The Minister of Maritime Affairs, Transport and Infrastructure, Oleg Butkovic, said during a visit to the eastern town of Vukovar on Monday that his ministry wanted the first phase of construction of the motorway in Istria County to be completed regardless of the project's impact on the country's foreign debt.
"I have received representatives of the concessionaire and next week or the week after that, as soon as the government budget is put together, we will go the Ministry of Finance. I already have the support of the Ministry of Tourism for this because we want the first phase of this project, which includes the construction of the motorway as far as the Ucka tunnel, to be completed because all the necessary building permits have been issued," Butkovic said in response to questions from the press after discussing infrastructure projects with local and regional government officials in Vukovar.
Butkovic said that the benefits of this project would by far outweigh a marginal negative impact it would have on Croatia's foreign debt. He noted that 60 percent of tourists coming to Istria use that motorway, adding that after its completion the effects of an increase in toll and VAT rates would multiply and be reflected in GDP growth.
Asked about the further construction of a motorway through the Baranja region along the pan-European transport corridor Vc, which runs from Hungary via eastern Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to the southern Croatian Adriatic port of Ploce, Butkovic said that this issue should be addressed in talks with the Croatian motorways operator Hrvatske Autoceste (HAC) and the Hungarian authorities.
"We have to be aware of the situation we are in. EUR 5.5 billion in principal and interest payments falls due by 2020, and we will try to solve this issue through refinancing and restructuring. I can't make any specific promises because that would be irresponsible of me, but one of our priorities is to complete the Vc project," the minister said.
He said that ways were still being sought of how to address the debts of the Croatian road construction sector, recalling that EUR 1.1 billion in debt was maturing this year.
"What we can do at this point is to restructure HAC and (Rijeka-Zagreb motorway operator) ARZ by reducing their expenditures, increasing their revenues and making them stable and then seek refinancing on capital markets. The use of pension funds and their role in all this is still being considered," Butkovic said.