Corruption concerns over huge biggest ever environmental tender

Photo: European Commission

The interim Czech government is pushing ahead with a tender for the biggest environmental clean-up operation in the country’s history – removing environmental damage inflicted during decades of communist rule. The tender is worth 115 billion crowns and cabinet officials say it is an effective way of dealing with a burden the state had promised to remove. But experts as well as anti-corruption organizations are concerned that the state could end up paying much more than necessary.

During the privatisation of state-owned industrial companies in the 1990s, the state promised it would eventually pay for the removal of all sorts of environmental damages inflicted during decades of communist rule. Last year, the government announced a public tender worth 115 billion crowns, or more than 5.7 billion US dollars, for the removal of these damages particularly in the industrial compounds of northern Bohemia and Moravia. Some experts however criticize both the estimated costs and the decision to include all removal projects in one huge tender. The Czech branch of the corruption watchdog Transparency International filed a complaint last week with the Czech anti-monopoly office, asking it to look into the issue. David Ondráčka is the head of Transparency International Czech Republic.

“The contract might end up being a collusion; they can silently agree on the price which might then be higher than necessary for the state. That’s our main argument but very difficult to prove for the anti-monopoly office because you need direct evidence. The second argument is that there are so many places that need to be cleaned up but they are not specified in detail, as required by the law. That’s why we believe there is a breach of the law.”

Photo: European Commission
Some experts, including the former environment ministers, Martin Bursík and František Benda, as well as the head of the Czech Environment Inspection Eva Tylová argue that the removal should cost considerably less – some 40 billion crowns, or some 2 billion US dollars. But Deputy Finance Minister Ivan Fuksa says the whole point of the competition is to bring the price down.

“The point is that we are not going to give someone 115 billion. On the contrary – the point of having a competition is to see who can solve this problem for a far lower sum. If the tender produces a price that will not be interesting for the government, the government does not have to approve the result and we can deal with the problem as is we have done in the past, so to speak.”

Until now, environmental damages have been dealt with individually, which is something Transparency International considers to be a much more effective way of public spending. David Ondráčka again.

“We are very concerned about the efficiency of public spending in this tender; that’s why we asked the anti-monopoly office to review the procedure. The key issue is however that this tender is highly political. It’s a very political decision whether it will be one huge tender entailing five billion euros, or whether it will be divided into maybe a thousand small tenders that will take longer time but will be more effective in our view.”

Six companies entered the tender, and three of them have made it into the second round. Government officials believe that if everything goes smoothly, the results of the tender could be announced by the end of October – which means that it will still be up to the caretaker government to pick the winner of the biggest tender in Czech history.