China Charges Montenegro $1 Billion to Build Road “From Nowhere to Nowhere”

(p. 4) MATESEVO, Montenegro — One of the world’s most expensive roads slices through the mountains of Montenegro, soaring over deep gorges on towering bridges, before reaching its destination: a muddy field outside a hamlet with a few dozen houses, many of them empty.

Mirka Adzic, a resident of the hamlet, Matesevo (population: around 15), said she was delighted there would soon be a modern expressway so close to home as it would save her from having to take a treacherous mountain track, previously the only access to the outside world.

But, much as she likes the new Chinese-built expressway — which is supposed to open in November [2021] at a cost of nearly $1 billion after six years of hazardous work, two years behind schedule — she doesn’t really understand it.

Struggling to support a family on her husband’s meager salary as a driver for the Chinese construction company that built the road, she is baffled that her country, one of Europe’s poorest, has committed so much money to a gargantuan, state-of-the-art engineering project. Montenegro is now saddled with debts to China that total more than a third of the government’s annual budget.

Ms. Adzic is not alone. 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.

. . .

A 2012 study led by a British company for Montenegro’s Ministry of Transport warned that construction costs would be unusually high because of the mountainous terrain. Even so, its cost estimates were considerably lower than the more than $900 million charged by the China Road and Bridge Corporation to build the 25-mile, but particularly difficult, stretch of the highway.

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.”

. . .

Nearly $280 million, more than half of the total amount of money paid to local subcontractors, has gone to a single Montenegro company, Bemax, formally owned by a onetime cafe owner who, before he moved into road building, had no previous experience in engineering work, according to MANS, the research group.

Nebojsa Medojevic, a member of Parliament, claimed that Bemax was in reality owned by a close adviser of Mr. Djukanovic, Milan Rocen, a former ambassador to Moscow. Mr. Djukanovic denied this, saying he had “of course” asked his adviser and been assured the claims were false. Mr. Rocen has himself categorically denied owning Bemax.

For the full story, see:

Andrew Higgins. “Montenegro, a Nearly $1 Billion Road to ‘Nowhere’.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, August 15, 2021): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 14, 2021, and has the title “A Pricey Drive Down Montenegro’s Highway ‘From Nowhere to Nowhere’.”)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.