“The tricky situation” with the competencies for the monitoring of environmental permits is the main reason behind the fact that responsible institutions have failed to exercise their duties. The Ministry of Environment issues environmental permits whilst its inspectors find it impossible to exercise controls in the field and therefore are asking for assistance from the local residents to call them anytime they notice problems.
By Avushe Zhuka
The lack of control and monitoring for concessionary contracts, environmental permits, construction of HPPs, works in the field, as well as for the activity of HPPs has led to a chaotic situation with major consequences for our country. The direct situation falls on the state structures which after issuing construction permits for HPPs out of any criteria failed to monitor the concessionary companies and the situation in the field. Lack of coordination among state institutions, lack of controls, the low number of inspectors, and the failure to inspect any subject caused extensive damages to the environment.
On February 2014, following the order by the Minister of Environment, Lefter Koka, the competencies for the issuance of environmental permits were passed to the National Environmental Agency. But to what extent the HPPs have been monitored by the responsible structures and what problems were identified? The inspectors of the regional environmental agencies talk about a difficult situation which is also a result of the lack of monitoring of HPPs in the field. One of the environmental experts in Elbasan said that the directorate, which he is part of, doesn’t have enough human resources to monitor the subjects which have been issued with an environmental permit to monitor, among which included are the HPPs. The inspector of the Environmental Agency in the Region of Elbasan, Sadush Sharku, said that there were a lot of difficulties and there were only 10 environmental inspectors assigned in the region of Elbasan while there were no transport vehicles to be used by them. “We don’t have an optimal capable of following-up all the problems regarding the environment”, Sharku declared.
The environmental inspector appealed for cooperation asking local residents to contact inspectors at any time they notice any problem or breach of the agreement reached between the locals and the constructing company. “We seek the cooperation of local residents, we expect from them to notify us for any environmental issue because it’s impossible for us to exercise controls in every single subject. In some cases we have been alerted by the Mayors of communes but still local residents should cooperate. If we will be alerted we will be by the side of the community”, Sharku stressed out. Regarding administrative measures taken against wrongdoers, the environmental experts say that there has been only a single case. It is about a subject that was responsible for a massive environmental pollution. A fine of approximately ALL 80 million was imposed on that particular subject.
Construction permits for the construction of HPPs have been issued and approved in the last 5 years. It is about 113 HPPs and the major part of them are located in the area between Elbasan and Librazhd in the National Park Shebenik-Jabllanica. That area was declared a National Park following the order of the Council of Ministers no: 640, dated 21.05.2008. The park encompasses an area of 14,046 hectares including main natural habitats with high natural values. The area is uninhabited. Only in the fourth area, encompassing 12,420 hectares, which is specified as an area where it is allowed to conduct traditional and economic activities, an environmental permit is needed for any kind of activity. But observations indicate that construction of HPPs is taking place in other areas of the Shebenik-Jabllanica National Park. . “Only in the area of Shmill and Orenja some 10 permits have been issued for the construction of HPPs and water is sucked by tubes”, said the hydro engineer Molnar Kolaneci. Some 6 other permits for construction of HPPs have been issued in the area of Qarrishta. At the same time, permits have been issued even for the construction of HPPs in the basin of Hotolisht, Qukes, and Bushtrica.
The problems for the monitoring of HPPs have become more evident after competencies were passed from one institution to another. In this “tricky situation” for competencies, local institutions have not a lot in hand. The Agency of Water Basins and the Basins Council in the region of Elbasan announced that they don’t have any single document or file regarding the construction of HPPs in that area. The law “On integrated management of water resources” stipulates that the Agency of Water Basins must prepare reports, provide opinions on water resources, which on the other hand must be presented to the Council of Water Basins to follow-up each of them. But according to officials of that agency, they have been stripped of any competence since 2012. All competencies were passed to central offices in Tirana. The activity in the agency has been limited only to handing out application forms which subjects use to apply for permits. The application forms, after being filled, are passed to offices in Tirana.
The institution which is in charge of monitoring concessionary contracts for hydro power plants is the National Agency of Natural Resources (NANR). Among others, the National Agency of Natural Resources is responsible for development, supervision of rational exploitation of natural resources in line with Government’s policies, and the monitoring of post-exploitation in the mining, fuel, and energy sectors. The National Agency of Natural Resources has published on its website the document related to the monitoring of HPPs. The document includes the drafting of the annual program and monthly plans for the monitoring of concessionary contracts for HPPs; organization of insertion of all technical data into a database for every single concessionary contract; monitoring in the field of HPPs according to the monitoring plan; the presentation of detailed reports drafted by experts on the implementation of contractual obligations for every single concessionary contract. Furthermore, the National Agency of Natural Resources is responsible for the drafting of quarterly reports on the contracting authority, in cooperation with the relevant sectors, as well as for the preparation of 2-months, 4-months, 6-months, 9-months, and 12-months information reports on the realization of the monitoring plan.
But it seems that the National Agency of Natural Resources didn’t have coordination with the contracting authority on monitoring. This fact was revealed by a High State Audit (HSA) report which stated that the National Agency of Natural Resources didn’t have any coordination with the contracting authority on monitoring and implementation of contracts, especially on the economic and financial documents which the concessionary companies must present on the implementation of the contract in different stages. Such documents are missing in almost every concessionary contract. “One reason for the situation regarding the documentation on the monitoring is the signing of contracts between the former Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Energy and concessionaries without including the National Agency of Natural Resources as a monitoring institution. Therefore, the rights and obligations are directly with the contracting authority and not the National Agency of Natural Resources which monitors the execution of contracts”, said among others the HSA report. Furthermore, the HSA recommended that it must be clearly specified the National Agency of Natural Resources obligation and legal responsibility by making the necessary legal changes for the monitoring and execution of contracts being the only specialized institution and with appropriate human resources.
The lack of monitoring is clearly evidenced even by the observation in the field. In many cases, the concessionary companies consider rivers as their private property. They don’t let anyone or deny access to the part of the river where the HPP is constructed by setting gates while using the raw materials from the river to construct roads. Failure to rehabilitate the area following the end of the construction phase also indicates the lack of controls by the state structures. Meantime, Minister of Energy and Industry Damian Gjiknuri sees the situation being completely different saying that full controls had been exercised on concessionary contracts. “A good monitoring of all HPP contracts has been made, especially for those HPPs that are under construction. We know that a good part of them failed because they weren’t good projects and without an economic feasibility study. Other HPPs are under development”, the Minister said.
Quite differently from Gjiknuri, Prime Minister Edi Rama admitted that there were problems with the monitoring of the works for the construction of HPPs. According to him, it was found that the rehabilitation of the area following the end of the construction phase wasn’t taking place and that there were several damages caused to the environment. Regarding such situation, the Prime Minister made it clear that the Government wouldn’t allow abuses with HPPs. “Out of 113 permits issued in protected areas, 42 HPPs are producing energy, 23 HPPs are under construction, while work has not started in 48 of them. The HPPs for which construction phase hasn’t started will not be constructed in the future because the new law stipulates that no HPPs will be constructed in protected, Rama said. On the other hand, referring to the environmental agencies that fail to report cases of damages to the environment and cooperate with violators, Rama said that corruption will be fought in all state structures.
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