In the first part of this series we wrote about the destruction of natural resources, the disappearance of wildlife and the millions-worth damage occurring as a consequence of the construction of small hydropower plants in BiH. In this sequel we will present examples of how relevant institutions act in favour of the partial interests of privileged investors violating at the same time the laws of this country.
By: Predrag Blagovčanin
According to the available data, there are currently 81 hydropower plants operating in BiH, of which 16 are “big” hydropower plants over 10 Mws installed capacity, while the rest are small hydropower plants. On the other hand, as many as 189 small hydropower plants are in the process of construction and in the process of issuance of permits.
Investing in the construction of these plants is a lucrative job. Especially when the concessions for the use of the natural resources are awarded by corrupt government structures. Results of studies and researches show that the political elites in the Balkans countries provide their family members, friends and party colleagues with enormous enrichment at the expense of citizens who finance regularly, every month, the investors through the monthly electricity bills.
How? All it takes is to look at an electricity bill and read under the item „Fee for renewable energy sources“ to see how much money you have paid this month to an investor who privatized a river, destroyed the drinking water and displaced the local population.
In which way the local politicians and the investors cooperate is shown by the example of Salko Hodžić from Kaćuni village near Busovača. Since 2015 Hodžić has been fighting against the construction of a hydropower plant facility placed just 13 meters away from his house.
The investor of the third small hydropower plant on the Kozica River is SHPP d.o.o. Sarajevo, owned by a former Elektroprivreda BiH manager and the president of the “Party for BiH”, Amer Jerlagić.
My children have left, and my house will be flooded by the water
Due to the fact that a small hydropower plant facility was being built across the road of his family house, Hodžić addressed all the relevant institutions that issued the documents, and finally initiated the administrative dispute.
„I turned to the mayor Asim Mekić who I went to school with, as well as to his assistants and I could see that they only mocked me and my problem, and that they were not going to do anything. When I realized that things would only get worse, I sent a letter to the Cantonal Forestry Ministry as they are the relevant institution that issues the concessions, but I got no reply to that letter. To prevent this from being covered up in the ministry, I wrote a letter to the then Ministry of Spatial planning.“
Shortly after his letter, Hodžić received an invitation from a committee in which he stated his requests: That the powerhouse is built 100m upstream or downstream.
„I asked for the powerhouse to be built 100m upstream or 100m downstream. After a while I received their urban permit in which my request was noted as well as an instruction that I can file a complaint. After that the mayor Asim Mekić came to me asking me not to do anything, not to spend money on attorneys. He said: „We have created that problem, we will fix it. Jerlagić will not get the building permit until your issue is regulated“. It turns out that I was naive. I trusted Mekić whom I have known all my life. On a few occasions I asked him: Asim, do I have to go from one ministry to another, he said, no, because he was the boss of all of them, because at the time he had been already appointed as the president of the Cantonal Board of SDA.“
Regardless of the verbal answer, the Orman Company started the construction of the facility directly in front of Salko Hodžić’s family house. After that Salko Hodžić hires a lawyer and files a lawsuit to the Cantonal court, which, according to him, has never been considered.
„My lawyer filed a complaint against the environmental permit and the construction permit, but both were declined, that is, they have not been considered. We were answered that they had not been considered. Now this is at the Supreme Court. However, the lawyer reviewed the documentation and found that both the construction and environmental permits were false as the concession permit had expired. After we found that, we filed a suit to the Municipal Court in Travnik which issued a temporary security measure, injunctive relief and they stayed for 30 days. That made a mess here, and I feared every night that someone would knock on my door and ‘take care of me’. In hearings they showed the documents proving that they had invested 2.5 million BAM and said that they would finish everything in 12 days; but they have been working for 40 days already and stopped just 4 days ago, I guess when the judge called them.“
Because of the pressures against Salko Hodžić’s family and threats against their security, his children left for Germany; his fear that with the beginning of operation of sHPP Kaćuni his property would be endangered is quite justified, as the turbines which throw the water back to the river were built right in front of his house.
„When the construction started last year, the pressure on me and my children began. That’s why I sent them to Germany so that they wouldn’t be harassed here. My third child is in Zagreb, and I also plan to send the son who is with me now somewhere. It is a matter of time when this will collapse. I forgave them the fish pond. They were supposed to build the retaining wall underneath, but they didn’t, because everything had cracked, and they are waiting for the water to take everything away. There will be one flood and the second and the third one, when the water will sweep away both my house and my land.“
We contacted the investor Amer Jerlagić. After our initial conversation he stopped answering our calls. Our attempt at making the phone contact with the mayor Asim Mekić through the relevant service in Busovača town hall also failed.
On the other bank of the Pliva, a hydropower plant
That the interest of the private capital in Republika Srpska comes before the interests of both inhabitants and local authorities is shown by the example of the construction of sHPP „Glavica“ on the Pliva, one of the most beautiful rivers in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In the same way as the concession for the construction of sHPP Medna on the Sana river, the concession for building the sHPP Glavica on the Pliva River was issued by the Government in 2006. Both the local community and the local government structures in this Municipality strongly opposed the construction of this plant, officially owned by BBB d.o.o. company.
The mayor of Šipovo, Milan Plavšić, pointed out that during the construction, the municipality contacted all the relevant bodies in the RS to stop, what was in his opinion, the devastation of this unique natural resource.
In the thematic session held on 24 October 2018, the municipal assembly adopted the conclusion that the construction of sHPP Glavica was not in accordance with the concession agreement, that the construction permit was disputable, considering that the installed capacity is 1,473 MW instead of 0.9 MW, that the document on spatial planning was missing, that contrary to the consent of PI Vode Srpske the investor removed the silt, and that the annexes to the concession agreement were made to the detriment of the municipality.
But, in Milan Plavšić’s words, the local government level in the RS does not have any competence nor can manage its own waters in any way.
„We are in a situation where we cannot manage our own waters nor can we defend them against attacks by some private entrepreneurs who want to build hydropower plants at any cost. We supported the construction of the small mills for power generation, but this what has happened cannot be allowed at any cost. Back in 2005, our predecessor made a tacit consent on behalf of Šipovo municipality, without even knowing that, and we learnt about it only a year and a half ago – unfortunately this resulted in the power plant that we have today.“
The concession agreement was amended on three occasions. Plavšić points out that the municipality does not have big benefits from the construction of hydropower plants, and that due to that, a decision was made to increase the utility fee.
„Having in mind that the benefits from construction are very low, in the last year we increased the utility fee from 5000 KM to 100.000 KM. Which is the real installed capacity it is something I cannot say, this is the responsibility of the relevant department. We contacted the Inspectorate, but we never received the answer.” To most of our letters, urgencies, cries for the power plant to be at least built according to the project we never got any feedback. If my information is correct, what we get annually as concession fee is 15 to 20.000 KM. That amount is negligible considering the income, i.e. profit generated by that plant. I am afraid that only the individuals benefit from the construction, while the people and the state are totally left out.“
Nenad Bužanini from Eko zona Šipovo points out that during the mining of the Pliva bed, in order to get a bigger waterfall, the foundations of the nearby housing buildings brple, and that the bridge connecting the Šerići village with the road was undermined.
„Foundations broke on a couple of houses, the bridge was also undermined because in order to get bigger waterfall they deepened the bed to up to three meters high, which was not planned. Even if it had been planned, who was the one to give permission for deepening of the bed? Review of documents was done by some ministry and some experts from the University said that everything was o.k. This is basically how things get done in this country. The golden rule is that the one who gives the money writes the rules. I’m not worried about the people here. More or less everyone flees from this country so that it doesn’t matter if the houses broke. In ten years no-one will be living in them anyway.
Manager of the Company B.B.B. d.o.o. Darko Lujić believes that the resistance of the local community and of the authorities to the construction of sHPP „Glavica“ is unjustified. He points out that Šipovo municipality benefits from this plant through the concession fee. He strongly rejects the allegations of the increase of the installed capacity.
„As for the local inhabitants, always those who are dissatisfied and who don’t know what it is all about are brought to the forefront, while we never see those who appreciate what was done. 20% of total income is allocated to the local authorities, from the concession, income tax, employees’ salaries. We have four registered workers. Power that goes to the grid is 1,473 MW. The information that is speculated with is not true. 28 cubic meter of water can pass through two turbines. We have 6.5-meter fall and anyone who knows anything about power plants can calculate this. “
Lujić did not want to talk about the majority owners of B.B.B. d.o.o. company. He does not believe that the natural appearance of the river was destroyed with the construction of sHPP Glavica, or that nature was devastated.
„We were not alone in this investment, but I cannot tell you now who the investors are, but let’s say that all of them are from Bosnia and Herzegovina. No-one is from abroad. It was partly financed from loans partly from own resources. Our power plant is the most expensive option as it has no damn nor pipes. I personally do not support derivations, pipe hydropower plants that dry out the river bed along three or four kilometers, where the biological minimum is not respected, but all that looks nice, and what contributes to society should be supported. There should be no disruptions. I don’t believe that we destroyed the appearance of the river. We dug out enormous quantities of waste from that river and every day what we find on the grids we extract and transport to the landfill by our own transport means.“
Everything by the law
Disputable concessions award, a number of irregularities, improper documents, hidden investors, all these are an integral part of the process of construction of small hydropower plants in BiH. The examples of frauds and mismanagement are numerous, from the construction of hydropower plants on the rivers Ugar, Sana, Doljanka, to the attempts at building on the Buna river.
The reasons should be sought in corrupt authorities’ structures in both BH entities. At times when failed economic giants witness about criminal privatization, our authorities turn toward the resources that remain. In this case, nature.
In the sequence of this series we will present a story about the construction of the small hydropower plants on the river Gostović in Zavidovići, owned by the Austrian Company Wien Energie GmbH, which, according to auditors’ reports, operates at multi-million-worth losses on constructed subsidized hydropower plants in BiH. Will BiH citizens pay with their own money for the losses incurred?
This article is part of a series of articles in cooperation between Center for Environment and the journalist Predrag Blagovčanin, as part of the campaign „Save the Blue Heart of Europe”