Editorial: Albanians pay the bill for the government’s whims

Editorial: Albanians pay the bill for the government’s whims

On Jan. 11, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled the Albanian government will have to compensate owners of a seaside apartment block in Vlora €14.2 million for demolishing the residence in December 2013 and violating property and

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Editorial: IRTC-ARMO: A criminal story of corruption

Editorial: IRTC-ARMO: A criminal story of corruption

During the first seven months of 2017, three special tax investigative teams visited one of the capital’s bookstores. In a surprise visit, the special tax investigation team, composed of five members — all men — found that a member of

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Albania, Jerusalem and two resolutions

Albania, Jerusalem and two resolutions

By Genc Pollo* To describe how the government explained its approval of the America bashing  Final Communique of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Istanbul and its vote at the UN General Assembly for  the resolution which condemned

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Deprived of freedom – deprived of rights?

Deprived of freedom – deprived of rights?

By Sara Kelmendi  Availability of drugs in the Albanian penitentiary system poses a threat to individuals with a history of drug abuse and raises concerns on the efforts to regulate their behavior and treat addiction. Access to free health services,

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Editorial: A bad omen for Albanian democracy

Editorial: A bad omen for Albanian democracy

Albania’s parliament has once again this week shown in a spectacular way that it lacks understanding of how parliamentarism works in a democratic society. The election of the temporary general prosecutor happened in a session dominated by arrogance, violence and

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Politics in the times of the grand farce

Politics in the times of the grand farce

“History repeats itself, first as a tragedy, then as farce” is one of the most quoted and meaningful Marx phrases that manages to capture events so well despite the march of time. When two years ago the political movement ‘Vetvendosje’

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Editorial: The Attorney General political cramp: finding solutions within the Constitution

Editorial: The Attorney General political cramp: finding solutions within the Constitution

Since December 7th, when the past mandate of the Attorney General officially expired, Albania finds itself in a strange political cramp about having to determine the next figure that heads a key justice system institution.  The justice reform enshrined in

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Editorial: Tirana’s populist and nationalist exercises

Editorial: Tirana’s populist and nationalist exercises

By Albert Rakipi It is everywhere — in the news portals and television. It is also on the Prime Minister’s own personal digital television station on Facebook — ERTV. Let’s call it the “the special show.” It involves government members,

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Finland thanks Albania for warm welcome and cooperation

Finland thanks Albania for warm welcome and cooperation

By Juha Pyykkö* Mr. President, Ministers, Excellencies Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends of Finland, hyvät suomalaiset, It is a great honour for my wife Riitta and myself to welcome all of you to this Independence Day Reception here in Tirana

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Talking contemporary Japan: Domestic and foreign policy

Talking contemporary Japan: Domestic and foreign policy

By Makoto Ito* There are three main pillars established in order to protect and promote Japan’s national interests. The first pillar is the strengthening of our Alliance with the United States. In May 2016, President Obama made the first visit

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                    [post_content] => On Jan. 11, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled the Albanian government will have to compensate owners of a seaside apartment block in Vlora €14.2 million for demolishing the residence in December 2013 and violating property and human rights of 19 Albanian residents and an Italian citizen.

Part of a trend of similar actions without giving proper compensation, the case shows the ongoing arbitrariness Albanian governments display when it comes to enforcing contracts and respecting human rights in Albania’s quarter of a century transition to democracy and a market economy. 

For starters, this fine is a major blow to the state’s budget. The amount of compensation mounts to €16.8 million when adjusted for the inflation and interest rates. The almost €17 million fine will directly weight on the shoulders of Albanian taxpayers and, seen in this context, it is too high and damaging for the modest income the Albanian government collects.

Moreover, the fine could have been altogether avoided if experts were consulted at the time and if the permit had not been issued by the local municipality, traditionally run by Socialist Party mayors.

Which leads to the second, fundamental issue of this story - the functionality (or lack thereof) of proper rule of law in the country.

Asked if he regretted his decision to demolish the apartment block in late 2013, Prime Minister Rama said he would make the same decision if he could turn back time.


The Strasbourg Court decision thus points to a more severe misuse than that of millions of euros of Albanian taxpayers’ money -- it points to a misuse of legislative power. Stripped of everything else, the court’s decision is the response to an irresponsible government, one led by an elected leader who places his personal will above national and international law.


It is this pattern that had citizens head for Strasbourg’s court. It is the same pattern that makes a late 2017 leaked confidential document showing that Albania faces the threat of being punished with a staggering €2 billion from a handful of arbitration cases with foreign companies a very valid possibility, despite not being confirmed yet. 


Whether the decision to demolish the building for the government’s Lungomare project -- a 3 km promenade that only finished construction in mid-2017 -- was a risk worth taking by the government is open to debate. 


The fact remains that the project’s estimated cost of €17 million has now almost doubled to €30 million considering the fine.


Whether the government’s promised appeal at another level in Strasbourg will be successful, as the prime minister hopes, still remains to be seen but is highly doubtful. 


The fact also remains that the international court’s decision currently supports Vlora’s court decision, which initially declared the government’s decision illegal, raised the compensation amount to €11.6 million and was later overthrown by the Albanian High Court, upon the government’s request.


Ultimately, the moral of the story goes, once again, to every single Albanian citizen. 


With a reckless, arbitrary government that not only acts on whims but also refuses to reflect on its mistakes, it will be up to taxpayers to clean up its mess time and time again -- a mess, which, if we read the signs right, is only expected to keep growing.
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                    [post_content] => During the first seven months of 2017, three special tax investigative teams visited one of the capital's bookstores. In a surprise visit, the special tax investigation team, composed of five members -- all men -- found that a member of the staff was not registered for social security payments. The staff member in question, a second-year university student tried to explain to the special tax investigation inspectors that he still did not have a job and was on a short tryout period to see if he wanted to do the part time job, which combines selling books and serving coffee in the bookstore’s cafe. He explained that he had only been there for a week and had not been paid anything yet. The same explanation was given by the bookstore manager, a political science student who worked full time and was paid USD 180 per month. She and another employee, both students, were properly insured. However, the five-person special investigation team did not accept the explanation and imposed an ALL 50,000 fine (about USD 420), which is more than the monthly salaries of the two student employees combined.

The action is absurd, the bookstore’s owners complained. The place is 67 square meters and its monthly turnover has never reached more than  USD 1100 - 1200. That’s turnover. Net income is far lower and can barely pay the wages of the two employees, utilities and internet -- and taxes too.

But it does not end there. The special tax investigation teams visited two more times in a seven-month period. During the second surprise visit, they found everything in order. There was no fine. The manager of the bookstore, the student, served the audit team coffee and kindly asked if these blitz and repeated visits were proportional -- five special investigators showing up twice to check on the taxes of a small bookstore with a turnover of less than USD 1200 a month. “We do as we are ordered,” the head of the investigative team told the manager.

But it did not even end there. The special tax investigation unit showed up for a third surprise audit two months later.

At first glance, this implies a ruthless story of dysfunction of the state. But it is one thing for the state to be dysfunctional and another for the state to be captured.

The case of Albania’s largest oil refinery, IRTC ARMO is a perfect example. IRTC was presented as a serious strategic investor. By the end of 2017, it was made public that IRTC ARMO had failed to pay at least EUR 60 million in taxes. For nearly a year, no fiscal auditors, even less so the special tax investigative team, paid no visits to the IRCT ARMO offices. Why? How is it possible that the tax directorate’s special forces conduct blitz visits to audit a bookstore cafe that on average owes the state USD 1800 in taxes a year, while not even a lowly official had gone to audit the largest oil processing company in the country, which on average is supposed to give the state budget EURO 130 million in taxes.

The tax special investigations teams are continued to check on small businesses with an iron fist. These are businesses that are barely staying afloat, like the library that only sold about 184 books last year. On the other had the company that sold about 184 million liters oil last year is given a wide berth. Why?

The reason is simple: IRCT ARMO, which the government propaganda broadcast as a strategic investment, is owned by people with the right connections.

IRCT ARMO employees who have not received salaries for the last three months say “the owner is untouchable because he is tied to the government." The ball is now on the government’s court.

Can it explain what the lack of audits and revenue losses have to do with the new owner of IRCT ARMO?
                    [post_title] => Editorial: IRTC-ARMO: A criminal story of corruption
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                    [post_content] => By Genc Pollo*

[caption id="attachment_128731" align="alignright" width="300"]Opposition Democratic Party MP Genc Pollo Opposition Democratic Party MP Genc Pollo[/caption]

To describe how the government explained its approval of the America bashing  Final Communique of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Istanbul and its vote at the UN General Assembly for  the resolution which condemned the US President's decision to transfer the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, both last December, could be helped by a very  popular character among several Albanian generations: the good soldier Švejk in the homonimous novel of the Czech writer Jaroslav Haŝek. His  illogical and naïve quotes comes to mind  while hearing our minister of foreign affairs stating on December 22nd that the resolution in question "was not a vote against the US"! Instead it was a vote aligned with the member states of many organizations, including "NATO"! The same minister, speaking in the Parliamentary session of December 14th, considered as "lack of  gigantomania"  the acerbic  language on  America, unusual for an intergovernmental conference, which was approved also by his  envoy the previous day in Istanbul, at the end of the urgent OIC summit. After all, being a minister is something serious, even though the public, in the light of the things that has recently seen, might have forgotten this.  Even more serious is how the government acts  in such internationally sensitive cases. Therefore I will try to elaborate here the guiding  principles in formulating Albania's position on the Middle East focusing not too much on the paradigm of the current debate: “wether we betrayed or not  our great ally across he pond?".

Israel, Palestine and Jerusalem 

The state of Israel was founded based on a 1947 UN decision that recommended also an adjacent Palestinian (Arab) state. It aimed to solve a current problem beside undoing some historical injustice highlighted by the Holocaust. But in the Promised and assigned land the Jews encountered the hostility of their Arab neighbour states. Israel came out militarily successful, managed to control west Jerusalem (1948) and two years later, after setting there the parliamentary and government headquarters declared it as the state capital. In 1967, it expanded its  control over the entire city and further to the Jordan River. But the foreign embassies that first settled in Tel Aviv, remained there awaiting an agreed  settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since  this  has not happened and was not in sight, President Trump decided to do what  Congress had been asking for in the last  twenty two years and every leading presidential candidate before him promised to do: to recognize the factual reality and locate his  embassy where its business is, i.e. near the headquarters of the Israeli government. All this in West Jerusalem which, whatever the future agreed settlement will look like, for sure will remain part of the state of Israel.

This US action is clearly a gesture of friendship and demonstration of support for an ally that since its inception faced aggressive neighbours, some of which until recently officially put ‘the destruction of the state of Israel’ in their charters. Indirectly it is also follows  on the historical-religious argument that the Jewish claim on the Jerusalem Old City is the oldest: nearly three thousand years ago the Jewish  kings David and Solomon chose it as the unified Israeli capital and built there the first Temple. Nine centuries later the resurrection of Jesus, happened there, in the today’s Holy Sepulcher Church. While the ascension of the Islamic prophet Muhammad to heaven is believed to have occurred 15 centuries later from the current Al Aqsa Mosque, making  Jerusalem the third most sacred city for Muslims, after Mecca and Medina.

The critics see this move as a possible spark for the outbreak of violence in Palestinian territories, Israel and possibly in the Middle East, and as endangering  the peace process since the Palestinian side would feel  provoked and would be less willing to negotiate and  agreed solution. The advocates point out that the US has made it clear that the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem does not condition or prejudice the future status of this city subject to a negotiated settlement, nor the content of the deal, namely the territories where the Palestinian state will stretch in  the future. Moreover a month after the announcement of this decision, despite pro-Palestinian reactions from various countries and actors, no huge riots or big turmoil have been recorded except for sporadic violent acts in West Bank; the only step back in the process is the Palestinian Authority suspending contacts with the United States and the OIC statement (including Albania unfortunately) questioning/rejecting the US role in the peace process.

The US has always defended Israel - faced with existential threats from neighbours - and it did the right thing! But America has also been an honest broker between the two sides, for example, during the final negotiations 17 years ago under the auspices of Presidential Clinton in Camp David. There the  long-awaited accord was scuppered due primarily to the intransigence of Palestinian side. This extreme approach does not come from the Palestinian people, who deserve a sustainable arrangement and sufficient territories. It has been injected by Arab states, mostly the  Baathist, pro soviet regimes from Algiers to Baghdad, who used the Palestinian cause as a pawn for their own interests. The fact is that today, Palestinian leaders and their supporters firmly  accept  the pre 1967  borders, which they had violently rejected since 1948. As for the claim of the US bias, let us remember that the peace talks have been mediated for nearly two decades from the Middle East Quartet which apart from the US comprises of also the UN, the European Union and Russia with its preferences, if not its favouritism.


Albania, Israel, Palestine 


Before I try to define  some guiding principles  helping formulate an Albanian position let us look back a bit. Communist Albania was a resolute and unconditional supporter by  "all means" of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The Enver Hoxha regime, besides militarily training in the 70’  for the terror prone  PLO militants, regularly voted for the anti-Israel resolutions on the UN General Assembly, which were adopted by the combined numbers of the Warsaw Pact members, pro Soviet, Marxist former colonies in Africa, Asia and especially the countries of the Non-Aligned Movement, leaving the members of NATO and their allies in a minority.  Our minister refers also to these resolutions when he seriously states that he is aligned with the historical international consensus.

In the last quarter century of free Albania a balanced position was maintained by establishing diplomatic relations with Israel and exchanging high-level visits with all parties. I would recall from the first years the attendance of Shimon Perez, then Israeli Foreign Minister at the 28 November (National Day) official ceremony in Tirana, as well as the visit of the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. At the UN, Tirana’s vote has been in general pro the resolutions seeking the advancement of the peace process and a proper solution to the Palestinian issue. But with  initiatives carrying  extreme language or exclusionary content which were also strongly opposed by Washington, our vote would turn into an abstention as was the often-quoted case of 2012 (please mind: it was the Obama administration)

The premise of Albania's positioning can be examined through the prism of four principles:

1- The Humanitarian Principle; in the recent weeks many persons have mentioned the Palestinian people's suffering in the refugee camps in the region as a justification for a clear pro-Palestinian position of Tirana even of the acute positioning in December in Istanbul and New York. It is human to feel empathy for human suffering and the right thing  to demonstrate it; but more helpful than grand posturing is  to contribute, even modestly, to alleviate the suffering. A compromise solution away from intransigence "or all or nothing" would have better served to people in the West Bank, Gaza, or in the refugee camps. It is rather doubtful  -to put it softly- that the UN resolution, even less the OIC communique will bring about even a slight improvement. Moreover, the Palestinian problem needs to be put in perspective: the 20th century has apparently seen abundantly displacement of populations and waves of refugees as a result of inter-state or  civil wars, and violence by government or other factors. The Armenians during the First World War, the Chams after the First and Second World War, the Germans of the Sudeten, Silesia and East Prussia after the Nazi capitulation, the Bosnians in the 1990s and up to this day the Syrians who fled the horrors of home and the Rohingya driven away by the Burmese army, are examples from a long and tragic list. But it is hard to find any other case which got more attention from the world opinion, more efforts by international actors, and more humanitarian aid than the Palestinians since 1948.

2-The  Copenhagen Principle: Democracies Love and Support One another! They are based on the same values that they promote all-over the world. Therefore, mutual support and close cooperation are also self-evident. At least this is the belief in Europe. And the oppressive regimes do not love democracies because they see them as a danger: exposure toward them causes processes that result in the loss of power. The features of democracy like free vote, the rule of law, human rights and the market economy (the EU calls them the Copenhagen Criteria) in the Middle East are met only by Israel. Perhaps Lebanon can come somehow closer. The other Arab states are generally autocratic and theocratic regimes  where leaders change when they die or are violently removed. In Israel it’s only after the general election that one learns who the next leader is. The 10% Arab minority in Israel may want or not, to live in a Palestinian state. But their current  political and civic rights  are far better accomplished than anywhere else in the region. And so on. So if we believe in democracy, then perhaps we should reconsider our position in the Middle East based on the Copenhagen principle.

3- The principle of state interest, as the oldest and the classic one, is perhaps even simpler to examine. Albania a small Balkan country 1800 km away  from Jerusalem cannot have essential interests there . Economic and trade exchanges with Palestinian businesses are minimal if not zero; with Israel something more but still insignificant. We can add here a small but vivid community of Albanian Jewish who emigrated in Israel in the 1991, the honouring in Yad Vachem of Albanians who saved the Jews during WW2 (one of the deeds to be proud of), but still the principle under consideration would advice prudent neutrality.

But if Kosovo is brought into the equation thing change. Tirana has considered helping the international recognition of Kosovo as a national obligation and a contribution to peace and stability in the Balkans; it tried to help as much as it could. With not much to show with the Israel and Palestine since none of them has recognized it. But there is a difference: the non recognition from Israel is of an inertial nature, without any clear motivation and therefore can change. From Palestinian  officials when they speak in Belgrade, ambassador or President, we hear only pathetic oaths that they will never recognize Kosovo as a state and that they will ever recognise Serbia in its pre-war borders. Obviously a gift by the Yugoslav Non Aligned nostalgia. In this perspective the principle of state interest speaks for itself.

4- The Religious Principle. During these  weeks people close to the government have touted   religion as a motivation for a clear pro Palestinian position of Albania, the country having a nominal Muslim majority,  as well as an excuse for Istanbul and New York. It is the first time that it appears as an argument. I have not heard this in the NATO war in Afghanistan (2001), neither in the US led intervention in Iraq (2003), nor in the war against Al-Qaeda (2001-2015), nor in the war against the “Islamic Caliphate” aka DAESH or ISIS (2015-2017) in which Albania, in political unanimity stood with the Western democracies, with concrete contribution most of the time. It is the first attempt to confessionalize  the foreign policy of our  secular multi-religious state. It would be very good if it were the last. Because it most probably will  foster religious radicalism, its political instrumentalization and will defy the decades long Euro-Atlantic orientation of our Republic. In addition no one took the trouble to ask our citizens, the Muslim believers and the others also, what they think or feel about this matter if they really feel or think something clear and different from the politicians they elected. Let’s again bring Kosovo with its higher Muslim component in. If the religious principle is considered valid then it must also be reciprocal. Then, how can it be explained that from the 57 member states of the OIC, only around half  have recognized Kosovo? Is this because of  the nostalgic love for Tito's Yugoslavia and today's Belgrade? Is this a snub  to  America and Europe? We can leave the answer to these questions for later, as well as a sober debate on the national benefit from the  membership in the OIC.  But we should dismiss now the religious principle.

A calm judgement on our official position in Israel-Palestine case and the hottest topics  in the Middle East would not lead us into to the pro Palestinian trench.

Normally it may tilt us a bit  towards Israel or still, with some strain, keep us neutral and equidistant. 

What about America?

The five-pages Final Resolution of the OIC summit, as it says in its preamble "was convened in Istanbul, Turkey, on 25th Rabi’ Awwal 1439 AH (according to Hegira, the Islamic calendar; author’s note) - December 13, 2017 (according to the Gregorian calendar; author’s note) contains these passages: 

Item 1: The OIC Summit…… rejects and condemns in strong terms the unilateral decision of the President of the United States recognizing Al Quds (the Arabic name of Jerusalem, author's note), as the so-called capital of  Israel- the occupying power. 

Item 9: The OIC Summit ... … condemns in this regard the full and unjustified bias of the U.S. Congress in favor of the imperial and racist policies and practices of Israel- the occupying Power.

Resolution of this Summit, point 6: The OIC Summit  holds  the U.S. Administration fully liable for all the consequences of not retracting from this illegal decision; and consider it as an announcement of the U.S. Administration's withdrawal from its role in the last decade, as sponsor of peace.  

While point 3 calls for boycotting members of the US Congress  who support Israel (the Jerusale Embassy Act back in 1995  got more  than 90% of the vote; the Senate reconfirmed it unanimously on 5 June 2017). 

If these statements are not anti-American, as we were assured by the responsible minister then what does he considers as such? Only calls to kill Americans wherever they’re found and with any means from knives to trucks? Neither the European Union nor its member states  would ever approve such statement! The minister may lie pretending “alignment”, but approval of these texts by a country aspiring the EU membership, can only damage its aspirations. As regards the UN resolution, there was no joint position taken in the EU  Foreign Affairs Council, which would have been binding for Albania as an  candidate country. So a  number of EU member states, probably with a fresh memory of American contribution to their freedom and aware of  the current role of US in their national security opted to abstain. Even this resolution initiated by Turkey and Yemen (Turkey I understand. But Yemen?! A country in civil war and with no government?! What for?!) although not with the Istanbul shrill, still is of a Dazibao sort that singles out the US, aiming to abase it in front of the world! Reminiscent of the Enver Hoxha time collective meetings where the prospective “enemy of the people” had to endure all sort of criticism before repenting and recanting. Why so? Because the US  moved their  embassy somewhere from city A to city B. This type of public humiliation, should not be tolerated neither by Yemen, let alone America. The US Ambassador to the UN,  Nikki Haley, as she stated herself, had  twice emailed each permanent missions in New York, warning that the resolution was unacceptable for her government. This, in defiance of the apologists of our government which  had whispered that Washington had not asked them not to support the Turkish-Yemenite proposal.  And Nikki Haley is totally right when she says, that the  US does not have any divine obligation to finance aid to states that in the morning get the US  handout and in the afternoon spit those hands. 

On the  way to bananas.

A proper praise to democratic Albania is that, since the mid-1990s, after  the Socialist Party shed  the  anti-Western legacy, there has been a stable cross-party consensus around an Euro-Atlantic oriented foreign and security policy. The criticism  in Parliament on these topics focuses mostly on to the government inability to achieve the announced goals and not about the goals themselves. In this context, parliamentary consultations have a relative political  weight. But in cases when a serious bone of contention comes up, a wise government would attempt to dialogue with other parties even if it thinks it has little chance to convince them. During December the MPs of the Foreign Affairs Committee from the majority and the opposition constanly  invited the minister to explain his position on this case and to consult the committee. Not to get their permission to act as his spokespersons suggest, but to inform the lawmakers and also  to hear their opinions about the topic. To no avail. The same goes for the President of the Republic, who was deliberately  left in the dark even after formally requesting  to be informed. I am sure that consulting with the other state bodies, even if it would  not change the government position, (abstention in New York and distancing in Istanbul could have been a solution), could have  least moderated the reactions that followed. And they showed to everyone that we have a banana government which puts  state relations with the world at  the disposal of foreign autocrats and at the service of their  personal and party interests.

 

*The author is an MP and former deputy Prime Minister
                    [post_title] => Albania, Jerusalem and two resolutions 
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                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2017-12-29 08:54:19
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-12-29 07:54:19
                    [post_content] => By Sara Kelmendi 

Availability of drugs in the Albanian penitentiary system poses a threat to individuals with a history of drug abuse and raises concerns on the efforts to regulate their behavior and treat addiction. Access to free health services, without discrimination on the grounds of their legal situation, is one of the basic principles for the treatment of prisoners. Despite some positive work being done in raising awareness on drug dependence in penitentiary institutions in Albania, the country lacks the structures necessary for providing effective treatment of dependency as a medical issue. Drug abuse policy and shortage of opioid medication in Albania permit only a limited number of prisoners to get treated.

European researchers have found that 16 up to 60% of opioid users, will continue to use drugs in prison.[1] Not only this raises many health concerns due to the limited access to needles and syringes, but it should also serve as a warning sign addressed towards the decision-makers – a silent cry for help to treat drug dependency as to avoid potential overdosing in the future. This can be attained by introducing harm reduction and reinforcing rehabilitation treatments in the Albanian penitentiary system, which would allow experts to better assist prisoners in managing their addiction. Despite the fact that there are no reliable data on the exact numbers, it is estimated that around 270 detained or imprisoned Albanians are drug users[2].

Although the usage of cannabis is the most widespread, intravenous drug use remains a problem for a smaller percentage of prisoners. 5.3% of the respondents to a survey (Stop AIDS, 2015)[3] indicated heroin and cocaine as the most used illicit drugs, following cannabis. According to media reports, during cell checks, small doses of heroin and cocaine have been found. Inmates may acquire drugs most commonly through prison wardens or packages of goods and gifts from their families or visitors, to which the prison authorities turn a blind eye on. One of the most conspicuous examples in the past few years was that of Mariglen Përgjini, a convict charged for murder and injury, who had allegedly obtained his dose of heroin from his lawyer. (Shqiptarja.com, 15 January 2015)

Surface-level efforts are being made to accommodate drug users in custodial and confinement settings. The Albanian Prison Service, along with the Institute of Public Health and organizations such as Stop AIDS, organize awareness-raising events, informing sessions and drug-prevention activities.[4] In spite of these efforts that appear to be implemented on the psycho-social level, there is no evidence of any specialized psycho-therapeutic support being provided. In fact, the Albanian Helsinki Committee has previously stressed the lack of psychiatrists engaged in the prison system.[5] Furthermore, the Ombudsman has emphasized the issue of overpopulation in prisons which might also hamper developing and implementing an individual-based rehabilitation program[6]. This program should be concordant to Albanian Constitution, on the individualization of the treatment based on the following criteria: psychological, social, gender, health, sexual orientation and gender identity, cultural and economic background – for which the assessment needs to be made prior to the treatment, and during the implementation.[7] Nevertheless, the General Directorate of Prisons has failed to provide department protocols for the evaluation of the conditions of drug addicted inmates. It is unclear whether and how assessments are currently being made, which is an alarming situation for the people behind the bars, as well as their relatives who are concerned for their well-being.

Another important issue related to the legal framework is the punishment of prisoners who use drugs while incarcerated. Agron Aliaj, imprisoned in Rrogozhina, was caught with two doses of cocaine hidden in his clothes, during a sudden facility check. The then-30 year old who was charged with drug trafficking, would face charges for illicit consumption as well. (Panorama, 21 February 2014) Many would argue that this is not the right approach. This incident shows that, not only the authorities have avoided conducting an initial assessment on the prisoner – thus, violating the above-mentioned law, but they have also neglected any signs Aliaj might have shown to indicate his drug dependency. Furthermore, his conviction as a drug trafficker should have been a sufficient ground for control and monitoring of his behavior and health.

When it comes to people addicted to opiate drugs, the primary focus should be on treating them, regardless of their status and regardless of the crime they are prosecuted for. "Drug dependence is a severe chronic disorder – and as a medical condition it should be treated and cannot be punished." (Pompidou Group, 2017, p.7) says drug expert, Heino Stöver.

Aksion Plus, a non-governmental organization, supported by Open Society Foundation and other donors, is the only supplier of methadone in Albania – an opioid medication, used to reduce withdrawal symptoms in people addicted to narcotic drugs. The organization, which has suffered shortages in methadone supply in the past, can only provide a limited quantity of methadone for detainees. Generally, prisoners are cut off of the methadone treatment when they are being jailed, with exceptions on severely deteriorated cases when Aksion Plus advises the penitentiary authority that the treatment should continue.[8] Although the organization intervenes in prisons with the cooperation of the Ministry of Justice, its actions are very limited. Nevertheless, an organization that relies on external donors should not be held as the sole responsible for the treatment of drug addicts imprisoned. The lack of governmental support in the medical treatment of drug dependency is an issue that deserves to be addressed because, in fact, it is the State that is required to cover all the medical expenses of prisoners. As such, methadone supplies and distribution need to be administered by the pertaining governmental structures.

The State’s reluctance to take action is undermining the efforts of every drug-dependent individual in confinement struggling to overcome addiction, without relying on help. Hence, putting them at risk of relapsing or even worse, overdosing once they serve their sentence.  Reportedly, many drug-dependent individuals also suffer from communicable diseases and blood-borne virus infections, such as HIV or hepatitis C, which require efficient treatment services.

In order to put an end to the discriminatory policies in place which are hampering the individual efforts to overcome drug dependence while in prison, a successful cooperation between all actors involved is required. Thus, prison authorities need to secure the required quantity of methadone for all the persons which, according to experts’ assessment, have a history of drug abuse. This policy may be implemented with the assistance of non-governmental organizations which may contribute to the establishment of rehabilitation structures with the provision of experts, in accordance to the international standards that are applied, with respect to prisoners’ rights.

 

[caption id="attachment_135212" align="alignnone" width="409"]Data retrieved from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction and Institute of Public Health, Albania: National Drug Report 2017; Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe.  Data retrieved from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction and Institute of Public Health, Albania: National Drug Report 2017; Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe.[/caption]

[1]. Stöver, H., (2017) Treat—not punish! Criminal Justice and Drug Policy (pg. 6-7). Retrieved from https://rm.coe.int/criminal-justice-and-drug-policy-treatment-harm-reduction-and-alternat/16807667b3

 

[2]. Aksion Plus (2016) Parimet e trajtimit të varësisë ndaj drogës. Politikat e drogave: perspektiva ndërkombëtare dhe kombëtare (p. 5). Retrieved from https://www.scribd.com/document/337506920/Politikat-e-Drogave-Manual-trainues-dhe-informues

[3]. European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction and Institute of Public Health. (2017) Albania: National Drug Report 2017. Retrieved from http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/system/files/publications/4700/National%20drug%20report_Albania.pdf_en

[4]. Ibid

[5]. Albanian Helsinki Committee. (2016) Raport mbi situatën e të drejtave të njeriut të personave të privuar nga liria. Retrieved from: http://www.ahc.org.al/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/1._Alb__-_Raporti_i_Monitorimeve_2015_CRD.pdf

[6]. General Directorate of Prisons and Organization for Security and Development in Europe. (2015) Dokument politikash për uljen e mbipopullimit në Institucionet e Ekzekutimit të Vendimeve Penale, p. 11.

[7]. Law on the rights of the treatment of prisoners and detainees, Albanian Constitution, art. 10 amend. 40 (2014).

[8]. Bell, J., (2012) UNODC Assessment of Drug Abuse Treatment Services in Albania, (draft report) p. 3.
                    [post_title] => Deprived of freedom – deprived of rights?
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                    [post_modified] => 2018-01-05 10:28:39
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                    [ID] => 135073
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                    [post_date] => 2017-12-22 09:44:06
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-12-22 08:44:06
                    [post_content] => Albania’s parliament has once again this week shown in a spectacular way that it lacks understanding of how parliamentarism works in a democratic society. 

The election of the temporary general prosecutor happened in a session dominated by arrogance, violence and flagrant violation of laws and procedures. And this was not a disconnected event from the trend of parliamentarism and political life in Albania. 

Once again parliament has shown the deep divide and fierce political conflict that continue to be the underlying characteristics of a society that has been unable to shed its communist past and relies on conflict and division as political tools.

But the closure of the political year in Albania with a plenary session full of arrogance and violence as well as with a breach of the procedural rules -- and, above all, of the constitution -- is not just another proof of the very low democratic standards in Albania. Much more important is the fact that this session has determined that the next political year will be the same if not worse: fierce political conflict and deep political disputes.

Equally important in the parliamentary session of this year's end, besides the vulgarity and violence, was the terrible reality of lack of respect for laws, procedures and, above all, the constitution. This is essential for the future of a democratic society. 

The opposition and independent experts argue that the temporary general prosecutor has been chosen in flagrant violation of the state's most important basic law -- the constitution.

There are three serious elements that can cause an impact in this unconstitutional selection of the general prosecutor. 

Firstly, in the short term, the situation will undermine the legitimacy of the prosecution as an institution at a time when organized crime and corruption have spread to most sectors of the economy and policy making today. 

The second implication relates to the future and the fate of the justice reform. After many confusions and disputes over the past two years, the political parties across the spectrum finally achieved consensus and unanimously adopted the justice reform.

With the appointment of the interim prosecutor not based on the constitution and the amendments set forward by the reform all parties agree on, independent experts say they believe the justice reform is at risk.

Last, but not least, in the long term, there are serious implications for the future of democracy and the progress of the nation and the Albanian state. 

Only nations that rely on supremacy of the constitution, written laws and procedures move forward. The others are simply left behind.

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: A bad omen for Albanian democracy
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                    [ID] => 135062
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                    [post_date] => 2017-12-22 09:12:23
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-12-22 08:12:23
                    [post_content] => “History repeats itself, first as a tragedy, then as farce” is one of the most quoted and meaningful Marx phrases that manages to capture events so well despite the march of time. When two years ago the political movement ‘Vetvendosje’ used teargas in the Parliament of Kosovo radicalizing its protests, Albanian politicians and experts in Tirana winced in ridicule and contempt. They argued that these kind of events were due to the lack of maturity in Kosovo politics. They were in a for a quite a surprise this Monday when in the supposedly ‘more mature’ Albanian Parliament, opposition MPs lit up colorful gas torches to try and impede the voting procedure for the Temporary General Prosecutor of Albania.

In fact the happenings of Monday makes one almost wish for the raw and hardcore protests of Vetvendosje which had a feeling of genuine rage about them, especially when compared to the ridiculous circus feeling of the Monday events. In Pristina even the teargas was true and made people sick.  Of course violence can never be condoned, however in this case it feels more important to rip away the shroud of fakeness.

The Albanian Parliament is rarely disappointing when it comes to providing a circus show. Low IQ jokes and bullying, banter, verbal abuse, physical attempts of abuse are prevalent and always irritating. However the Monday performance was special: the lowest street gang level curses,  physical confrontation between MPs and guards, MPs and other MPs, shoes and gas canisters thrown to the ministers and to the lady chosen as a GP, colleagues stealing their voting cards from each other, the list goes on. And let’s not forget the charity T-shirts (reading ‘I am a sunflower’ !) hang up on the chair backs that provided a wonderfully dark humor background to the whole thing. Apparently the day had been picked to promote an initiative to raise funds for assisting ill children. Every trick in the book.

The majority had decided to keep up with its arrogance and go through with the voting of the temporary GP. They had one more chance to reveal the force of their numbers and took it despite all the rhetoric of ‘governing by the force of principles.’ On the other side the opposition had a good cause and lost it with quite some humiliation by being scattered and unfocused. The different voices within it arguing for extremely different solutions and reactions have weakened their position. It does not certainly help that the former leader of the DP calls for MPs to burn their mandates while being immediately followed by the head of LSI, a recent co-governing partner of this majority, saying that the mandates have been won by blood and therefore cannot be sacrificed. A biblically charged language with so little connection to the people protesting outside.

What is this grand face indeed? Is the majority using the justice reform to shape the next justice system to its preferences? Is the international community, eager to generate quick results on their pet project, impatient to see through that all standards are fulfilled? Is the opposition really putting up resistance or the facade of it by refusing to challenge for example the parliament decision in the Constitutional Court?

Outside of the parliament the gathered protesters, beyond the first lines of party militants, spoke to reporters about not receiving disability benefits, about parents unable to pay increased rates for higher education, about the rise of criminal activity in their cities. It makes one think whether inside those walls everyone is carefully constructing a farce so that they can claim to be deaf to real life concerns.

The parliament does not resume until mid-January next year. Until then stay tuned, the farce continues live on television…

 
                    [post_title] => Politics in the times of the grand farce 
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                    [post_date] => 2017-12-15 09:33:10
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                    [post_content] => Since December 7th, when the past mandate of the Attorney General officially expired, Albania finds itself in a strange political cramp about having to determine the next figure that heads a key justice system institution.  The justice reform enshrined in the new Albanian Constitution foresees that the Attorney General should be selected by a 3/5 majority in the Parliament after the 3 most suitable candidates are preselected by the High Council of the Prosecutor’s Office (KLP), a new institution that was supposed to have been established since this spring. It goes without saying that the new Attorney General, in the spirit of the justice reform, should have passed the vetting process which is examining now slowly all prosecutors and judges.

The cramp consists in the fact that the KLP is not ready. Ironically this is because a suitable member from civil society has not been found yet to fill its position in the KLP. The irony stands in the fact that it was a segment of civil society which was loudest in pushing forward the quickening of the reform and now it finds itself in the position of an obstacle.

The ruling majority has decided that it will use some provisional arrangements suggested by international partners to have a temporary Attorney General, picked by as few as 36 MPs. In this vein, the SP members of the Parliamentary Commission have even started hearings with interested candidates despite the calls of the opposition and its small partner PDIU that this process is unconstitutional.

The cramp is further compounded by the declarations and comments, some of which coming from the international community, that have added various elements including an evaluation of the performance of the past Attorney General, which undoubted has been very measly. However this evaluation aside the main objective of preserving and furthering the justice reform seems to get lost in translation.

It is clear that this is a major issue which affects the effectiveness of the justice reform as well as the public trust in it. Rather than spending time on what the international community thinks about this, the Albanian political class should show maturity and long term vision. This could start by both parties making a good will gesture: the SP retracting from the one sided process and the DP accepting the invitation for dialogue. However the solution itself is to be found within the relevant constitutional arrangements and not as a result of a political deal. If we continue with ad-hoc solutions and temporary arrangements that marginalize one side or the other then the justice reform will not succeed.

If the main obstacle is the glitch in forming the KLP then all sides should be reasonable and flexible enough to either relax the criteria at a reasonable degree or even look beyond the capacities of civil society, which seem to be lacking at this point, into other fields such as academia.

Once again it is worthy to reiterate that the solution this political cramp is to be found and should be found within the Constitution. This might mean that a mistake is committed, the attorney general selected and then brought to the Constitutional Court which will strike it down. Maybe there is a more responsible way not to reach that point.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: The Attorney General political cramp: finding solutions within the Constitution 
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                    [post_date] => 2017-12-15 09:20:36
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                    [post_content] => By Albert Rakipi

It is everywhere -- in the news portals and television. It is also on the Prime Minister’s own personal digital television station on Facebook -- ERTV. Let’s call it the “the special show.” 

It involves government members, parliament members, local authorities, the mayor and the staff too. There some young people too for good measure and in the full style of the Chinese cultural revolution. This week it happened in Lushnja, cleaning up a park, but it could really be in other places too. 

The Minister of Economy and Finances appeared with a grass mower, while the head of the parliament’s economy commission gave him directions on how to use it. The Minister of Agriculture was wearing gloves which, weirdly, he’d preferred to combine with the usual suit he puts on during governmental meetings. 

The rest were dressed semi-official and semi-sportive, but the entire scene looked like the circus had arrived to town and the curiosity of citizens passing by was big. Others looked through their windows just as curiously, but too shy to come closer. 

Two big signs could be spotted in the background -- “The Albania We Want” and “Let’s Clean Albania” the slogan read. 

This entire scene turned even more surreal when Prime Minister Edi Rama joined in. He was without a doubt the director and main protagonist. While the government members continued to clean the park and collect the garbage, they simultaneously kept an eye on the ‘big guy’, while the local authorities ran to meet him and welcome him. 

Dressed completely differently from the rest, neither wearing a traditional suit nor sportive clothes – he is always investing in surrealism – the Prime Minister, with an indifferent look that neared mockery, and without giving a second look to the ministers who were cleaning, took two-three steps towards the stage with a pair of black, dirty sunglasses that strongly resembled those of John Lennon.  

This scene, so typical to the Chinese cultural revolution, is in fact the populist core of the current Albanian government. 

It is the same populist approach regularly applied to foreign policy. But usually, in November, Tirana’s populist methods are more frequent and colorful. Under the slogan “One nation, two governments, one future” not one but two joint meetings with Kosovo’s government were conducted this week – one in Korçë and one in Vlorë. 

The second one was during the National Flag Day. Big flags, speeches, a state guard -- and a dozen agreements were signed. Actually, cooperation memorandums between the two governments have been signed in abundance. Yet they have no timeframes and no instruments for implementation. 

So beyond the show of populism and patriotism, the actual relations between the two countries are shallow. 

During 2016, the economic trade between Albania and Kosovo reached 164 million euros, while the trade between Albania and Serbia reached 166 million euros. This is regardless of the fact that since 2014, Albania and Kosovo have held several joint government meetings.

These joint government meetings are just another colorful show full of flags, but very similar with the Lushnja scene, where the ministers were the ones cleaning the park.

Having the ministers clean that park in Lushnja is a show that made some people laugh. Albania will not be cleaned through a show, but through policies. The relations with Kosovo will also not develop through a show, but through policies, because, as we’ve seen, these bureaucratic meetings don’t help the economic development between the two countries. Not only are the two governments not proposing instruments that will increase economic cooperation, but in reality barriers that halt this development exist between the countries. Meanwhile, the show through these joint government meetings  -- framed with the slogan “One nation, two governments, one future” -- go beyond the mere populist words and show of the Lushnja park cleanup. It gains a new status and can be deemed populist-nationalist. 

The government is not the only one to take part in these populist-nationalist methods. The President also visited Medvegja, a commune inhibited by Serbian citizens with Albanian nationality and who represent the Albanian minority in Serbia. Think about the Greek President going to only visit a village in southern Albania, where Albanian citizens of Greek ethnicity live – the Greek minority. Many Albanians would not be very happy.

But populist-nationalist methods, different from Lushnja’s cleanup, can also be individualistic. The joint governments meetings this week introduced by a declaration and proposal coming from the Minister of Diaspora – very creative and exhibitionistic in his exercise of populism and nationalism. The minister declared that on Jan. 1 of the following year Albania and Kosovo should open the borders and unite.

When the order to go to war came to the good soldier Zvejk, if you remember, he said, confused: “It’s one thing everyone went crazy, but why would everyone go crazy on the same day?”

The populist-nationalist methods of Tirana are becoming more frequent, especially in November. “I don’t want to be working in Tirana in November,” a Western, high-ranking diplomat living in Tirana says, “because I have to file long reports, with explanations for all these activities you call populist-nationalist methods.” 

My advice was simple: Please, show your bosses in the West the government’s cleaning show in Lushnja and come up with an abstract: What results does that show in actually cleaning up Albania?

 

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Tirana’s populist and nationalist exercises 
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                    [post_date] => 2017-12-15 09:20:20
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_134992" align="alignright" width="165"]foto4 Juha Pyykkö[/caption]

By Juha Pyykkö*

Mr. President, Ministers, Excellencies Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends of Finland, hyvät suomalaiset,

It is a great honour for my wife Riitta and myself to welcome all of you to this Independence Day Reception here in Tirana celebrating 100 years of independence of the Republic of Finland. This whole year has been a celebration in Finland and around the world culminating in events on and around our Independence Day on 6 December.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The main heading of this year's celebration has been the word and concept 'Together'. In my mind, this heading is very appropriate and on so many levels: As we know, Finland ranks high in many international comparisons, but being a small nation of only some 5,5 million people means that we can achieve something special and sustainable internationally only together with other nations and states. In this spirit, I would like to thank our Albanian hosts in this country for the warm welcome you have given me here and for your cooperation with Finland over the years – hopefully more to come in the future. In the same spirit, I would like to thank all fellow diplomats here for your warm welcome and cooperation. And as we Finns are so few, it is only together that we have been able to develop from poverty to prosperity during the 100 years of our independence. For this I would like to proudly thank the few fellow countrywomen and men here tonight. Kiitokset!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The EU including Finland remains fully committed to the EU integration of Albania and will continue to support the country in this process. Finland welcomes and commends the engagement of the Albanian authorities to further EU reforms, and underlines the importance of consolidating the framework for reforms and advance towards implementation. On this occasion, I would like to especially underline the importance of justice reform as well as the significance of improving and simplifying the business and investment environment. Here, the crucial importance of a strong rule of law, predictable regulatory and legislative framework, contract enforcement as well as the need to intensify fight against corruption and informal economy are key aspects. Ensuring legal certainty and protection of property rights remains also essential in this context.

With the development of the business environment in Albania, I hope to be able to facilitate further economic, commercial and policy level cooperation between Finland and Albania, be it in telecommunications, energy, education, innovation and sustainable development, just to mention a few areas.

Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to thank the Honorary Consul of Finland here in Tirana, Mr. Bardhyl Minxhozi, for his tireless work in furtherance of Finnish interests here. Likewise, I would like to express my deep gratitude to Mr. Dimitrios Papadopoulos, Country Manager of Nokia Networks here, for his support making this celebration tonight possible. Nokia Networks, originating from Finland, is one of the biggest network providers in Albania operating here since 2005.

Thank you all for being here – and please enjoy the evening celebrating Finland!

*Welcoming words by Mr. Juha Pyykkö, Ambassador of Finland to Albania, at the Finland’s 100 Celebration in Tirana on 12 December 2017

 
                    [post_title] => Finland thanks Albania for warm welcome and cooperation 
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                    [post_date] => 2017-12-15 09:18:01
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                    [post_content] => By Makoto Ito*

There are three main pillars established in order to protect and promote Japan’s national interests.

The first pillar is the strengthening of our Alliance with the United States. In May 2016, President Obama made the first visit as a sitting US President to Hiroshima, while in December the same year; Prime Minister Abe paid a visit to Hawaii, Pearl Harbor.

And in January this year, our Prime Minister Abe, visited the U.S and held an official bilateral meeting with President Trump in Miami. Then this week, President Trump paid a visit to Japan to exchange views on bilateral and regional current situation and to discuss how to deal with Asian Security issues.

These reciprocal visits symbolized the strengthening of our alliance, and served as an opportunity to demonstrate the power of tolerance and peace between countries which had previously been at war.

Japan-US cooperation in the economic field is essential for the further enhancement of the Japan-US Alliance and the development of the global economy, as well as the invigoration of the economy of both Japan and the U.S. With a cumulative balance of direct investments in the U.S of approximately 411 billion USD by Japanese firms, Japan ranks 2nd after the UK and the activities of Japanese firms have created jobs for approximately 840.000 people.

The second pillar of Japan’s foreign policy is the need to enhance the relations with neighboring countries, as it constitutes an important basis for making more stable the environment around Japan. The relations with China constitute one of Japan’s most important bilateral relationships, and consequently it is important for us to build a cooperative relationship based on Common Strategic Interests.

The Republic of Korea (ROK) on the other hand is Japan’s most important neighbor which shares strategic interests with Japan. In the last two years there were frequent communications at the summit and foreign minister levels. Both sides shared the view that they would take responsibility to implement the agreement relating to the issue of comfort women made by the end of 2015.

On the other hand, the Northern Territories Issues is the greatest concern in the relationship between Japan and Russia. On this issue the leaders of both countries shared common recognition in the summit meeting in May last year, that they would continue the “New Approach” and in December last year decided to start discussions regarding joint economic activities under a special framework on the Four Northern Islands. Both leaders decided to improve the procedures for the former islands residents to visit their hometowns more freely.

The nuclear tests and repeated ballistic missile launches by North Korea pose a new level of threat, and are totally unacceptable. In this continuity Japan will continue to closely work with relevant countries, including the United States and the Republic of Korea and urge North Korea to refrain from further provocations and comply with the Joint Statement of the 6-party Talks and the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

The issue of abductions by North Korea is not only a crucial issue concerning the sovereignty of Japan as well as the lives and safety of Japanese citizens but also a universal matter of the entire international community as it constitutes a violation of the fundamental human rights.

In the light of increasingly severe security environment, it is essential to deepen cooperative relations with partners sharing such values as freedom and democracy in the Asia-Pacific Region.

The third pillar of our foreign policy is the strengthening of the economic diplomacy:

First is to use rulemaking in order to strengthen a free and open international economic system. Japan will continue to seek agreement in principle to the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) as early as possible.

Second is to support Japanese companies by promoting public-private cooperation. In this case, the government has proactively carried out activities such as offering consulting services to Japanese companies, holding events to promote Japanese products overseas.

Promoting resource diplomacy and attracting investments and tourists is the third main aspect of our economic diplomacy. In this regard, the government achieved 24 million overseas visitors to Japan last year, with 3.7 trillion yen spent on consumption.

At the domestic level Japan faces challenges with a rapidly aging society and actual population decline which began in 2011. The population issue is significant, with a broad range of consequences both socially and economically. It is caused by a combination of the highest life expectancy at 84 years, and a low birthrate of new children, 1.4% in 2013. Estimates in 2017 show that 27% of the population is aged 65 or above.

In response, our government has implemented a variety of politics to revitalize the economy, known popularly as “Abenomics”. Together with fiscal and monetary reform, the focus of Abenomics is now on structural reforms that could potentially transform Japanese society in many ways.

One notable Abenomics initiative, sometimes called “Women-omics”, involves policies to encourage more participation by women in the economy. It includes more assistance for child care facilities, tax and other structural changes to support more women in the workforce. Immigration reform policies are also aiming to increase foreign workers in Japan’s workforce.

Abenomics fiscal and monetary reform aim to revitalize the economy and build steady GDP growth, and the government continues to implement these ongoing policies.

The government is also targeting the future with deregulation in industrial sectors such as energy and agriculture and through investment and promotion of Japan’s strengths in leading sectors such as IT, high-tech robotics, and healthcare services and technology.

So far, overall results of Abenomics have been encouraging, although the process continues. Prime Minister Abe has received an election mandate recently to continue with these plans for the economy, as well as his security policies which I mentioned a moment ago.

 

*Abbreviated remarks by Makoto Ito, Japan's first resident Ambassador to Albania, talking “Contemporary Japan in the international arena” at an AIIS foreign policy forum held last November
                    [post_title] => Talking contemporary Japan: Domestic and foreign policy  
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            [post_date] => 2018-01-19 10:50:36
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            [post_content] => On Jan. 11, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled the Albanian government will have to compensate owners of a seaside apartment block in Vlora €14.2 million for demolishing the residence in December 2013 and violating property and human rights of 19 Albanian residents and an Italian citizen.

Part of a trend of similar actions without giving proper compensation, the case shows the ongoing arbitrariness Albanian governments display when it comes to enforcing contracts and respecting human rights in Albania’s quarter of a century transition to democracy and a market economy. 

For starters, this fine is a major blow to the state’s budget. The amount of compensation mounts to €16.8 million when adjusted for the inflation and interest rates. The almost €17 million fine will directly weight on the shoulders of Albanian taxpayers and, seen in this context, it is too high and damaging for the modest income the Albanian government collects.

Moreover, the fine could have been altogether avoided if experts were consulted at the time and if the permit had not been issued by the local municipality, traditionally run by Socialist Party mayors.

Which leads to the second, fundamental issue of this story - the functionality (or lack thereof) of proper rule of law in the country.

Asked if he regretted his decision to demolish the apartment block in late 2013, Prime Minister Rama said he would make the same decision if he could turn back time.


The Strasbourg Court decision thus points to a more severe misuse than that of millions of euros of Albanian taxpayers’ money -- it points to a misuse of legislative power. Stripped of everything else, the court’s decision is the response to an irresponsible government, one led by an elected leader who places his personal will above national and international law.


It is this pattern that had citizens head for Strasbourg’s court. It is the same pattern that makes a late 2017 leaked confidential document showing that Albania faces the threat of being punished with a staggering €2 billion from a handful of arbitration cases with foreign companies a very valid possibility, despite not being confirmed yet. 


Whether the decision to demolish the building for the government’s Lungomare project -- a 3 km promenade that only finished construction in mid-2017 -- was a risk worth taking by the government is open to debate. 


The fact remains that the project’s estimated cost of €17 million has now almost doubled to €30 million considering the fine.


Whether the government’s promised appeal at another level in Strasbourg will be successful, as the prime minister hopes, still remains to be seen but is highly doubtful. 


The fact also remains that the international court’s decision currently supports Vlora’s court decision, which initially declared the government’s decision illegal, raised the compensation amount to €11.6 million and was later overthrown by the Albanian High Court, upon the government’s request.


Ultimately, the moral of the story goes, once again, to every single Albanian citizen. 


With a reckless, arbitrary government that not only acts on whims but also refuses to reflect on its mistakes, it will be up to taxpayers to clean up its mess time and time again -- a mess, which, if we read the signs right, is only expected to keep growing.
            [post_title] => Editorial: Albanians pay the bill for the government’s whims
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