Residents get goop for massively expensive water-cleaning project

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Residents of a town in southern Hungary are furious after a major makeover initially meant to upgrade the local water supply system went very wrong. Mayors in the region have apparently surrendered to the idea of paying for various repairs rather than rejecting the project altogether, which would entail the reimbursement of the substantial funding that came from the European Union. Nonetheless, locals report that the water now coming from the taps isn’t even suitable for washing.

 

Back in 2012, the Aquaprofit Zrt – EuroAszfalt Kft consortium was picked as the winner of a tender to perform a HUF 6 billion project in and around southern Hungary’s Baja, to upgrade the area’s water supply system. Most of the budget came from European Union funding.

The current scandalous state developed over several years, although there were many troubling signs along the way.

In 2015, an inspection of the proceedings found that not only was the investment way behind schedule, the quality of the work performed was abysmal, or nonexistent. The reports filed show that ditches, dirt piles, metal waste could be found scattered at various locations, where no workers were to be found and accordingly, where no work was being one.

Anecdotes about the project describe completely absurd situations. Reports say that there were small crews that hardly spoke the language that approached locals asking to borrow tools. At other locations, painters were tasked with fixing piping. At other sites, the workers dug up holes, then disappeared for months.

As our sources explained, the poor quality is not particularly surprising given that Aquaprofit has a shady past, so reputable contractors avoid it.

The company has been involved in other similar projects in the past. The common theme in some  of them, is that its contractors often felt cheated. The practice entailed withholding payments claiming the contractors are responsible for various quality issues. Some projects didn’t formally end for years because there were firms in the chain that sued, but since these stories originate in the post-crisis years when the construction industry was starving for work others accepted the reduced amount of money they could get and moved on. This meant 60%-70% of what they were originally contracted for.

The poor labor quality the company could rally for the Baja venture is showing in the results. The water in the system doesn’t pass safety inspections. There are areas where system usage dropped 40%, since the locals decided to go back to using the wells they dug in the ground earlier.

Matters are worst in Baja, where residents in some districts are going to friends and realties to take baths since the water they get out of the tap is highly polluted. Residents started a drive to compel the municipality to solve the matter and ensure that they don’t have to pay for the “goop” that comes into their sink.

A member of the local water improvement council formed by the area’s municipal governments refused to accept the job as complete at the official closing evaluation of the project. Through involving the state asset management agency he was fired, opening the way for appointing a leader more lenient towards the majority opinion.

The local townships are of course fully aware of the multitude of problems surrounding the venture. However, if they couldn’t formally close the investment by the originally set deadline they would have to reimburse almost the entirety of the budget to the European Union. As it stands, repairing the damages caused by the overhaul will still cost a fortune, but at this point, this seems the better of two bad outcomes.

Original article in Hungarian

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