Blockage, Interests, and Accusations of Corruption in the Construction of a New Prison in Chișinău
Seven years after the launch of a new penitentiary construction project instead of the current institution Penitentiary no. 13 in Chișinău, the works have not started yet.
After an attempt to identify a company for the construction of the prison building for two years, the competition failed. The participating companies accuse the project Working Group of incompetence and that the tender was allegedly defrauded.
At the same time, at the beginning of 2021, the project manager resigned, signaling that he received orders to leave office because he had not chosen a certain company, which was eager to start construction.
In the absence of a manager, the Penitentiary Construction Project Implementation Unit (PCPIU) has been for almost four months on hold and the Ministry of Justice ignores the Unit’s requests to intervene in the crisis situation. Meanwhile, preparations are underway for the appointment of a new manager without competition.
Although more than seven years have passed since the start of the construction project of a new prison building instead of Penitentiary No. 13, in Chișinău, the construction works have not started and the project implementation has entered into the blockage.
“We are in Moldova. You’re trying to be a fair person, but in the end, things get corrupt.”
The Project Implementation Unit was established in 2014, as a result of the ratification of a loan agreement between Moldova and the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB). The basic objective of the Unit is the construction of a Penitentiary Center for 1,536 detainees with the pre-trial status instead of the current building of the Penitentiary no.13.
At the beginning of 2021, the project took a step back after the resignation of the project manager Igor Eșanu. Two other employees left after him. Asked by ZdG, Igor Eșanu, the project manager for seven years, claims that he received orders to leave although he indicated in the resignation request that he left on his initiative.
The former manager states that his resignation would be related to his refusal to accept “a company that very, very much wanted to start the construction”. “I do not want to go into details, because we are Moldova. You’re trying to be a fair person, but in the end, things get dirty,” accuses Eșanu.
“The idea is that we had several competitions related to the construction of the new penitentiary and the contractor did not fulfill their obligation to the project requirements however they intended to win. No company could cope. And it was necessary to cancel the tender. After canceling the tender, my resignation followed,” Eșanu reports.
Blockage of the Project Implementation Unit
For almost four months, in the absence of a project manager, the other five employees of the Unit have not received their salaries, the works are stagnant, and the Ministry of Justice is not in a hurry to announce a competition for filling the vacancy.
Thus, after the departure of the manager, the Unit’s Supervisory Committee, to unblock the PCPIU activity, voted to temporarily assign the manager duties to the Unit’s civil engineer, Liviu Duca. In this context, the Committee has repeatedly asked the Ministry to comment on the decision legality, but the institution has ignored the requests.
The Construction Plan Unit employees addressed a letter to the state officials, pointing out that CEB recommended measures and cannot be completed because of the missing manager.
“Analyzing everything the Ministry of Justice had undertaken, we can see that instead of maintaining and consolidating efforts to advance the project by identifying solutions to unblock the crisis created in PCPIU, the Ministry representatives, on the contrary, ignore and deepen the deadlock. […] Furthermore, these blocking conditions formed within the activity of PCPIU may lead to non-compliance with the obligations of the borrower approved in the Framework Loan Agreement between Moldova and CEB”, it is shown in the letter of the PCPIU members.
However, ZdG found that on April 8, the Commission for Exceptional Situations (CES) ordered during the State of Emergency the right for the Ministry of Justice to modify and start both the appointment procedure of the Unit manager in Chișinău, as well as the management of the National Administration of Penitentiaries (NAP) and the prison system.
Fadei Nagacevschi, the Minister of Justice in office, avoided discussing with ZdG about the situation created within the Unit.
Representatives of the Ministry of Justice abstained from voting
The civil engineer of the Unit, Liviu Duca, reported that on April 14, during an operative meeting of the Supervisory Committee of the Unit, officials from the Ministry of Justice, National Administration of Penitentiaries (NAP), and the Ministry of Finance (MoF) decided to assign the manager duties to the civil engineer. However, their decision does not help to move forward the project activity.
“The representatives of the MoJ abstained from voting, as usual, and the decision to empower me was taken by the director of NAP and the MoF, for unblocking. But the issue continues with another obstacle because I cannot sign any financial documents according to the appointment decision,” Liviu Duca reports.
“Blockages and delays in the building process of the penitentiary involve complex aspects of Moldova’s relationship with the CEB”
The negligence of the Ministry of Justice is shown on the background of a notification received on March 10, in which the representatives of CEB state that “the construction project of the Chișinău penitentiary is the most problematic and long-lasting, with coordination deficiencies both nationally and with the CEB”.
Following the discussions of Moldova’s Permanent Representative to the CoE with CEB officials, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration (MFAEI) states in a document that “the blockages and delays in the construction of the penitentiary involve complex issues in the relationship of Moldova with the CEB, including pecuniary, but also political in the process of fulfilling of the ECtHR decisions and measures taken to ensure adequate conditions of detention”. At that time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs representatives emphasized that it is necessary to finalize the mechanism and measures for advancing the mentioned project.
Evolution in the last seven years of the new Penitentiary Construction Project
On December 12, 2013, the Parliament of Moldova ratified the loan agreement between Moldova and CEB for the Penitentiary Construction Project. The granted loan was for 20 years, with a grace period of five years, and the project completion deadline was June 30, 2018.
However, the deadlines were not met. A Promo-LEX report drawn on the MoJ’s replies shows that one aspect that led to the delay of the penitentiary design process was the need to revise the terms of reference. This is because the feasibility study on the basis of which the Loan Agreement was signed provides for the construction of a semi-closed penitentiary, while the new penitentiary would have the status of an isolator of the criminal investigation.
2018: Construction of the new penitentiary, with a delay of almost 54 months
Only in November 2016, the MoJ announced the start of the design works for the new prison institution in Bubuieci, a peripheral area of Chișinău. Three companies will jointly develop the construction project. Thus, in February 2017, the Ministry of Justice made public the design drawings of the new penitentiary.
At the end of 2017, CEB extended the closing date of the project by 12 months, until June 30, 2019. In 2018, the Court of Accounts found that the implementation of the project on the construction of the new prison was delayed by about 54 months.
Two years for a failed selection tender for the Penitentiary construction company
MoJ received the project of the full penitentiary, expertized by the State Service, only at the beginning of 2019. During that year the institution held tenders for the purchase of construction services for the new prison building, as well as construction supervision services, but they failed. In March 2019, at the request of the Moldovan authorities, CEB again extended the deadline for closing the project, this time for 42 months, until December 31, 2022.
The last auction for finding a construction company lasted almost two years, and the battle took place between three submitted bids: Rizzani de Eccher 10 S.p.a. (Italy); AS Group Investment LLC (Azerbaijan) and the Moldovan-Austro-Turkish joint venture: Media Security, JV PKE (Austria), UCGEN Proje (Turkey). This time negotiations have failed too because, according to the former project manager, “the offers (submitted by companies) did not meet the requirements” and “no company could cope“.
“The tender has been defrauded for some time”
Media Security, the joint venture representation in Moldova, is a local company operating in the field of security systems, founded and managed by the current honorary consul of the Philippines in Chișinău, Victor Gaina, appointed in 2020.
The company was the one that six years ago installed the equipment for the electronic voting system in the Parliament, a system that is still inoperative. At the same time, over the years, the consul’s company has won dozens of contracts with public institutions, including the National Bank of Moldova, the State Chancellery, the Customs Service, but also the NAP. Media Security is also the company that implemented the project of GPS monitoring of public transport in Chișinău.
Asked by ZdG, Victor Găină states that the last tender for the selection of the construction company was dishonest. The Media Security administrator reports irregularities and accuses the Unit’s workgroup of incompetence.
“After participation, I can say, the situation is very clear, from a certain period, this tender was forecast, fraud and understood. […] In our country, from the very beginning everything was related to two compartments, legality, and professionalism. We stood in their way all this time, both with our price and our criteria. We couldn’t come out victorious, because there was a decision behind it, so someone else had to win. That’s what the investigators are already doing. It was rigged by the local participants, together with other interest groups”, the company administrator reports.
The evolution of the project cost over the years
The value of the Loan Agreement signed between Moldova and CEB in 2013 was 39 million euros. At the same time, the European institution also offered a grant of one million euros. Meanwhile, it was established that the Moldovan Government will contribute 4.5 million euros. Respectively, the final cost of the project was estimated at 44.5 million euros. In 2019, following the delay in the construction of the penitentiary, the cost of the project was increased by almost 25%. Now the total value of the project has reached 56.8 million euros, the loan amount being 49 million euros, and 6.8 million euros represents the contribution of the Government of Moldova.
According to the information provided by PCPIU, so far, about 1.5 million euros have been spent. Thus, more than 600,000 euros were spent on the loan account and another 230,000 euros from the grant account offered by BDCE.
Compensations of 390,000 euros for violating the rights of detainees in Penitentiary no. 13
The new building plan arose because the Penitentiary no. 13 concentrates over 12 thousand detainees annually. The high flow causes the phenomenon of overcrowding, which is contrary to international standards of detention. Consequently, Moldova has been repeatedly convicted by the ECtHR for violating Article 3 (Prevention of Torture, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment). So far, Moldova has lost 30 cases to the ECtHR for violations of Article 3 related only to Penitentiary no. 13, and the state has to pay compensations of more than 390,000 euros.