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Bulgarian institutions entrust the rebuilding of a bridge to a garbage firm

Photo by Valia Ahchieva

Valya Ahchieva’s latest investigative report reveals how, in order to avoid a public procurement procedure, the Bulgarian institutions entrusted the construction of a bridge to a company known for collecting garbage. The result is visible in the photos Ahchieva made on site.

[Important notice: Previous Valia Ahchieva’s investigative reports published in this website have been widely picked up by Bulgarian media outlets, but very few of them asked for authorization. Those who wish to re-publish this and other investigative reports should clearly identify the source, a website created by Brussels-based journalist Georgi Gotev as a free press project to cover the European elections and the political context in Bulgaria. For contacts:]

By Valia Ahchieva

We travel from Sofia to Tran. The road is second class from the Republican road network and is entirely on the territory of the Pernik region. Its final kilometer is on the border with the Republic of Serbia. What we see with the roads expert accompanying me are unclean wayside and uncut vegetation all the way.

It shouldn’t be so. Because the Road Infrastructure Agency (API), according to the documents, has carried out a public tender and concluded a contract in 2016 for operational, current and winter maintenance as well as repair and rehabilitation works in emergency situations on the Republican roads in the territory of the Pernik region, with the company Consortium “ZBMG Construction”, based in Sofia. Partners in the consortium are the Sofia-based company “ZMBG” and the company “Liel Construction”. Both companies are known for being in the garbage business and with their litter collection contracts.

And for maintaining and repairing the roads in the Pernik region, according to a report, API planned to pay for the year 2019 only for a total of 34.4 km … almost 24 million leva to the consortium “ZMBG Construction”!

For this money, all the repair and restoration of the roads in Pernik should be carried out, with the necessary construction equipment and with specialists. And the grass on the wayside should have been mowed.

But no one has been mowing on the way to Tran.

Just before the city is a stone bridge over the Yablanitsa River, built in the distant 1933. The bridge has one lane, it is narrower with respect to the road, located just after a curve, and its railing is made of stone masonry.

This is how the 86-year-old bridge looked like before the accident.

On 8 November 2017, about 10 p.m., a heavy truck with Serbian number plates, on its way from Tran to Pernik, suffered a road accident. The truck pulled down the stone railing and stopped hanging from the bridge. After a rescue operation with heavy construction equipment, the driver was rescued and moved from the vehicle.

From that moment on begins the long saga with the bridge at Tran, which according to all documents is dangerous to people’s lives.

Only two days after the accident a first visit took place by an expert at the Institute of Roads and Bridges, which recommended very quickly to restore the ruined railing with new concrete railing. This was only a temporary solution for securing the bridge.

And such a temporary concrete railing was made.

But according to the first report to API by the Director of Regional Road Administration – Pernik – Eng. Rumen Sachansky, dated 13.11.2017, “there is daily traffic from and to the Republic of Serbia, including many car transporter trucks. It is necessary to take measures to widen the bridge in order to improve its transport-operational qualities. “

In these first days after the incident, the Institute of Roads and Bridges made a recommendation – it is necessary to extend and rehabilitate the bridge on a prepared project. And that means serious reconstruction, construction works and public tender.

And suddenly, the director of the Road Infrastructure Maintenance Directorate at API – Eng. Mihail Rashkov wrote something completely different to another directorate in API. Namely, that what is needed is “repair and rehabilitation work.”

This means that the bridge will be repaired by the maintenance company in the Pernik region – the Consortium “ZMBG Construction” and with the millions of levs provided under the running road repair contract.

What follows is a 6-month inactivity of the Road Infrastructure Agency. Nobody has moved his finger about the risky bridge.

Why no measures were taken to implement the recommendation of the competent authority – the Institute of Roads and Bridges, for the reconstruction of the bridge – its widening to match the gauge of the road?

Only in May of the next year – 2018, the Mayor of Tran Municipality – Tsvetislava Tsvetkova wrote to the Regional Road Administration – Pernik that this bridge is dangerous for the people.

Follows an immediate reaction from the Road Administration in Pernik. The Director wrote to the Board of Directors of the Road Infrastructure Agency that the bridge had undercuts foundations and the supporting walls were compromised.

This report is worrying. It points to a risky situation for people that has lasted 6 months, with total inaction on the part of the state!

On 18.06.2018 a Protocol from the Commission to the Regional Road Administration – Pernik finds that there is no money for the reconstruction of the bridge. And since this is not a bridge repair to use those million dollars from the road maintenance contract, but a reconstruction, the commission proposes to apply to the Council of Ministers for money from the Interdepartmental Commission for Reconstruction and Assistance. The Commission decided to widen the bridge.

A few days later, on 22.06.2018, RIA was notified this time from the Ministry of Interior – Pernik: “The bridge is in poor condition and creates prerequisites for severe road accidents. The facility itself is probably unstable and potentially dangerous. Quick action is required on your part.”

And only on 04.07.2018, 9 months after the accident, RIA responded to the Road Administration – Pernik:

“To prepare a technological project for preventive repair under the Ordinance on maintenance and ongoing repair. The project should provide for all necessary actions to restore the facility to its existing form prior to the accident. “

With this order, in fact, API wants the bridge to become as it was … in 1933! And no improvement to do the technical parameters!

Following is a letter from the internal correspondence at the API, dated July 9, 2018, which says there was no financial resource for the bridge repair.

And on 14.08.2018, the Institute of Roads and Bridges coordinated the technological project for bridge repair. And next month, on 5 September, a Protocol of the Regional Road Administration – Pernik was written, when the Technical and Economic Council examined the prepared project of the company “Mostconsult”.

The contracting authority is API. The contractor is the maintenance and repair firm – Consortium “ZMBG Construction”. And we understand from the project itself that it is not a repair but a real reconstruction of the bridge.

The project says that a 9-meter-long roadway slab will be built. Rocks will be removed. That is, it is a project for a serious bridge reconstruction.

After the approval of the project, the Director of Road Administration in Pernik Eng. Sachanski wrote to RIA that an additional geodesy research for the project surveyors should be made.

The Board of API approves on 02.10.2018 this additional assignment to the cost of BGN 48,000. Two additional works were also approved.

To my question to API, how much was paid for the project, as well as about the additional works and which account the money was sent, I received the following answer:

“The project was carried out and the underground construction and the construction of the facility were strengthened. The three activities were carried out under the contract for ongoing repairs and maintenance of the republic roads in Pernik District by the Contractor – the Consortium “ZBMG Construction” at a total value of 784,388.51 BGN with VAT. The garbage firm!

Emergency repairs are carried out in accordance with Article 148, Paragraph 6 of the Territorial Planning Act so as not to interrupt the traffic on the Republican road. “

Apparently, construction works on the bridge started in October last year. But some people in Tran have complained to a prosecutor at the Regional Prosecutor’s Office in Pernik that the bridge is being built poorly. And  a prosecutor has checked what was going on there, on the bridge over the Yablanitza River.

A on 04.02.2019, prosecutor Nikolay Tsvetkov of the Regional Prosecutor’s Office in Pernik requested in writing through the Supreme Administrative Prosecutor’s Office (VAP) that API should provide him with all the documentation on the bridge case because he has found that the bridge is being widened. And this is different than repairing the bridge. According to the prosecutor, the procedure for construction works is violated, to avoid API going through a public procurement procedure.

Obviously, this letter from prosecutor Nikolay Tsvetkov of Pernik has prompted urgent action by RIA to legalize their illegal building activities.

And on 29 March, just two weeks ago, API wrote to the prosecutor that this was a bridge rehabilitation. As if they forget that they themselves had ordered to repair and restore the bridge, as it looked in 1933! They also write that a technical project has been prepared and documents have been submitted to the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works (MRRB) for the issuance of a building permit, based on Art. 148 para. 6 of the Territorial Planning Act.

However, this Article applies to emergency situations where construction permits can exceptionally be issued during emergency and calamity during or after the execution of the works. But in the case of the bridge, this is not an accident or a disaster. This was a traffic accident with a truck, like hundreds of others in Bulgaria. And nowhere in the documents was an accident or disaster reported at the Tran Bridge. Moreover, the inactivity of the API is for 6-7 months without moving a finger to with respect to the bridge, only proves that these are not urgent actions like in case of disaster or calamity.

And from this letter of API to the prosecutor in Pernik from days ago, we understand that … the bridge actually has no building permit until now.

But the bridge was reconstructed without construction permission!

Because, arriving at the bridge above the Yablanica River, there, before the town of Tran, we saw the following picture:

The bridge has been reconstructed into a 9-meter-wide road gauge with a canvas and consoles. That is, the bridge is now wider. A 9 m wide concrete plate has been poured. On the old stones of 1933 a net has been put with cement coating. There are cracks on it. The works are poorly done. What remains to be done is the road section in approach to the bridge, lower construction and asphalting of the bridge.

What we see with the road expert is a serious reconstruction of the bridge.

And these nearly 785 thousand leva should not have been paid from the fund for recurrent road repair. Since this is reconstruction, public procurement is mandatory by law. But such a public procurement was not carried out. In the reply API sent me, they write that “public procurement for construction and construction supervision to complete the road section of the facility is about to begin in 2019.” Public procurement is yet to be launched. Post factum.

And there should have been a building permit.

There is no such permission for construction. That is why, just days after the prosecutor’s letter, on 19 February 2019, the director of the Regional Road Administration – Pernik – Eng. Sachanski fled an application to the Minister of Regional Development and Public Works:

“Give us a building permit.”

And what is it hanging over there, on the bridge above the Yablanica River? Unjustified inaction by the state during 6-7 months with risk for people’s lives. Breach of the law to reconstruct a bridge without a public contract. And building the facility without a building permit, by a dubious contractor, to say the least.

And right now RIA is trying to legalise its illegal activity over the bridge.

Just because a prosecutor raised the question of legality, after a signal of people at risk from the region.

Will the prosecutor take those responsible to task?

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