30 October 2017, Tirana Albania
Lawsuit over Hydropower in Valbona Valley National Park
12th Hearing Continues Judicial Arguments
High Number of Local Plaintiffs Attend and Speak Out
13th Hearing to be held 1 November, 15:00
The twelfth hearing in “27 inhabitants and NGO TOKA vs. Albanian Ministries” took place on 27 October at 10:00 am in the Tirana Administrative Court of First Instance.
The hearing consisted mainly of the plaintiff’s lawyers responding to a list of 16 questions posed by the Gener-2 lawyer at the previous hearing. Somewhat oddly, the developer’s lawyer began by questioning once again against the locals’ Aarhus rights and the legitimacy of TOKA, despite the fact that the court ruled in favor of plaintiffs’ rights at the 4th hearing held on 2 June. Their argument seems to consist mainly in the idea that the government represents the people, and therefore whatever they decide to do de facto is in the best interest of people so the people shouldn’t complain. There was a curious point when the Gener-2 lawyer asked “Does the government have to tell TOKA (and people) everything they do?” to which it seems the right to information would necessitate an answer: “Yes. When what they are doing affects the people.” There was then some increasingly heated back and forth between plaintiff and defense attorneys regarding the terms of the protected areas law, plaintiffs’ lawyers insisting on the clear legal guidelines of forbidden activities inside a National Park in effect at the time, and the developer’s lawyers responding that as permission had been given, clearly these WERE permitted activities . . . no matter what the law says. When asked point blank if they were using explosives, the developer’s lawyer said “The tunnels are being opened with machines, and no explosives are used.”
Since in fact Valbona and particularly Dragobia have been rocked by explosions day and night since April 2017, this perhaps not surprisingly led to one outraged local asking permission to address the court. Mr. Shkelzen Metaliaj approached the microphone and began a thundering and emotional denouncement: “I have sat here for one and a half hours and have never heard so many lies in my life!” He proceeded to deliver a moving description of what life has been like in the valley, with glasses shaking on tables, no one able to sleep for more than a few hours per night, with rocks falling on cars and cement trucks nearly running down school children. While not strictly in line with the plaintiffs’ chosen legal strategy – ie, attacking the legality of the concession contract – the appeal for justice nonetheless provided a heartfelt and useful dose of reality to the proceedings.
It is also interesting to note that it was confirmed by the KKT lawyer that although KKT has convened, the construction permit of Dragobia Energy has still not been renewed.
Many observers find it odd that despite the fact that the lawsuit was lodged against several government ministries, it is the developer’s lawyer who is making most of the arguments, with the KKT and Ministry of Energy lawyers remaining almost entirely silent. The developer Gener-2 and Dragobia Energy ShPK were included at their request, initially as 3rd parties and then asked to be made defendants.
A further encouraging sign is the increasing number of locals and plaintiffs who are attending each hearing. The first judicial hearing (the 11th hearing) on 10 October was attended by 5 local plaintiffs in addition to TOKA president. This second judicial hearing was attended by 8 local plaintiffs and TOKA. The number of local plaintiffs is expected to increase at the 13th hearing, to be held on 1 November at 15:00, with some locals asking if they can now add their names.
Immediately after the hearing, a symbolic demonstration was held outside the offices of IKMT, the Albanian territorial inspectorate responsible for ensuring that any construction work has the correct permits in force, and which should stop any construction found to be proceeding without valid permits. A large poster displaying the laws being contravened was posted at the IKMT entrance, with pictures of the construction in Valbona. The hearing and protest were reported by Voice of America television.
Contact: Catherine Bohne, TOKA
+355 (0)67 30 14 638, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lavdosh Ferruni, Medisi.al
+355 (0)67 46 67 312, Lavdoshferruni@gmail.com