Express-competition for the opera house: the prize is 50 million euros, accusations of conspiracy

Descriptive Text

The Ministry of Culture was quick to reopen the competition for the Opera and Ballet Theater project, after the failure of the one last month. Even faster, he aims to find the project for the largest capital investment, which has a history of failures of almost two decades. He gave the architects a 40-day deadline, while for the first time he also "revealed" the price he calculated for the construction of the building - 50 million euros. One of the competitors emphatically accuses. According to him, the Ministry of Culture is paving the way for the company that won the competition that was canceled for violations

Less than a month since the public call for the Opera and Ballet Theater failed due to the violations of the Ministry of Culture, this institution has reopened the call for the design of this building. To the call for an ideological and detailed project for greater capital investment in culture that the state aims for, MKRS has this time added an important detail: the sum of 50 million euros. In the call, it is clarified that the designers must calculate to prepare a project for which the state intends to invest this amount. On the other hand, 2.5 million euros have been provided for the project. While the reopening of the tender is good news for the institutions, one of the participants in the previous competition criticized the approach of MKRS.

Previously, last month, the failure of the project selection process for the Opera and Ballet Theater facility was a forewarned chronicle. After more than a year of procedure, due to the legal violations of the Ministry of Culture, this institution had not managed to take the first step for this project, which the state has been aiming for for two decades. Through the decision, the panel of the Public Procurement Review Body canceled the process started in October 2022.

40-day deadline for a 2.5-million project with a cost of 50 million

According to the MKRS public call opened on Monday, the deadline for the submission of projects is March 29. The call entitled "Development of the conceptual and detailed project, of architecture and engineering, for the construction of the Opera and Ballet Theater of Kosovo, in Pristina, in the Republic of Kosovo - Retendering" also provides the specifics of the competition, it is known that again the evaluation of the projects will be done without the authors knowing. As in 2022, even now the projected value of the project is 2.5 million euros.

But while last time the competition was two-phased, this time the intention is to conclude it in one phase.

Precisely for this reason, the architect Bekim Ramku has criticized MKRS. He, together with international collaborators, had applied in the previous competition. He had taken third place. He said that after a protracted and discredited process, it is surprising how MKRS decides to re-announce this tender.

"Moreover, MKRS decides that this time the process will be single-phase. On the one hand they say that this is an object of national importance and on the other hand they do the opposite", he said. He also criticized the project delivery deadline.

"For such an object with these requirements, a 40-day deadline to submit the concept-design is ridiculous. I don't believe that anyone else will compete except for those who have already competed in the first process, which was followed by unprecedented irregularities in our country", said Ramku. According to him, the goal is to reward a company. It refers to the winner of the canceled competition, the company "Gerber Architekten International GmbH" from Dortmund.

"What is even more worrying is the insistence of MKRS to reward the company which had committed countless violations in the process canceled by PRB", said Ramku, who is on the staff of Japanese architect Kengo Kuma's company. , which is the winner with the project for the concert hall in the building of the former goods house "Gërmia".

The space behind the Palace of Youth and Sports as a location for the Opera and Ballet Theater (Photo: Driton Paçarada)

Construction cost disclosure – good news for institutions

On Tuesday, MKRS did not respond to the change in the rules of the game.

But for institutions, the reopening of the competition is good news. Even the fact that the designers have to take into account to design a building in which 50 million is calculated to be invested has been seen with enthusiasm.

The director of the Kosovo Philharmonic, Baki Jashari, has said that it is a promising step.

"As far as I know, there was no such warning earlier with this amount. This is seriously good news. It is good that immediately after the failure, the new process started", he said. According to Jashari, the mention of the amount that is planned to be invested shows that the goal is a very comfortable building.

"We know that the Macedonian Philharmonic Hall cost somewhere around 42 million euros. So it seems that the aim is for a building with European standards. I hope that the procedures will not be an obstacle again", he said. According to him, based on the country's standard, investing 50 million euros in the Opera and Ballet Theater seems very sufficient. According to Jashari, the mention of this amount increases hope as it is spoken with concrete parameters.

"I think that the project should have at least two concert halls, as in most such buildings around the world. This building should also serve for the Philharmonic and for our music festivals. It should be dedicated to artistic music", he said. He expressed his surprise as to why these competitions are done with a procedure where the projects are not disclosed. Architect Bekim Ramku has also mentioned this point. He said that if MKRS is serious about organizing a process that befits such an object, it should learn from examples no further than in the region.

"All the competitions organized in the region for such objects are organized in a transparent way, where during the announcement of the competition the names of the jury are also published - not like in the case of the Ministry with a jury made up of the Ministry's employees and friends of the Minister and yes so that there is enough time to conceive the design", said Ramku. It has suggested that for correctness and credible process for a very reasonable world companies would be committed to develop such process for a national building.

Repeated history of failures

MKRS is facing problems in procurement processes. The discovery of the identity of one of the participating companies during the evaluation process in the last competition has caused the whole matter to fall down.

"The review panel, after the discussions of the parties in this hearing and after the elaboration of the evidence and arguments presented, came to the conclusion that in this procurement activity, on the occasion of the opening and evaluation of the tender offers of the economic operators, there were identifying elements that have revealed the identity of the bidders and this fact is contrary to the requirements of the tender file and the Law on Public Procurement", is written in the justification of the decision of the Procurement Review Body through which the entire process was cancelled. According to the decision, it was found that the claims of the complaining economic operator are partially based and "the entire activity of the procurement activity was carried out with legal violations". "The review panel finds that there were several legal violations in this procurement activity/design competition. The Economic Operator awarded with the first prize, with code 6842, has violated Article 80 of the Law on Public Procurement, by revealing his identity on each page of point 1.5 Exhibition materials of the offer...", the decision reads.

There were three companies competing for the idea project: "Gerber Architekten International GmbH" from Dortmund, "Consortium MVRDV" & 'OUD-ARCHITECTS' SH.PK", a Dutch company with the architect from Kosovo, Bekim Ramku, and "Big Partners LTd" based in London. The German company received the most points in the assessment and reassessment. Complaints followed. It was the London company that did this to then include the PRB. Before the evaluation committee - which is also procedurally not made public - the envelopes would have to be opened without knowing the names of the companies, but only through the codes. That's how it happened. The commission made up of local members and an international one had made its assessment. He rated the German company with 71 points, and the other two with 54.2 and 51.4 points.

But the two companies with fewer points have requested access to the documentation, have found a legal loophole to file complaints. In the online version of the company "Gerber Architekten International GmbH", whose project has been evaluated as the best, its logo was also present.

The attempt to have a project for this building is the fourth in a row after the war. This attempt follows the contest 17 years ago, the cornerstone of 2009, and two contests in 2019.

The Ministry of Culture has planned for this competition to be completed at a cost of 2.5 million euros. This was foreseen in the Budget Law of 2023. This year, 2.7 million were foreseen. But according to the Law on Budgetary Appropriations for the next three years, not a single cent has been earmarked for this project.

The first place would be awarded with a contract, the second with 30 euros, and the third with 20 euros. According to the competition, the first place would also receive the services for the next phase of "design, namely the development of the detailed architectural and engineering project for the construction of the Opera and Ballet Theater of Kosovo".

In 2019, the Ministry of Culture developed a similar process, with an international competition, but the process did not have an epilogue. Previously, on December 2, 2009, the foundation stone was laid for this building near the Technical Faculty. At that time, it was planned that the building would also have a name: the opera and ballet theater "Dr. Ibrahim Rugova".

The Assembly of Kosovo in August 2021 established the Opera institution, which is still under consolidation.

In April 2022, the majority of councilors of the Municipal Assembly of Pristina voted in favor of allocating part of the space behind the Palace of Youth and Sports as a location for the Opera and Ballet Theatre. In the preliminary location - at the Technical Faculty in the "Hill of the Sun" - the rough construction of a new university campus for the University of Pristina is close to completion.

The first project drawn up almost 16 years ago was signed by the German architect Kai Auffermann. In December 2009, the entire state parliament would gather there. Among other things, with an artistic program, the foundation stone of the opera and ballet theater "Dr. Ibrahim Rugova". After all the works, the work was stopped never to start again.

From that time until today, no explanation has been made as to how the 1 million and 12 thousand euros went, a cost that included the design of the project and the start of the first phase of the works.