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26 Aug 2021

ANDREW HIGGINS, The New York Times (USA)

Montenegro: China-backed highway "from nowhere to nowhere" strains country's finances; New government questions project's cost-effectiveness

See all tags Allegations

"A Pricey Drive Down Montenegro’s Highway ‘From Nowhere to Nowhere", 16 August 2021

[...] Montenegro’s new prime minister, Zdravko Krivokapic, who took over late last year from the government that signed the road and loan contracts with China in 2014, described the highway as a “megalomaniac project” that “goes from nowhere to nowhere” and badly strained his country’s finances. [...]

[...] The Montenegro highway fused China’s oversize ambitions with those of Milo Djukanovic, the Balkan nation’s prime minister when work on the road started. But, with Mr. Djukanovic’s party no longer in charge for the first time in 30 years after elections last year, the highway has become a lightning rod for accusations of waste, graft and bloated ambitions that are out of sync with economic reality.

“I have no proof yet, but all this indicates corruption,” Mr. Krivokapic, the new prime minister, said in an interview in Podgorica, the Montenegrin capital. “From the economic side, this highway is probably not cost-effective.” [...]

Dritan Abazovic, the deputy prime minister responsible for security, said in an interview that he “has nothing against China,” which “just wants to be present in the region.” But he questioned the wisdom of taking out a huge loan from China in order to hire a Chinese company that imports Chinese workers and then “takes all the money back to China” — a typical practice for Chinese infrastructure companies working abroad. [...]

An earlier feasibility study, in 2007, by Louis Berger, an engineering company in Paris, warned that traffic along the proposed highway would not be “high enough to justify” investment “from a purely financial basis.” But it added that “social, political and economic” factors “should be considered before making a decision on whether to continue with the proposed program.” [...]