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Highway toll tender stalls

THE NATIONAL Highway Company has already put the brakes on the largest tender announced so far during the administration of Prime Minister Robert Fico. The tender to build and operate Slovakia's first electronic highway toll system was cancelled just about a month after it was announced.

THE NATIONAL Highway Company has already put the brakes on the largest tender announced so far during the administration of Prime Minister Robert Fico. The tender to build and operate Slovakia's first electronic highway toll system was cancelled just about a month after it was announced.

The highway authority said the project, worth Sk20 billion (€593.8 million) without VAT, had to be terminated due to circumstances that called into question the "transparency and the non-discriminatory nature of the process".

The highway toll tender has attracted immense attention. More than 50 companies expressed interest. The National Highway Company (NDS) had originally anticipated a maximum of 22 companies bidding and the original tender conditions were drafted in line with these expectations, according to the SITA newswire.

In fact, the highway company said the high number of applicants was the reason for terminating the tender.

"The only reason was the number of companies that could have advanced to the second round, which in fact was limited to five companies," Marcel Jánošík of the highway authority told The Slovak Spectator. "Our analyses have shown that it is necessary to widen the number, and the only way to do so was cancelling the tender and subsequently announcing a new one."

The terms of the new tender are expected to be announced during the last week of August and the notice reprinted in the EU official bulletin on August 28.

"The new tender is just a formal issue," Jánošík said. "It is a question of a couple of hours. The only difference will be that the new conditions will extend the number of applicants who can advance to the second round."

The winner of the tender will still sign a 14-year contract to build the system for a 2,435-kilometre road network and operate it for 13 years. The company or consortium will have the option of extending the contract for the system, which will collect tolls from vehicles weighing more than 3.5 tonnes, by an additional five years.

The original terms of the tender were published in the EU official bulletin on July 19, and the deadline for requesting a tender package and enrolment in the tender was July 27. The next deadline was to be August 30, the date by which the companies were expected to submit their qualification documents.

The NDS intends to start collecting the toll in January 2009.

Slovak media have been speculating about the reasons behind the termination of the tender.

The transportation information website Idoprava.sk suggested it was caused by a leak of tender documentation, and not transparency concerns.

Some bidders received the tender documentation sooner than others, so the NDS chose to kill the tender over those concerns, Idoprava.sk wrote on August 21.

Tibor Schlosser, director for strategy at the highway authority, rejected the speculations about the leak.

"It is not true," Schlosser told the SITA newswire. "It is nonsense."

The tender documentation has not even been finished, Schlosser said, adding that nobody could gain access to the complete documentation as it is stored in different parts.

Companies that have expressed interested in the tender include Sanef, Siemens, Slovak Telekom, Kapsch Traffic Com, the ToSy consortium and the Italian company Autostrade.

Siemens, which has been declaring its interest in supplying the toll system for two years, said it would rather not comment on the reasons behind the termination.

"Siemens retains its eminent interest in the project of collecting electronic highway tolls in Slovakia," spokesman Tomáš Král told The Slovak Spectator. "If a new tender is announced, first the company will learn about the conditions and then decide about proceeding further."

Sanef is ready to bid in the new tender and "offer Slovakia a solution tailored to its size," Bruno Corthier, director of the company's development department, told The Slovak Spectator. The company also said it appreciated the efforts of the highway company to keep the tender transparent.

Sylvia Košťálová, the spokeswoman of Kapsch Traffic Com, also confirmed to The Slovak Spectator that the company is ready to participate in the new tender.

Currently, Slovakia has a system of highway stickers. Drivers can purchase a one-year pass or passes for shorter time periods. But they pay a flat price regardless of their mileage.

With the new electronic toll system, drivers will only be charged for their actual mileage. The estimated prices for the highway tolls depend on the weight of the vehicle and will range between Sk1.90 and Sk6.23.

However, highway stickers will remain in place for passenger cars until approximately 2013, which is when EU legislation requires Slovakia to install an electronic toll system for all the motor vehicle traffic on the country's paid roads.

Under the cancelled tender, bidding companies were required have a shareholders' equity of least at Sk800 million (€23.7 million), with an annual turnover of at least at Sk3 billion (€89 million) and current liquidity of at least Sk1.1 billion (€32.6 million). The companies also had to make a deposit of at least Sk10 million (€297,000) to guarantee their bids.

With files from Marta Ďurianová

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