Land-owners are in the way

THE CABINET'S latest attempt to remove the road blocks in the way of a cross-country motorway has been submitted to an interdepartmental review.
The Transportation Ministry has submitted a draft on one-time special measures for expropriating the land needed to complete the unfinished road sections for the motorway linking the eastern and western parts of the country.

THE CABINET'S latest attempt to remove the road blocks in the way of a cross-country motorway has been submitted to an interdepartmental review.

The Transportation Ministry has submitted a draft on one-time special measures for expropriating the land needed to complete the unfinished road sections for the motorway linking the eastern and western parts of the country.

This is the third legislative attempt to simplify and speed up the expropriation of the land that the motorway is slated to cross.

According to the new draft submitted on August 30, the state would not need to have all the ownership rights settled in order to receive a construction license from the transportation authority. The state would only need to have all these rights settled by the time the construction is wrapped up and the final review takes place, "so that a billion investments are not stuck because of bargaining about the expropriation price," an official report by the Transportation Ministry said.

The law assumes that the Construction Ministry would select a local construction authority to make decisions about a given motorway section.

The ministry said that the legislation will only pertain to the owners of the land that is needed to complete of specific motorway sections: the D1 sections from Hričovské Podhradie to Ivachnová, Jánovce to Jablonov, and Fričovce to Svinia; the R1 from Nitra West to Hronský Beňadik; the I/18 from Žilina to the southeast bypass, and Strečno to Dubná Skala; and the I/68 from Prešov West to Prešov South.

Without special measures it will be impossible to complete the basic network of motorways and speedways, the Transportation Ministry said in its official documents. So far, 16.9 kilometres of motorways have been built each year on average, and the ministry said that unless the state moves more quickly, the motorway will not be completed by 2010.

The draft was tailored to speed up the administrative processes so that all the contracts with the suppliers are signed and construction work can start by March 1, 2008, the ministry said in its official report.

Critics of the legislation, however, are concerned that the draft violates citizens' constitutional right to property.

"The draft does not guarantee the involved land-owners the right for an effective correction tool and right for protection in court or other legal protection," lawyer Ernest Valko told The Slovak Spectator.

"Because the law makes it possible to issue a construction permit even for land that, at the time of issuing, is still legally owned by the original land-owners, it could happen that when the expropriation process is finished and an eventual court trial follows, lasting changes have already been made to the land, and the final decision of the construction authority or the court will not guarantee the execution of ownership rights of the owner."

The draft creates inequality between land-owner groups: those whose land is intended for highway or road construction specified in the draft, and those who own other land, added Valko.

However, the ministry in its official report argues that other countries, such as Croatia and the Czech Republic, were also forced to reach for special legislative arrangements in order to complete their highways much faster. When it comes to highway construction, making administrative preparations and arranging ownership rights can time-consuming and complicated when regular methods are used, which makes the construction more expensive, the ministry added.

But lawyer Eva Kovačechová said that's not a good enough reason for the law.

"The draft is a big mistake," said Kovačechová, a lawyer with Via Iuris - Center for Public Advocacy. "It considerably interferes with rights guaranteed by the constitution and international agreements, and it violates civil rights."

Though the law pertains only to specific highway sections, it still might create a dangerous precedent for the future, Kovačechová said.

"If the legislation is at odds with the constitution, the fact that it concerns only a couple kilometres of a specific highway does not reduce its negative impact," she added.

The Conservative Institute, the Initiative for Just Expropriation, the Civil Conservative Party and the Institute of Economic and Social Analysis also object to the law.

"The draft law dramatically reduces the rights of owners for the protection of their property," said the Conservative Institute in its public statement. "It shortens the terms for submitting comments or objections, cancels the option of verbal objections, and cancels the rule that only a local construction authority can make a decision about a local highway."

Earlier this year, the parliament passed a law submitted by the Transportation Ministry to speed up highway construction. However, sections pertaining to land expropriation were left out due to disputes that the deputies were unable to solve.

The second attempt was short-lived, as the Construction Ministry withdrew its draft on the preparation of strategic constructions shortly after submitting it.

In July, Fico said the highway linking Slovakia's east and west could be completed by 2010 if the government makes highway construction its priority and releases more funds from state coffers. That is three years earlier than the deadline of 2013 first set by the Transportation Ministry at the beginning of the election term.

Fico said a draft bill to give the ministry the power to supervise work on all the sections of highways and install a special regime for highway construction could be ready by early 2009.

Problems with buying out the land led to massive delays in the construction of the Kia car plant in Žilina, and the problems have still not been fully resolved after four years. The dispute concerns the additional payments of up to Sk350 (€10.30) per square metre that more than 370 people from the villages of Teplička nad Váhom, Mojš and Nededza were supposed to receive for land they sold in order for the Kia plant and the road leading there to be built.

The land-owners concerned were the first to agree to sell their land. However, when other land owners held out for a higher price and got it, the owners who had already sold demanded to be paid the difference.

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