Minister expects regional players to be involved in Koper-Divača track
The minister's comments on Thursday come after 2TDK, the state-run company managing the project, has decided to enter negotiations with ten of the 15 bidders that responded to an international call to tender for the main construction work, including several Chinese and Turkish companies, aside from builders from Slovenia, Italy, Austria and Switzerland.
Appearing at an AmCham business breakfast, Vrtovec announced a stepping-up of activities for the project, known as the second track. He believes the main construction work needs to begin next year, which is in line with 2TDK's plans, and he expects 2TDK to stick to the timetable.
However, he also argued for the need to respect EU guidelines, adopted to manage the risk of social dumping with bidders from third countries. The guidelines have been transposed into Slovenian legislation through a new law designed to kick-start strategic investments.
He said that those guidelines must also be followed in the second track project and that regional construction players needed to be involved to a greater extent so that more money remained in Slovenia. "It is right for those responsible, including 2TDK, to think about how to include the guidelines in the implementation of the project."
Several media have been reporting that the ministry is allegedly trying to have the key tender, valued at an estimated EUR 700 million, annulled, however the ministry has been noting that public contracting procedures in the project are a responsibility of 2TDK.
The project managing company says the project has so far been running in accordance with the plans, while it has also noted its commitment to public contracting principles and legislation and effective spending of public and EU funds.
"The latest legislative changes have not been completed yet as the government is yet to determine the list of projects the law applies to. Nevertheless, we have been examining the law. In the event of a lack of clarity, we will turn to relevant state bodies for assistance with interpretation," said 2TDK referring to the law designed to kick-start key investment projects.
2TDK also said that annulling the ongoing tender procedure would cause additional delays on the project, which has been more than two decades in the making, including at least a year lost to two referendums.
"A delay would seriously jeopardise half a billion euro in planned funds: 250 million euro non-refundable European funds and a loan of up to 250 million euro from the European Investment Bank, putting at risk further financing by a commercial bank," said 2TDK.
Setting off such a financial shortfall could halt the project for several years, while it would also mean "a loss of support among EU institutions, and would substantially boost the logistics sector in the neighbouring rival countries, which have been opposing the project throughout", warned 2TDK.
Inaugurating a new investment at the Koper port, Vrtovec said the second track project could no loner be stopped. "Even if the tender was repeated for one reason or another, this would not mean losing financial funds or anything like that. The project has simply proceeded too far."
He also does not think a repeat of the public call for bids would cause any delays. "2TDK must have those things factored in if there's annulment.
"It's not necessarily that there's annulment for this reason. There may be for other reasons and 2TDK says it has that factored in (...) At any rate I can assure you it will not cause a delay in the construction of the second track."
Already in the morning, Vrtovec noted that the tender could be annulled by the National Review Commission, emphasizing that it was the responsibility of 2TDK to manage the procedures in line with the timetable regardless of the consequences.
In Koper, the minister said the ministry had already acquired legal opinions to transfer 2TDK to the Slovenian railways operator. There are certain risks, the railways company will need to be sat down with, legislation amended and ground legal procedures, only then can the transfer happen, said the minister.
In a recent interview with the STA, Chinese Ambassador to Slovenia Wang Shunqing expressed the hope that the selection procedure for the main contractor for the railway line would be "just and fair", while he aired his concern about the EU guidelines that allow for the exclusion of bidders from third countries from public procurement contracts.