Author: Predrag Blagovčanin
If you have political support in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is possible to usurp private property, clear private and state forest, divert riverbeds and endanger the drinking water supply of the local community. We have seen just that on the example of the construction of small hydro power plants (SHPPs) on Bjelava and Mala Bjelava rivers, conducted by the investor “Srbinjeputevi” doo from Foča.
We would like to remind you that the company “Srbinjeputevi” doo from Foča, in the period since the beginning of the corona virus pandemic, has started the realisation of the project of building two SHPPs on Bjelava and Mala Bjelava river. The concession for these hydropower plants was issued for a period of 50 years for a fee of 258,039 BAM. The contract defines that “Srbinjeputevi”, owned by the Foča businessman Gordan Pavlović, a member of the right wing political party SNSD, will get a fee of 0.0055 KM for each kWh of produced electricity.
At the end of March this year the investor began construction, which lead to the outcry of the locals, who together with environmental organisations from BiH, organised the first protests at the end of April and informed the public about the obvious law violations and the intentions of the investor who began this project without the necessary permits.
Under the disguise of geological research
Due to doubts in the legality of the works, the Centre for Environment contacted the responsible Ministry of Spatial Planning, Construction and Ecology of RS, which informed them that at that time the investor had not initiated procedures for obtaining the necessary building permits.
Redžib Skomorac from this organisation points out that they’ve sent letters to all responsible institutions in RS, demanding urgent and adequate supervision of the works, which has been lacking to this day.
The investor arbitrarily interpreted the decisions for geological research, as a preliminary permit for soil research on the site of the planned facilities, and used it for construction works, since obviously “geological research” have not yet been carried, almost five months after the work started. During this time the authorities were largely silent, which would be unacceptable in any other country.”
In the past period, the investor, under the disguise of geological research, traced the pipeline for the planned hydroelectric power plants. This means that the construction works were carried out without necessary permits, as well as ensuring supervision. Skomorac emphasizes that these allegations were confirmed by the recent special ad-hoc inspection of the Republic Water Inspection Bureau.
“Together with NGO ‘Bjelava’ Foča, we’ve sent a request to the Minister of Energy and Mining to review the legality and void the decision on the approval of geological research, due to the occurrence of lawfully justified reasons. Then the Republic Water Inspector, during the special inspection from July 14 2020, officialy ordered the investor to suspend all further activities on the site. However, we witnessed that this did not prevent the investor from continuing with his harmful plan.”
The investor gave himself the recommendation for a construction permit
Dragana Drakul from community association “Bjelava”, which was created in order to fight against the destruction of their rivers, points out that the local population is against the construction of hydropower plants. However, she emphasises that the local authorities remained silent at the request of the citizens of Foča and surrounding communities.
“Up to now, we have collected over 3,000 signatures of the citizens of Foča and surrounding places who oppose the construction and destruction of our rivers. Also, there is a problem of endangering the water supply of the inhabitants, which was confirmed by the company “Izvor” Foča in its opinion in 2016, which is in charge of the water supply system. We generally have a big problem with communication with Major Radisav Mašić, considering that we have tried countless times so far to organise meetings that never took place, nor did anyone answer our questions. However, the scarier part is the fact that, after the last inspection when the Republic Water Inspector ordered the suspension of works, the investor, as we find out, decided to give up the construction of the third hydropower plant on Velika Bjelava, so to use water from this river for two hydropower plants for which he has a concession.”
The traced route of the pipeline along the river Velika Bjelava is currently located 50 meters from the source of drinkable water Lučka vrela. Speaking about the attitude of the municipal authorities towards this problem, Dragana Drakul emphasises that the municipality has appointed a commission that should determine the factual situation.
“We see Gordan Pavlović entering the Municipality every day. As we do not have an invitation to participate in the work of the commission, we are afraid that his name will be included instead of one of the citizens who have been reporting irregularities for months and complaining to the municipal inspectors. Every day we witness an evident combination of small interests of investors opposed to the interests of the entire local community. Not only has all the work done so far been done without any permission, the forest has been cut down, the rivers as well as private property have been destroyed, but if the arbitrariness of investors continues, the supply of drinking water will be jeopardised for the citizens of Foča and surrounding settlements.”
Dragana Drakul’s allegations about the connection between investors and municipal authorities are also confirmed by the documents provided to us by Transparency International, which can be found here. Apparently, one of the members of the municipal commission in charge of determining the factual situation is the investor Gordan Pavlović itself. Indicatively, the investor Gordan Pavlović, together with other members of the municipal commission, stated that the water supply to the inhabitants of Foča has not been endangered so far, and he gave himself a recommendation for issuing a construction permit. We tried to talk about the threat to the water supply of the citizens of the Foča region with Miomir Bojat, the director of the water supply and sewerage company “Izvor” Foča. In a telephone conversation, Bojat briefly told us that he had no jurisdiction over the problem of building hydropower plants.
Why is the municipality Major silent?
Dušan Bodiroga, a municipal councilor from the opposition SDS, points out that three months ago they asked for a special session related to this topic at the Municipal Assembly, which was rejected each time due to lack of quorum.
“We asked for an session at the Assembly, which was three months ago, where we would discuss the construction of these SHPPs. However, the Assembly never accepted our proposal because we did not have the support of the rest of the councilors. However, as the “Bjelava” association collected 3,000 signatures at the last course, they proposed that topic for the next session, which will be held after the break in September.”
Bodiroga points out that the revenues from the built hydroelectric power plants on the territory of the municipality of Foca amount to 80,000 BAM. This data is indicates that the construction of SHPPs is harmful for the municipality.
“Only some individuals benefit from this. I think that only one man is employed at these hydropower plants so far. So we have no benefit, but a lot of damage. The Minister of Energy also came here and said that the municipality doesn’t have a say on this topic, considering that it is a project of strategic importance for the Republika Srpska. However, according to the law on concessions, in order to build a small hydroelectric power plant, it is necessary for the municipality to issue a positive opinion. The Major gave a positive opinion a few years ago, even though the source of the Bjelava River supplies our main water supply system.”
In addition to the fact that the investor started the works without a construction and urban permit issued by the municipality, Bodiroga also raises the issue of deforestation.
“The Major says that they’re conducting geological research on the site. Geological surveys have minimal impact on the environment, and we have scenes of river flow at several locations completely altered. The investor had cut down tonnes of forest. What’s going on with that? I cannot claim that the investor has an influence on the government. I can only speculate, but it is evident that no one from the SNSD councilors in the Municipal Assembly has ever come out to say anything related to this problem.”
Local Forestry Unit “Maglić” under inspection
Spomenko Stojanović, director of the Local Forestry Unit “Maglić” and a member of the RS National Assembly in the “Demos” party, points out that they had inspected and stopped the investor in further works until he acquired consent from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management.
“We inspected, but that company received a concession from the Ministry of Energy and Mining and they forwarded us a study prepared by the company “Šuma Plan”, registered and authorised to assess the forest and forest land that can be cleared. The investor was stopped until the responsible ministry obtained approval for the clearing. According to the study, it is estimated that there are 582 cubic meters of forest. They worked out these parameters in consultation with private owners who have more land than there is government owned land. And as for the quality of the forest, it is very low and can mostly be used for firewood. And the investor wants to pay for that.”
However, Stojanović’s allegations about investors’ inspection are denied by the findings of the ad-hoc inspection of the Republic Forestry Inspector after the urging of the Centre for Environment.
Odgovor inspekcije Centru za životnu sredinu. (Inspection response to the Centre for Environment)
In the finding of the inspection that controlled the Local Forestry Unit “Maglić” it is clearly indicated that within this unit there is no documentation related to illegal works on the site of construction of SHPPs. The inspection determined that the investor “Srbinjeputevi” illegally cut down trees that did not have forest markings in the 2.5-kilometre zone, and that the investor transported the arbitrarily cut trees in an unknown direction.
Due to these omissions, the director of the Local Unit “Maglić”, Spomenko Stojanović, was ordered to submit information why he did not react to the illegal works, why he did not respond to the letters and urgencies of the acting director of RS Forestry Management, to determine the exact amount of illegally cut trees, as well as to initiate disciplinary liability procedure for the omissions.
Nalog inspekcije za dostavljanje informacija (Inspection order for submission of information)
Izvještaj o obavljenoj vannrednoj kotnroli (Ad-hoc inspection report)
Private property usurped and private forest cleared
In addition to government forest, the investor also cleared a private forest without any permission. And the way in which the investor established communication with private owners is best illustrated by the example of Suljo Hasanbegović, whose family property was usurped. Namely, not only was the private forest cut down, the investor started the construction of a machine buildings on his land.
“I am not the only one whose property has been usurped. The investor entered my property without any right, cut down my trees, scattered the riverbed, diverted it as he saw fit, and a few days ago he started to build a building where there will probably be a turbine on my land. It is not clear to me how it is possible for someone to enter your property and do what they want without anyone ever contacting me.”
According to Hasanbegović, the reports he sent to the municipality, as well as to the responsible inspectors, have no effect. He emphasises that he also addressed the responsible Prosecutor’s Office.
“It is clear to me that there are no laws and rights here, but this really does not make sense. I went to the municipality and the inspection, but it had no effect. They say no one can do anything to him. A few days ago, I put up a sign “No passage, private property!”, and they came and broke it. Every country has a mafia but here the mafia has a country. I addressed the Republic Prosecutor’s Office and sent them proof of ownership, pictures of damage on the property and other documents. I will now file a private lawsuit to compensate for the damage and return it to its original condition. What will become of it? With this government, probably nothing.”
Radoslav Mašić, the Major of Foča, on behalf of the SNSD, refused to give us a statement on the topic of building small hydropower plants by the investor “Srbinjeputevi”.
Strategic interes for Republika Srpska: Gordan Pavlović
According to the media, in addition to the company “Srbinjeputevi” Foča, Gordan Pavlović owns several other companies “Pavgord”, “Tehnokom”, the former footwear factory Foleda, part of the plant of the former wood industry giant “Maglić”, as well as other companies.
In 2016, the Centre for Investigative Journalism wrote about the creation of a business empire, which is currently estimated at tens of millions of BAM. According to the text, during the war in BiH, Gordan Pavlović was engaged in the transport and trade of real estate of failed companies that he bought in bankruptcy proceedings.
In that period, in Foča alone, Pavlović owned a construction and trading company, a coal mine, a hotel, residential and business premises, the area of which at that time was 720,000 m2 or approximately 100 football fields.
The former state-owned company “Srbinjeputevi” was bought in 2012, and in the same year won two bids for road maintenance worth 4.2 million BAM.
“Srbinjeputevi” is doing great today, thanks to the jobs that this company received from the institutions headed by SNSD staff. According to the official data of the Public Procurement Agency, from 2016 until today, “Srbinjeputevi” has signed 126 bid contracts worth over 20 million KM.
According to media reports, due to embezzlement during the privatisation in 2014, the RS Ministry of the Interior filed a report with the Prosecutor’s Office in Trebinje. At that time, Pavlović was charged with damaging this company together with four other people by abuses for 1.5 million BAM.
Pavlović was also involved in the investigation of the Prosecutor’s Office of BiH against 17 people due to abuse of official position in the former “Balkan Investment Bank” Banja Luka. After opening bankruptcy in “Birač” in April 2013 with the consent of the RS Government, Pavlović took over all claims in the Zvornik factory from the Lithuanian “Ukio Banko” investment group for 6.4 million EUR. In that way, he became the owner of 85.6 million convertible marks of receivables from the “Birač” factory, which, according to the account of the Lithuanians, is the debt of this factory to the bank.
Thus, all rights from mortgages to pledges in the register of pledges of the property of “Alumina”, “Mehanika” and “Alusila”, which was a guarantee for Ukio Bank’s claims, were transferred to Pavlović’s company “Pavgord”.
Gordan Pavlović was convicted in his youth for forging serial numbers on motor vehicle plates, and the investigations that were conducted on several occasions against SNSD member and friend of the president of this party, Milorad Dodik, did not receive a court epilogue.
Criminal charges pending
Redžib Skomorac from the Centre for Environment points out that this organisation has filed a criminal charge against the company “Srbinjeputevi” Foča for committing the criminal offense against the environment, as well as other criminal offenses.
“CZZS filed a criminal charge to the Republic Prosecutor’s Office for the purpose of committing a criminal offense against the environment, which was forwarded to the District Public Prosecutor’s Office in Trebinje. Due to new findings and evidence indicating the commission of other criminal offenses, namely forgery of documents, theft in connection with severe theft (of forest), and devastation of forests, CZZS filed a new criminal charge against investors to the Special Department for Combating corruption, organised and the most serious forms of economic crime at the Republic Prosecutor’s Office. However, for now, we do not have confirmed information from the prosecuting authorities that an investigation has been initiated against the reported subject and the responsible person in the subject.”
Up to the publication of this text, we did not receive an answer from the District Public Prosecutor’s Office in Trebinje to the question of whether an investigation will be initiated against “Srbinjeputevi”.
[mr1] Also, the investor “Srbinjeputevi” Foča did not respond to our request for an interview with a representative of this company.
So far, 109 small hydropower plants have been built in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which have irreversibly destroyed the environment and left deep consequences on local communities.
The construction of SHPPs “Mala Bjelava” and “Bjelava” so far clearly demonstrates the established practice of building these facilities in our country. There are countless examples of absolute arbitrariness of investors, connections and interests of concessionaires and politics, systemic corruption as well as pressures on the local population. Unfortunately, there will be more of them in this political environment in the future.
This article is part of a series of articles created in cooperation with the Centre for Environment and journalist Predrag Blagovčanin and is part of the campaign “Save the Blue Heart of Europe”.