“2011. The European Union. And you call this an ecological deposit? I’m fuming!” roars the prefect of Bacau (n.r. an important municipality in north-east Romania), Constantin Scripat. He’s joining us on a site visit at what should be the county’s ecological deposit. On a perfect fall day, probably one of the last sunny days of this “ete indien”, the prefect, a tall hefty man, wearing a light blue shirt and suit trousers, neglectfully steps on litter, scanning the surroundings of the deposit. He’s visibly discontented with the situation. Some 20 million euros have been spent in Bacau, through an ISPA program, partially co-financed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, to create an efficient waste management system in the county residence and 22 adjoining villages.
The deposit’s ecological cell is ready, but the facility still lacks a levigate cleaning unit and the sorting unit (which one anonymous source close to the situation labels as “a piece of crap”) is not functional at the time being. Authorities have failed to organize an auction and select a manager. “This is a farce of a deposit. It’s an ordinary dump”, the prefect voices in exasperation. His dissatisfaction roots in the constant delay in organizing the auctions to select the future deposit administrator and the waste collector. “The auction will be held by yearend”, pledges Leonard Padureanu, the city manager and ISPA project coordinator. Among so many unknowns, the only constant is the 600 tons of garbage daily swallowed by the current deposit and the money dumped in the accounts of the “wise guys” in charge of technical assistance and project execution.
- ALSO READ THE FIRST PART OF THE INVESTIGATION: Eastern Promises: Who are the scavengers and how they learned to stop worrying and dump the waste
A tempting project for Mesogeos
One of the companies highly interested in the construction works at the Bacau deposit was the Greek-based firm Mesogeos SA, the one responsible for the delay in Galati. Its signing up for the auction puzzled local authorities in Bacau, who were familiar with what they called “the disaster” in Galati. Leonard Padureanu says that the Greeks submitted an auction participation file soliciting some technical details that made it crystal clear to the committee: the company’s representatives had no idea of what the project’s implementation meant. Their amateurish reputation also made it to the central bureau of the ISPA management authority in Bucharest, according to Padureanu.
To cut the long story short, in December 2008 a consortium including Bilfinger, Iridex and Hidroconstructia won the auction in Bacau. Iridex and Hidroconstructia have also been a part of the ISPA projects on waste management in Arges and Valcea counties. At the beginning of the fall, Iridex – a company controlled by former Conservative senator Corneliu Pascu – won another contract in Bacau worth one million euro, to supply the bins and containers needed to set up the selective collection system.
In the meantime, until a company is selected to manage the ecological deposit, the municipality – which is the formal administrator – has just passed through the local council a decision to increase the price on each ton of garbage deposited from 3.7 lei to 24 lei, though nothing would justify such a raise at the time being. Facing a wave of dissatisfaction from inside the county, the prefect fought the decision. The official reason for the price increase stems from the higher costs associated with the deposit’s management, though it is unclear why costs are higher as the related facilities are not functional yet.
The consultancy rattle
With local authorities trapped inside the maze, the rattle of consultancy companies involved in the project works just fine. ISPA consultancy was granted to a consortium made of Fichtner, Ramboll and Interdevelopment, the last company being the link of blurry interests omnipresent in most Romanian environment projects. “It’s the hardest hive to destroy”, a former official who had worked in ISPA project management in Bucharest says, referring to the invisible web of private interests built around the Ministry of Environment.
Interdevelopment, a company which owns 49% of the Bucharest-based Fichtner branch, is controlled by Mircea Cozariuc and Dan Radu Paunescu, two former employees of the Ministry of Environment who have turned to the more lucrative field of consultancy in the past decade. Once close to the Liberal Party and awarded by former president Emil Constantinescu with a national medal for “outstanding results in coordinating and implementing environment protection programs”, Cozariuc fulfilled his career with the help of some copious consultancy contracts on public projects. Apparently, Mircea Cozariuc also managed to open the door for a friend-company contracted in Bacau to provide assistance in the upcoming auction to select the deposit manager and waste collector.
Registered as Resourcing Environmental Consulting, the “friend” is part of a consortium (along with IGIP and ICP) and a single-employee single-shareholder business. The owner Anca Tofan works as an engineer with both Interdevelopment and Fichtner. Tofan, who also runs the Regional Center for Environment Protection, is an associate of Dan Radu Paunescu in a consultancy business, according to data from the Trade Registry. What is surprising is that Resourcing Environmental Consulting – according to the Ministry of Finance – posted last year an 806,110 lei profit. Nevertheless, its top performance so far was registered in 2006, when the company made a 1,444,670 lei profit, with only one employee on board.
Moreover, before providing consultancy to the Bacau ISPA project, Anca Tofan worked as a financial expert within the consortium which was in charge of technical assistance in supervising the ISPA project on solid waste treatment in Bacau. An internal document of the Quality and Control Department of the Central Finance and Contracts Unit Phare, dated May 2007, reads that Tofan “lacks 10 years of experience in budgetary execution, cost control and tariff structure for public utilities, as required in the Reference Terms”. However, her position inside the project was Okayed based on her “vast, extended and continuous experience” in European funded projects.
A move meant to intimidate
SOMA, the company which now collects and transports the municipal waste in the city of Bacau, is controlled by Liberal Constantin Sosu, once a close friend of mayor Romeo Stavarache. Recently, he pulled back from the party’s frontline. The company’s contract with the municipality expired last year and was prolonged until a new waste collector would be picked through the auction that had been delayed until now. SOMA director, Doru Narcis, is more than sure the company will take part in the respective bid and, though he refrains from saying it directly, one can feel he is very confident over wining the contract further on. The company’s main advantage resides in the expanded control over the waste infrastructure in the city. The municipality’s Public Services Department pays a monthly rent to SOMA for the 7,500 eurobins (5 lei each) and 2,600 eurocontainers (37.3 lei each) installed in the city. Added up, these cost the local budget some 130,000 lei per month.
But the uncertainty hovering over Bacau’s future waste collector has been fueled, in the past months, by the temporary emergence of a company established by the mayor’s office through a decision of the local council. The story behind it is that the municipality tried, according to people familiar to the situation, to unplug SOMA from the public budget. The Public Services Department, headed by the 50-year old blonde and overconfident Viorica Marcu, was one step away from turning into a company controlled by the mayor of Bacau. It’s designated name was Novabac. Marcu says the move was needed to “externalize services”, which is a rather ambiguous explanation as other municipality officials seem to have abandoned the plan. However, Doru Narcis from SOMA tells a different story. He believes authorities tried to set up a company that could take part in the upcoming auction, but realized it stood no real chance of actually winning the bid, as it failed to reach the basic requirements of having a certain kind of experience on the market.
A different understanding of the law
As for the municipal waste in Bacau, Marcu brags the municipality succeeded in reaching the 15% reduction target in garbage depositing; therefore it could save up the money it would have, otherwise, paid to the Environment Fund. Assuming a personal understanding of the law – “it depends on each person how he/she reads and interprets the law” – Marcu underlines that the county reached the target, which she considers too restrictive, especially since “people are not educated enough to select the waste”. However, local attempts to do some selective collection, which seemed to have worked especially in rural areas, are totally compromised now by the lack of proper equipment. And at the end of the day, outside the city of Bacau all other attempts are discarded since all the waste is dumped.
“We are terrified by the perspective of the cost increase at the deposit once a manager is picked”, Leonard Padureanu says worryingly, as a token that the major setback of changing the waste paradigm is the lack of properly implementing a functional selective collection system. And even if the consultancy and technical assistance contracts should have configured a system that puts on the first place the separate collection and waste recovery and recycling procedures, the ISPA projects carried out with European funds seem to be, at deadline, merely startups.
- This article was developed with the support of the Soros Foundation in Romania, as part of the program Investigative Journalism. The content of this article does not represent the foundation’s official stance.