of the parking lot is “to relieve traffic and park cars during the day”.
“Daily prices are set based on the market; monthly and annual prices are set to avoid six-month and one-year subscriptions, because Parking Center is not a neighborhood parking lot, but the capital’s, at the service of citizens of the capital and all of Kosovo.
“Even if there was no inflation, in the centre of Prishtina, it has been six years since one hour cost 1 euro,” he added.
“If we had an annual subscription of 50 euros, most of the entire parking lot would be occupied. We have the method that if someone makes a 1-year subscription, that specific number is owned by that citizen 24 hours, and we can’t count on that parking lot anymore. High prices are, therefore, best avoided for 6-month and 1-year subscriptions,” added Fazliu.
According to Fazliu, the price changes were made with an agreement with the Municipality. The annex-contract providing for these increases was signed about two weeks ago.
“We have the annex-contract with the Municipality of Prishtina that we agreed on the new price list, due to the economic changes that have occurred, I signed it myself. We decided because the cost of construction had also increased, when the completion phase came, we sat down and discussed it with the Municipality and came to the conclusion that our parking lot should have the same prices as other parking lots in the center of Pristina,” said Fazliu.
He added that prices may change again in the future and this, according to him, depends on the cooperation with the municipality.
“We had the cheapest offer when we offered in terms of per diem, if I’m not mistaken, it was about 80 cents. Parking Prishtina manages the part near the cathedral … and for a long time parking there was 1 euro [per hour], so if we charge 80 cents, we compete with Parking Prishtina,” Korab Fazliu, director of Parking Center, said.
Parking Center is a consortium with shareholders: Pessina Costruzioni S.P.A, Jaha Company & Pessina Gestioni S.r.i., which was contracted in 2019 when the Municipality was governed by the former mayor, Shpend Ahmeti.
Arguments about shops and statues
“We started with underground parking, we ended up with above-ground shopping,” remarks the former vice-president of the Municipality of Prishtina, Selim Pacolli.
Pacolli, vice-president of the Municipality until the local elections held in 2021, is ironic about the opening of business premises, calling it “above-ground shopping”.
The contract signed in 2019 allowed construction of underground business facilities but the project must necessarily include 500 parking spaces of 25 square meters.
The 0.00 quota of the project was foreseen to be at the corner near the intersection of Eqrem Çabej and George Bush streets and business spaces cannot exceed the 0.00 quota.
According to the contract, in appendix 2, surfaces below the 0.00 quota are available for commercial construction.
The inclusion of this area is optional for the concessionaire and the concessionaire has the right to use these spaces, provided it does not interfere with the operation of the parking spaces.
From the situation on the ground, it can be seen that two business premises are operating in the above-ground surface part of the underground parking lot.
Meanwhile, according to the director of Parking Center, Korab Fazliu, the beginning of the contract mentions two business premises. According to him, the slope of the terrain has made this possible, and part of the greenery is at the same level as the height of the business premises.
“Even at the beginning of the contract, it mentions two business premises, and in the current situation there are two business premises; the slope of the terrain has made it possible for us to have them.
“The greenery is on the first level, as is the height of the business premises, and every possible space has been taken advantage of. Even above the business premises we have planted greenery. On more than 10,000 square meters of greenery, there are more than 5,000 trees that came to us from Italy and were planted,” said Fazliu.
The former vice-president of Pristina, Selim Pacolli, says that in the realized project he has not seen any space intended for placing the statue of Anton Çetta, as was foreseen in the 2019 contract.
Çetta was a known collector of folklore, professor of literature and a distinguished activist of national issues.
He was at the forefront of the blood feud reconciliation movement, which reconciled more than 1,500 families who had disagreements.
Before the works started to transform the university courtyard into a parking lot, a statue of Fehmi Agani was placed there. Agani was a sociologist and politician of Kosovo, and one of the founders of the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK.
While the former city government of Shpend Ahmeti says that the plan was to place the statue of Çetta, the current government of the capital says that there is a plan to place both.
The Deputy Mayor, Alban Zogaj, says that they are talking about the inauguration of two statues – of Çetta and Agani.
“We will hold a solemn opening for the two statues, Fehmi Agani and Anton Çetta, we are discussing the date,” Zogaj told BIRN.
While the parking contract provided for a minimum of 500 parking lots. Currently, there are estimated to be over 700.
Parking Center has leased the property for 35 years and all the investments belong to them.
According to the 2019 contract, the Municipality receives 15 per cent of the revenues. With the increase in parking prices, the obligations to the Municipality has not changed.
“In the contract with the municipality of Prishtina, there is no change; we borrowed the land for 35 years. We did the construction, we did all the costs involved in the construction and invested more than 10 million euros. Based on the contract, the Municipality receives 15 percent of the profit every year,” the director of Parking Center told BIRN.
“So there is no increase, because it is calculated that the cost of construction has increased. In addition, I have 20 people under my management who work 24 hours a day, and we as a company have their costs to cover. If we calculate 1 euro an hour, from that 1 euro stay, 18 per cent goes to VAT, 15 per cent goes to the Municipality, which leaves us about 60 per cent,” he added.
“Public space belongs to the students”
Demanding that lost green spaces be returned to the University, the Collective for Feminist Thought and Action organization has painted over the businesses opened within the underground parking area.
Through this action, on November 10, it called on the Municipality to return a property intended for students and “not for the benefit of businesses”.
On part of the plateau, the inscription “Public space belongs to the students,” was also written.
This is because, according to the activists, where today there are private businesses and a parking lot, there used to be a public park.
On November 10, 2022, activists of the Student Movement “Critical Studies Action” through a symbolic action opposed, as they called it, the continued “occupation” of the university campus.
“It is not the first time that the public space is being usurped, especially the university yard,” said the Student Parliament’s Kledi Kabashi.
Some 13,000 and 990 square meters are planned to be green space and in addition 5,000 trees have to be planted.
The director of Parking Center, Korab Fazliu, says that at the beginning of the project, there was another green plan. According to him, the current city chairman, Përparim Rama, requested some changes to this part.
Fazliu says Rama did not like the plan they sent as a company, and he then took it upon himself to fix it. Mayor of Pristina Rama is an architect by profession.
According to Fazliu, the goal of the mayor was to have a more attractive appearance.
“At the beginning of the project, there was another green plan. After the arrival of Përparim Rama, he requested changes to the plan that took us approximately two months; we sent the new plan to Përparim Rama, he did not like it, then he took it upon himself to complete the plan, as architect.
“His goal was not just greening with paths, but for it to have an attractive appearance, as beautiful as possible, and he managed to achieve it,” said Fazliu.
He says that with a workforce of specialized Italian companies, they planted the trees and everything was done under the supervision of the Italian team.
BIRN tried to get an answer from Përparim Rama regarding the changes he has made to this plan, but by time of publication of this article, no answer had been provided.
However, the Deputy Mayor of the Municipality, Alban Zogaj, confirmed for BIRN that the plan included more greenery – trees.
He says a skateboard area was also planned but it got scrapped. Images of the project were published by former major Shpend Ahmeti.
Construction of this parking lot was one of the 100 promises of the former mayor of Pristina Ahmeti.
BIRN tried to contact Ahmeti but he was not available by time of publication of this article.
The largest opposition party in Pristina – Levizja Vetevendosje – on November 9, 2022, compared the current prices with those of the contract signed in 2019.
“It is evident that we are dealing with a breach of contract by the private operator and silent approval by municipal bodies, specifically the mayor Rama and his cabinet,” it said, among other things.
Emirjeta Vllahiu helped in the preparation of the English version of this article