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21 May 2022

Predrag Tomovic, Reid Standish - Radio Free Europe (Czech Republic)

Montenegro: $1 billion Belt & Road Highway which failed multiple feasibility studies now mired in delays

"Montenegro's $1 Billion Highway Faces Uncertain Future After Years Of Delays" 21 May 2022

Eight years after the contract was first signed, the initial section of a controversial highway project in Montenegro paid for by a massive $1 billion Chinese loan is nearing completion -- but it still faces lingering questions about its future.

Once hailed by China as a landmark deal within the Belt and Road Initiative -- its globe-spanning infrastructure project -- the highway has since become a cautionary tale that fused together the perils of poor-quality Chinese construction and cursory lending practices with endemic local corruption concerns in the Balkan country. [...]

That has led to growing scrutiny and speculation from local activists and international donors about Beijing's objectives in Montenegro and the Balkans, as well as the motives of the previous government that first gave the green light to the highway.

"Any further delay in the opening of the highway is a direct loss for the state and citizens," Dejan Milovac from the watchdog organization The Network for Affirmation of the Nongovernmental Sector (MANS), told RFE/RL. [...]

Despite failing several feasibility studies, the project was inked by then-Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic's government, who took out the massive Chinese loan to fund the highway and enveloped it in a cloud of secrecy.

In addition to the feasibility studies, questions of the profitability and necessity of the highway have followed it since its inception. Djukanovic's government also received construction offers from multiple foreign companies, including the U.S. engineering and construction giant Bechtel, that proposed a more modest and less costly project that ultimately lost out to the CRBC. [...]