A new report by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) has revealed a culture of impunity with regards to environmental law within Montenegro.
According to records kept by the Judicial Council, some 534 cases have been opened in Montenegrin courts since 2016 for alleged environmental law infringements. Of these, 411 cases were concerned with illegal wood cutting, and only six related to environmental pollution.
None of the cases ended in convictions.
Instead, the Department for Environmental Inspection appears to rely on fines and misdemeanour proceedings for the enforcement of environmental law. In practice, the end result is purportedly little more than a slap on the wrist for guilty parties; in many cases, infringements remain unresolved long after a fine is imposed.
Take local wine producer 13.jul-Plantaze for example, a company which produces some 22 million kilograms of grapes annually. In 2015, the company was fined 3,000 euros after failing to comply with environmental law regarding wastewater treatment. After several deadline extensions, and additional nominal fines, the company has still not dealt with the issue.
Moreover, 13.jul-Plantaze is not alone in failing to abide by environmental law despite repeated warnings.
In 2015, the Turkish-owned steel mill Toscelik was subject to five misdemeanour reports, and ordered to obtain consent for an environmental impact assessment for part of its operations. Three years later, the company was yet again admonished for environmental law violations regarding integrated pollution prevention and control. The company ceased operations last year.
In the same way, scrapyard WEG kolektor D.O.O. Berane was fined several times between 2017 and 2019 over its handling of toxic waste, and for failing to measure air pollution. In 2017, environmental inspectors ordered the company dig a third well for waste; two years later, the company had still not complied with orders.
“We have hundreds of examples that prove that the laws are just words on paper and that the system does not work,” environmental activist Aleksandar Dragicevic told reporters.
“When anyone can kill what they want with a rifle in the woods, when tons of fish are killed with dynamite every day, when the forest is cut by whoever wants to, wherever they want, without fear of consequences soon we will have nothing to protect and it will be too late.”
Despite declaring itself an “ecological state” more than three decades ago, illegal logging, poaching, fishing, construction and waste disposal continue to inflict large-scale environmental degradation in Montenegro, according to a UNECE report.
“Deforestation” by crustmania is licensed under CC BY 2.0