33821 6/3/2005 14:23 05BUCHAREST1307 Embassy Bucharest UNCLASSIFIED This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available. UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BUCHAREST 001307
STATE FOR EUR/NCE - WSILKWORTH, EB/IFD USDOC FOR 4232/ITA/MAC/EUR/OEERIS/CEEB/BURGESS/KIMBALL
E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: ECON, ETRD, EFIN, PGOV, PREL, RO SUBJECT: BECHTEL BEGINS TO SHUTDOWN ROAD CONSTRUCTION IN ABSENCE OF PAYMENTS
THIS CABLE IS SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. NOT FOR INTERNET DISTRIBUTION.
1. (SBU) Summary: High-ranking Bechtel representatives currently in Bucharest failed to obtain sufficient funds from the GOR to cover mounting arrears on work performed on the 2.8 billion dollar Transylvania Motorway project. Discussions at ministerial level have provided no clear way ahead for the short term. As a result, subcontractors were told to shut down June 2nd and the majority of the direct- hire work force was sent home June 3rd. This will be an enormous story with negative implications for business climate perceptions. Post recommends high-level and sustained USG pressure on this important commercial issue. A USG approach should also push for relaxation of an extremely strict IMF deficit target that is seen by the GOR as a barrier to needed infrastructure spending, particularly as massive flooding in large areas of the country has diverted substantial financial resources to relief and reconstruction. End Summary.
Bechtel Says "Show us the Money"
2. (SBU) In the past several weeks, Post has worked closely with Bechtel representatives to press the GOR to provide compensation for work that Bechtel has already performed in 2004 on the Transylvania Motorway project, as well as to provide a mechanism for timely payments for work finished or scheduled for 2005. Current arrears stand at approximately 80 million euros. Since the current government came to power in December 2004, only 16 million euros of payments have been made.
3. (SBU) Despite three different potential funding sources for the project, the GOR has experienced difficulties in accessing any money for the project and provides it only after Bechtel's constant prodding and then only in small allotments. The three sources of funds that the GOR is supposed to use for the project are: - Internal budgetary funds. There are supposed to be 213 million euros earmarked in the 2005 Transportation Ministry budget for the Bechtel project. Due to a (repeatedly) delayed government budget rectification, however, the Ministry claims it cannot release the money for work performed. They note that there is both need for emergency spending in the wake of widespread spring floods and claim that the expected rectification could result in a lower budget allocation than projected. - U.S. Ex-Im Bank loan. Activation of this 144 million dollar package has been delayed due to GOR nitpicking regarding language of the letter of agreement (eighteen revisions and counting). In addition, this loan can only be drawn down for purchase/use of American goods and services, a point that many in the GOR still don't seem to understand. - External credits. The GOR must finance the rest of the motorway through commercial loans and the GOR has been reluctant to take on this debt, because it will count against the IMF-mandated limits on state debt. After much prodding from Bechtel and Post, however, the Finance Ministry is working on a syndicated loan package for 100 million euros. This money, however, will probably only be available, in the best of circumstances, in late July or August.
Increasing Pressure, Increasing Frustration
4. (SBU) Post for many months has been working closely with Bechtel representatives to get the project on track. But just when everything seems to be working, the GOR reverts to historic bad habits that include ignoring Bechtel's repeated requests for meetings to discuss the project, repeating vague assurances of payments that then do not materialize and indulging in round-robins of blame-shifting to other ministries or to the IMF.
5. (SBU) Post had hoped that a breakthrough had come after President Basescu's visit to Washington this spring and his assurances that he would support the project. Indeed, small payments were made and some movement on outstanding issues did occur. But another lull came later in the spring. Similarly, Post was hopeful that the project would start moving in the right direction after Commerce Department's Assistant Secretary Lash, on May 12, received assurances from President Basescu that he would work to resolve issues related to the motorway. However, little has happened positively since then.
Bechtel's Work Shutdown Begins
6. (SBU) With only a token payment of 10 million euros from the Transportation Ministry in sight (enough to pay some of Bechtel's local contractors), and after a very unsatisfactory meeting between the Charge and Bechtel's London-based representatives and Minister of Transportation Dobre on June 3 (obtained only through the direct intervention of the Embassy with the Prime Minister's Economic Advisor), Bechtel has stopped work on the motorway and is sending home its Romanian contractors and workers. Subsidiaries were told to cease work yesterday, June 2nd, while direct hire local employees were mostly told to go home today, June 3rd. Bechtel is complying with all legal requirements in this procedure and will continue to pay workers three-fourths of their salary while they are in forced work stoppage. Bechtel will perform no more roadwork without substantial payments, although minor ancillary work on archeological and environmental projects will continue for the time being.
7. (SBU) Both Embassy and Bechtel urged the Transport Ministry and earlier, the PM's economic advisor, to improve communication between government bodies required to coordinate on funding projects and to exercise political will to take on board necessary external financing. In all meetings, GOR reps eventually ducked behind the IMF, claiming that the strict 0.7 percent of GDP deficit target set by the IMF prevented the GOR from expensing the project at a more rapid rate - either through straight budgetary outlays or loans. They also noted that massive spring flooding (still affecting parts of western Romania) made it incumbent that the government maintains budgetary reserves for emergency relief and infrastructure repair.
8. (SBU) The current GOR continues to behave as if Bechtel will continue to absorb operating expenses for at least some additional months while external credits and an EXIM loan are put in place. Bechtel, under edict from home office, has simply refused to play along any longer. The shut down of the works now taking place should serve to disabuse the GOR of the idea that the free lunch will continue indefinitely. Bechtel needs to meet operating expenses in order to start up again.
9. (SBU) Post recognizes that recent flooding in the western areas of the country has caused unforeseen budgetary strains for the GOR. Nonetheless, the chaotic nature of the GOR's decision-making process and traditional Romanian penchant to "put off until tomorrow what you can get away with" indicates that only the squeaky wheel here will get the grease.
10. (SBU) Post recommends high-level State Department and Commerce Department intervention with the GOR to express concern that the project is still in danger of stalling despite assurances from the highest levels of the GOR that the motorway contract is legal and binding. Post also suggests that the USG should make the GOR aware of the damage it will cause to its own image as a business-friendly country if the motorway is stopped for even a brief time due to inability to pay. Finally, we also recognize that the GOR does not want to challenge the IMF with a request for further flexibility, even though a relaxation of the deficit target to take flooding damage into account would be a useful means to spur the GOR to think about moving ahead with truly desirable infrastructure projects. Post believes that serious discussions with the IMF, by the USG and GOR, are in order.