Reporting period: January – June 2020
For a fifth year now Transparency International Bulgaria (TI-Bulgaria) has been monitoring the public procurement for the design and works of the Zheleznitsa Tunnel on Struma Motorway. The project started in 2016 and has been implemented upon the initiative and with the financial support of the European Commission.
In the beginning of 2020, the public procurement for the design and works of Struma Motorway, lot 3.1 Zheleznitsa Tunnel with three lots was in the implementation phase. The construction works were launched in the end of 2019. The sections immediately preceding and following the tunnel are expected to be completed in the beginning of 2021, while the tunnel itself is expected to be ready in spring 2022.
The monitoring methodology for the implementation phase includes review of documents, field visits, and participation in monthly meetings of the contractors, contracting authority and construction supervisory authority (a consultant). During the reporting period our team carried out four field visits in January, February, March, and June. Representatives of the monitoring team took part in a total of six meetings – two for every lot. No field visits and participation in meetings were carried out from mid-March till mid-May due to the restrictions introduced in the framework of the COVID-19 pandemic situation and the travel prohibitions. As an alternative we carried out preparations for online meetings with the contractors, contracting authority and construction supervisory authority. In the context of the emergency situation the TI-Bulgaria team faced restrictions as regards access to documents to be reviewed in the headquarters of the Road Infrastructure Agency (RIA). Following a series of discussions and written requests, finally RIA provided a small part of the requested documents in electronic version. From the end of May our team resumed the monitoring under regular conditions and at regular pace.
From mid-March till the end of the reporting period the construction works were carried out by a reduced number of construction teams with a view to securing safe working conditions and reducing the risks of contamination among the staff. This led to some delays in the preliminary construction schedule. According to the information provided by the Road Infrastructure Agency, amendments to the procurement contracts are being discussed in order to extend the implementation deadlines by two months.
Within the reporting period our team together with a group of experts in the area of law, social studies and engineering prepared a monitoring report on the implementation of the awarded contracts. Following verification of the report by the contracting authority, RIA, it will be published.
TI Bulgaria team continued with the dissemination activities of the Integrity Pact and offered citizens the opportunity to take part in the monitoring of the construction works and put forward questions of interest to them. Through the new section tunnel.report on our website, every interested citizen may send a photograph, make a comment, ask a question or send a signal about an irregularity as regards the construction of the Zheleznitsa tunnel. Due to the travel prohibition during the emergency, understandably citizens were not very active. However, this changed in the end of May and the beginning of June. Our team received several inquiries from local citizens, and we sought for the answers from the competent authorities.
We ourselves also published photographs from the field observations at the construction site. We continued maintaining the Monitoring section where we publish up-to-date information about the progress made in the construction works.
During the reporting period Transparency International Bulgaria continued developing channels for cooperation with the three contractors for the Zheleznitsa tunnel. Our efforts have been aimed at building mutual trust in the monitoring of the construction works. We may report as a success the established communication with the site representatives of the contractors who readily answered all questions of the independent observer, provided written information and visual materials. Our team continued the efforts of convincing the official representatives of the contractors to join the Integrity Pact. The emergency situation and related new commitments and problems facing the private sector caused some delays in this process. We may safely report that by the end of the reporting period we have the orally confirmed consent of all three contractors to join the Pact. We expect that by the end of the active working season the accession to the Pact will be finally formalized.