By Ia Asatiani
The cost of damages done by Chinese company Sinohydro to the Georgian environment totals 2.8 million lari ($US 909,091). Since 2013, the company has been fined only 49,000 lari ($US16,172) and none of the two dozen criminal investigations against the company have been announced as completed. The Georgian government continues to sign multi-million dollar contracts with Sinohydro.
Sinohydro has been accused of corruption worldwide. Transparency International Malaysia’s office has labeled it as a monument of corruption. Both the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank have blacklisted Sinohydro for corruption and improper work. In Kyrgyzstan, the company was fined $US2.2 million for poor quality construction. Company tenders were suspended in Armenia and Botswana . Because of a dam built by the company in Guinea, up to 1,500 chimpanzees could be killed.
Despite all this, Sinohydro has a reputation in Georgia as a major construction company carrying out projects to international standards, including the Samtredia-Grigoleti highway, Rikoti road, Kobuleti bypass road, and the Zemo Osiauri-Chumatelti road.
Sinohydro’s 350 million lari ($US115.5 million) work on the Kobuleti bypass road, completed just two year’s ago, is now cracked and broken in some places. The height of tunnels beneath the Samtredia-Grigoleti road is only two meters, and farm tractors cannot pass through them. Pedestrian lanes on the same road are often flooded. Houses and yards near the road also suffer floods, which ruin crops. physically fit in them in order to pass through. On the same road those parts constructed for pedestrians fill up with water. The company has missed the final deadline for construction by more than two years. We have written about it before.
Maya Tskitishvili, the Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure, named the Samtredia-Grigoleti one of the most problematic projects. But in early 2020 Sinohydro won the tender for another project, construction of the Zemo Osiauri road.
There are 24 criminal cases launched against Sinohydro for causing land degradation or for illegal extraction of valuable minerals. The Prosecutor’s Office and the State Sub-Agency Department of Environmental Supervision failed to inform iFact.ge how many cases are still under investigation.
Sinohydro has received 90 administrative fines totaling 49,000 lari ($US16,170) for river pollution, violation of license conditions, and polluting the environment with construction waste. But the damage Sinohydro has done to the environment is an estimated 2.8 million lari.
Every time the Georgian government fines the company, Sinohydro asks to be pardoned, and gets second chances. The pattern has continued for years as the government monitors projects and finds the same errors.
While constructing the Kobuleti bypass road from 2013-2018, Sinohydro received numerous fines for illegal extraction of valuable minerals, river pollution, and violation of rules for restoring land cultivation. In company explanations, it promised the government it would solve the problems. But inspections found nothing was changing.
The damage done by Sinohydro to the environment is not invisible, and often endangers people.
During construction of the Kobuleti bypass road, irrigation canals and a bridge were damaged in the village of Chakvi. Local roads were ruined, vegetable gardens were flooded, and some harvests were destroyed. In the village of Kvirike, oil spilled into the river while Sinohydro was digging. According to local residents, livestock used the river for drinking, and they asked Sinohydro to clean it up. The river was never cleaned. Heavy-duty vehicles damaged local roads. Demands for repairs also were ignored.
Residents of Kintrishi gorge were unable to reach their goal of fixing damage done to the environment during construction of the Kobuleti bypass road. Sinohydro was mining sand and gravel deeper than the five meters permitted by Georgian law, posing a risk of contaminating drinking water.
Residents also blame the company for river pollution and destroying the landscape. They held numerous protest rallies and sometimes they blocked the road. A Georgian in charge of a subcontractor was fired, but violations continued. Sinohydro has been fined 35 times for construction work on the Kobuleti bypass road since 2013. A criminal investigation was also launched, but nobody has been punished.
During construction of the Rustavi-Tbilisi highway in 2014, Sinohydro cut 841 trees without permission. Nobody was punished after a criminal investigation. Damage was calculated at 420,000 lari ($US127,000) , and Sinohydro was obliged to plant 5,500 trees at other locations. According to the Department of Environmental Supervision, Sinohydro planted the trees, but the State Sub-Agency is unaware where the trees were planted and whether the saplings survived or not.
One year later, Sinohydro cut trees again while constructing the Tbilisi-Rustavi highway. Once again, the company was obliged to plant some new trees.
These violations by Sinohydro did not fall into the category of criminal law, so fine were a maximum of 2,000 lari ($US660). According to Davit Chipashvili, Program Manager at NPO Green Alternative, those small fines are ineffective.
Neli Korkotadze, a deputy head in the Department of Environmental Supervision, says existing laws do not properly penalize companies, and that any fines collected are not necessarily used to repair damages caused by the companies.
A new bill being debated would force companies to fully rehabilitate any land or water it damages. Current legislation does not restrict companies that have already damaged the environment from participating in future tenders. Fines or previous criminal cases are not considered a barrier for a company if it turns in the low bid on a tender.
Despite numerous iFact.ge attempts, Sinohydro representatives refused to discuss these topics.