Pentakomo waste management plant has never operated properly, thus creating a problem in the area, Agriculture Minister Petros Xenophontos said on Friday during his visit on-site visit.

The minister visited the waste management plant with deputies from the House watchdog committee and House energy committee and Auditor General Odysseas Michaelides. There, the officials were informed about the operation of the plant and landfill and the problems the nearby residents face due to the operations.

“There really is a problem,” he said, indicating that since the plant was taken over in 2017, “it has not functioned properly”.

Pentakomo community leader Pambos Charalambous said the situation is tragic and that residents expect an immediate solution to the problems. The health of people living nearby, he said, is endangered daily.

Piling on, Kalavasos community leader and head of the nine affected communities Lefteris Fokas said that problems continue despite measures taken in the past. “Certainly the plant is not functioning properly,” he said, calling on for responsible policies and the introduction of a timetable to resolve the problems.

“We cannot wait any longer,” he said explaining that the main problems faced by the residents have to do with stench, black liquid waste, and the fact that it is a fire hazard among others.

In response, Xenophontos said the agriculture ministry aims to provide a definitive solution within the legal framework. But this will not happen in a day, he said when asked about the specific timetable for resolving the problems.

He said a report of the contracting authority is expected which will be evaluated.

Concerning accountability, Xenophontos said that there is an investigation on the matter which has been sent to the Attorney General to examine whether there are responsibilities and their attribution.

For his part, the AG said a number of problems and failures on the part of the contractor have been recorded. “[The contractor] failed to comply with its contractual obligations,” he said. Hence, the contractor is now expected to handle the matter with due rigour so that, without further burdening the Cypriot taxpayer, the contractor complies and the burden on the environment and neighbouring communities, the AG added.

Asked who will be asked to pay any additional costs for the proper operation of the plant, Michaelides recalled that the Audit Service has already disagreed with a decision by the contracting authority to grant €4 million to the contractor for the construction part.

In his own statements, the chairman of the House environment committee Charalambos Theopemptou said the designs of the plant should have been in line with the relevant European directive indicating for a separate collection of waste in homes. He said there should have been “separate collection of leftovers and green waste, separate collection of recyclables and only what is left after that should end up in these plants”.

Meanwhile, legislation passed in parliament last year provides for mandatory recycling throughout Cyprus, which means that both the Pentakomo and Kosi plants will be deprived of organic waste. This, Theopemptou said, is expected to improve the situation provided people implement the legislation.

House watchdog committee chair Zacharias Koulias said Pentakomo and Koshi plants have become sources of pollutions, contamination and suffering for the residents of those areas.

“Today’s visit proves the truth of the matter,” he said.

There is also rainwater gathering at the plant, which means a “thousand mega tonnes of pollution” Koulias noted.

In response to their statements, the CEO of the Oeda management company Loizos Afxentiou reiterated that the plant was designed and built to process solid waste and any costs to upgrade it should be borne by the state.

Currently, he said, the solid municipal waste sent to the plant is out of specification, design and construction “resulting in the secondary fuel produced falling short in one of the seven parameters set, the moisture content”.

As he explained, this results in a greater quantity than is produced being sent to burial with all the problems that this creates. He added that the contractor has submitted successive proposals to the contracting authority in both 2019 and 2020 and that a submission has now been requested for a third time.

“Any costs needed to upgrade the plant so that it can process the garbage brought in should be borne by the state, not the company,” he declared.

A basin was originally provided to bury the waste, but that basin has now become a hill. “Instead of burying 15,500 tonnes as planned, due to the non-availability of the secondary fuel produced, a larger quantity is being taken for burial,” he said.

The contract also stipulates that the plant will process the incoming waste, produce secondary fuel, recover recyclables and that it will utilize the organic fraction to produce biogas for power generation. But there is an issue with the secondary fuel due to increased moisture in the waste, the percentage of which instead of being up to 57 per cent as stipulated in the contract is up to 67 per cent, the CEO said.

Regarding the stormwater collection tank, he stated that this was created due to the heavy rainfall of the last two years with seepage from the upper side of the landfill, while the design is the state’s and not the contractor’s.

About the complaints from employees about non-payment of accrued wages, Afxentiou said the company is not being paid regularly by the state.

“Our employer is currently withholding €1.4 million in penalties and €1.8 million in accruals,” he said.