The US Embassy issued several statements with regard to the highly corrupt highway contract with US firm Bechtel. The deal is receiving serious criticism in Macedonia, for its price tag (1.3 billion EUR before any land is purchased), for its no-bid character and for the additional demands by Bechtel that Macedonia must rewrite a number of laws, including the labour code in order to expand the work week from 40 to 60 hours.
In a statement for the state ran MIA news agency, the US Embassy said that it fully supports investments that benefit the people of Macedonia. The Embassy also adds that it has no place at the negotiating table, since this is not a project of the US Government. However, several US State Department Employees are now Executives at Bechtel, including Brian Hoyt who was instrumental in the change of Macedonia’s name.
MIA quotes the Embassy as saying that, if there are questions about inappropriate actions during this or other Government procurement contracts, they should be investigated, before pointing out that Bechtel-Enka has implemented a number of large projects in the Balkans, forgetting to mention that every single one of them was marred by a corruption scandal.
Journalist Goran Momirovski, who has a show on Alfa TV, and was outspoken in his criticism of the project, also had a statement from the Embassy, in which it noted that Bechtel is not an entity of the US Government and the highway contract was not negotiated by the Government. The Embassy notes that, while promoting economic development and commerical partnership between the two countries remains one of its primary goals, it was not included in determining the outcome of private investments. Sometimes it’s role is in “advisory capacity” for US companies who want to expand here, Embassy officials told Momirovski, but the Embassy does not dictate terms or participate in the negotiations.
Meanwhile, under strong public pressure, Zaev appointed PM Dimitar Kovacevski said that he will show the contract that his chief deputy Artan Grubi negotiated with Bechtel, to members of Parliament who have a security clearance. Initially the Government tried to keep the contract a secret. Nine members of Parliament from the opposition VMRO-DPMNE party have such clearance – the party says that it already has the contract, provided by whistleblowers, and is revealing the damning clauses that Grubi signed with Bechtel. These include wide allowance for exploitation of minerals along the route, long work weeks, exemption from paying taxes on fuel and the use of foreign arbitration in case of dispute. VMRO especially pointed out to the fact that Bechtel wants Macedonia to allow owners of illegally built homes to seek damages if the property is expropriated during the construction. Given that much of the highway route goes through municipalities dominated by Grubi’s DUI party, this raised suspicions that their local bosses have already purchased the land that will be expropriated, and are quickly building improvised homes that will have to be paid full price.
And… of course, no one is going to jail for this insanity.