Pool debacle raises suspicions in Kosovo’s Leposavic

Delays to the construction of a costly new municipal swimming pool in Leposavic have mystified locals and sparked calls for an investigation into the possible misuse of the project’s finances.

People in Leposavic have been waiting patiently to take a swim in their town’s smart new Olympic-sized pool, which has been under construction since last year and was initially projected to cost 850,000 euros.

But despite promises by the local mayor that it would be finished several months ago, all they can see so far – with almost all the money already spent – is a concrete hole in the ground.

In 2015, the Leposavic authorities announced the construction of the Olympic-sized pool, plus two children’s pools. The budget for the main pool alone was set at 850,000 euros.

The showpiece sports facility was one of pet projects of Leposavic’s mayor, Dragan Jablanovic.

Mystery surrounds the awarding of the contract. Tenders for construction work were given to two companies from Skenderaj, Lirigzoni and Projektuesi, but the tender documents don’t show which of them actually won the tender to build the swimming pool, as they do not list the commissioned works.

Even Jablanovic said he was unsure which company won the tender, although photographs on Lirigzoni’s Facebook page show its work on the pool construction site.

The tender was awarded in September 2015 and the project had a deadline of December 2015.

But only basic construction work had been done by March 2016. According to a financial report that was submitted at the time, 849,892 euros were spent.

This autumn, some more work was carried out, but it remains unclear when the pool will be completed. It now has all its four sides concreted, but the interior work, including the tiling of the pool, has not yet been done.

The mayor said that one reason for the delay was because water-treatment facilities have to be built before the pool can be open to the public.

“We need to build a water treatment plant because a specific quality of water is required, and not water from the Ibar River. And we do not have drinking water for the public, so this remains to be done in the coming years,” Jablanovic told BIRN.

Another reason was an initial delay in the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Culture and Sport, which was a prerequisite for the funds to be granted and work to start.

Jablanovic claimed that an additional 200,000 euros has been budgeted for the pool project in 2016, and that the decision was unanimously adopted by the municipal assembly this year.

However, the official record of the assembly meeting shows that the councillors voted by nine to six not to approve additional funding for the project.

The assembly’s president, Zoran Todic, alleged however that the Kosovo parliament accepted the additional funding plan even though the councillors voted against it.

“The budget of the municipality of Leposavic, which most councillors did not support, was adopted by the Kosovo Assembly, and so the jurisdiction of a local government was trampled upon,” Todic told BIRN.

Mayor Jablanovic insisted meanwhile that in 2017, an additional 300,000 euros will be needed for the pools because, he explained, the project is being built in stages.

Architect Nikola Milosavljevic told BIRN that although there was “no universal price” for the building of an Olympic-size pool, it could cost an estimated 450,000 euros, depending on specific local factors and the scale of the project.

But Jablanovic disputed the architect’s assessment.

“I do not know where you got this information, you could say that it costs 1,000 euros. It’s not my job, I’m working according to a project that was developed by the most renowned project development firms in Belgrade, nearly 10 years ago,” he said.

Nenad Radosavljevic, a municipal councillor from the National Justice citizens’ initiative and one of the mayor’s opponents, said questions should be asked about how the funds have been spent and why the project is not finished.

“How and in what manner the money allocated for the pool was spent, and how these contracts were executed, are questions that can only be answered by the person responsible for the handling of the money, and that means the financial department within the municipality, in other words the mayor, who issues payment orders and who has some relations with the contractor,” Radosavljevic told BIRN.

Leposavic municipal assembly president Todic argued that a commission should be set up to probe the project and establish whether funds have been misused or not.

“As for the funds spent and the project itself, I think it is best at this point to establish a professional, independent commission, with experts from the field of construction,” Todic told BIRN.

“Clearly, there is a suspicion that there has been an abuse of the funds and overspending on the site where the municipal pool complex should be built,” he added.

It has also emerged that the pool has no construction permit, raising questions about how the work was allowed to go ahead in the first place.

The mayor himself has acknowledged that the municipality has not issued any permits, as it is required to do under the Kosovo law.

“A construction permit should be issued by Kosovo’s institutions. We have not done that yet, no one does in the north [of Kosovo] and I’m not going to do be the first,” Jablanovic said during a televised debate on municipal issues organised by BIRN and Internews in April 2016.

The mayor has also come under criticism this year for allegedly ignoring decisions made by the municipal assembly. In December, a majority of councillors voted to ask the Ministry for Local Government to dismiss him, but no decision has been made by the ministry so far, and in the meantime, the minister has changed.

Meanwhile the auditor general’s report on the Leposavic municipality in 2015 made several allegations about financial irregularities, including the misuse of funds for some capital projects and insufficient internal control of finances. The auditor general recommended rigorous monitoring in order to improve control measures.

The dean of the local university’s sports faculty, Veroljub Stankovic, told BIRN that the pool was a vitally-needed facility for both students and locals.

“We at the university have a part of our practical teaching that really must be held at the pool,” Stankovic said.

“The construction of the pool would also mean the development of a swimming training strategy for the general population,” he added.

One local resident in Leposavic, Pavle Kulizic, said that he thought the Olympic-sized pool and the children’s pools would help to improve public health, particularly among younger people, but expressed scepticism as to when the project would be completed.

“Looking at some of these projects, they are rather large investments, important projects for the municipality, the citizens, especially for children and young people. I am a pessimist, I do not expect that these will be finished in due time according to the plans,” Kulizic told BIRN.

The money for the pool project comes from Kosovo’s Ministry of Culture and Sport, which is responsible for paying the contractor.

BIRN made several attempts to get a statement from the ministry regarding the construction of the pool, but although a response was promised, no answers ever arrived.

Meanwhile people in Leposavic passing by the construction site can only gaze into the concrete basin and wonder when, finally, they might be able to dive into the water at their brand-new municipal pool.

This article was produced as part of the Kosovo Fellowship for Quality Reporting, as part of the Media for All project implemented by Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and supported by the EU Office in Kosovo.

27/12/2016 - 09:27

27 December 2016 - 09:27

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.