Albania, the expensive shares of the Vlora airport are sold for a minimum price
The Vlora airport near the Narta lagoon in Albania is one of the most expensive concessionary projects of the Albanian government. However, one of the companies that won the tender left the project and sold the shares at a minimum value of 4,450 euros – raising, in parallel with environmental concerns, new questions about the project.
In the village of Akërni near the picturesque lagoon of Narta, heavy machinery has advanced work on the construction of the Vlora airport – a concessionary project of the Albanian government that is opposed by local and international environmental organizations.
The project lay within the Vjosë-Nartë protected area, an important refuge for flamingos, pelicans and hundreds of migratory birds. But with a decision taken in October 2022, the government removed the planned surface of the airport from the protection status.
After a 5-year battle to cancel the project, environmental activists believe the government’s decisions are causing irreversible damage to nature and are being pushed forward by big financial interests.
“It seems that there is a really strong driving force for the construction of this airport. And we can only assume or have an idea about it. This airport is only the beginning of further construction, for example, tourist resorts in this area. So , the driving force, from my point of view, is that there can be big money here for tourism development”, says Annette Spangenberg, head of the organization EuroNatur Conservation.
The Vlora airport project was an early electoral promise of Prime Minister Edi Rama, which was pushed forward despite the fact that the government’s own studies assessed it as economically unprofitable, with high risks and a low rate of return on investment.
However, the government undertook to compensate the missing revenue of the private investors, making available to the project about 138 million euros of taxpayers during the first 10 years of operation.
In March 2021, the winner was declared the consortium of Mabco Construction companies owned by the Kosovar businessman and politician, Behgjet Pacolli in partnership with the Turkish company, Yda Group, which has in its experience construction and operations in at least three airports in Turkey , Kazakhstan and Ukraine.
The winning consortium undertook to invest 104 million euros for the construction of the airport, but about a year and a half after winning the tender, the Turkish company YDA Group left the project and sold its 40% stake to Pacolli for a minimum value of 4450 euros.
The economic expert, Zef Preçi, says that the concession contract for Vlora airport puts the Albanian government in an inferior position, as it guarantees the investor income even when it does not carry passenger traffic.
Preçi also sees with suspicion the sale of shares of minimal value by the Turkish company, practices that according to him are not rare in the history of Albanian concessions.
“Interested in benefiting or guaranteeing decision-making politicians, they act precisely in this way: they first offer the contract to a large company and this company, without much time, transfers it with this ridiculous value of the shares, which means that the interests are very powerful and the risks for the completion of the work increase and the guarantees on the basis of which the tender was announced at the beginning are lost,” he says.
The representative of the concessionaire company, Valon Lluka, told BIRN that the Turkish company left the project after not responding to the promised investment, but added that Mabetex Group is committed to fulfilling its contractual obligations.
“Certain situations provoked as a result of the internal issues of the Turkish company, which did not respond to the investment pledged after signing the Concession Contract, have imposed the transfer of the share quota from YDA to the other member of the consortium in accordance with the provisions of Concession Contract and Albanian legislation”, says Valon Lluka, administrator of “Vlora International Airport”.
Turkish company Yda Group did not respond to a request for comment on the reasons for leaving the project.
The construction of the Vlora airport on the borders of the protected area and on the passage of migratory birds from Europe to Africa has been opposed by the European Commission and the Berne Convention, which declared at the last meeting held in Strasbourg that the project had a marked lack of implementation of national and international laws in the field of environment.
Environmental activists say they will continue the battle to protect the natural balances that this project threatens.
“The airport itself is not just a few flights, it is a series of constructions that have started to become roads, different buildings, maybe tomorrow there will be others along the coast. All this destroys the integrity of these natural balances of birds and other habitats of both sides of the river”, says Aleko Miho, biologist and lecturer at the Faculty of Natural Sciences
The concessionaire company says that according to its studies, the project is not expected to have the effects of destroying biodiversity and especially birds during construction and operation. According to administrator Lluka, negative impacts on the environment are a necessary evil for development, but it is important, according to him, to be managed and monitored.