Building strong bridges in Albania-Greece relations

Building strong bridges in Albania-Greece relations

By Mimi Kodheli* First of all I would like to congratulate the organizers for this very interesting forum – interesting because I think it will contribute to a better understanding of the multiple reasons and relations connecting Albania and Greece

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Editorial: High tax policies, failure to produce economic growth behind Albania’s social unrest

Editorial: High tax policies, failure to produce economic growth behind Albania’s social unrest

Much of the news this week has focused on the Kukes-Durres highway toll clashes, the ensuing arrests and related protests. While these events are important, they are a symptom of a larger problem: A series of government policies that are

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Albania and its issue with homosexuality

Albania and its issue with homosexuality

By Alice Elizabeth Taylor As you read this news story, a little bit of civil history is taking place. At the Palace of Congress in Tirana, a forum is being held that brings together leading voices in the LGBTI community,

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On the government’s unconditional implementation of the IMF recommendations

On the government’s unconditional implementation of the IMF recommendations

By Bujar Leskaj The closing statement of 20th of March 2018 of the first International Monetary Fund monitoring mission, after having granted Albania a three-year loan of 330.9 million euro on 28th of February 2014 (hence, and passage of this

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Editorial: Gov’t should consider lowering tolls on Albania-Kosovo highway

Editorial: Gov’t should consider lowering tolls on Albania-Kosovo highway

It’s one of the prides of post-communist Albania – a major four-lane highway that penetrates the country’s unforgiving mountainous interior to connect to Kosovo, cutting what used to be an arduous day-long trip to a fairly simple three-hour drive from

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Albania-Greece: Fighting false perceptions, projecting positive agenda

Albania-Greece: Fighting false perceptions, projecting positive agenda

By Eleni Sourani* First of all, I would like to congratulate the Albanian Institute for International Studies for taking the initiative to organize this very timely conference, related to the present and the future of the Greek-Albanian relations. As it

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My journey to Tirana

My journey to Tirana

By The Balkanista. I moved to Tirana 6 months ago. What started as a three-day sightseeing and fact-finding adventure turned into a love-affair of the highest order with a place that was once completely unknown to me. I will be the

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The €1 billion battle

The €1 billion battle

By Fatos Çoçoli There are six road segments, a regional hospital in Fier and five schools in Tirana that the Albanian government is planning to build under the public private partnership approach and their contracts for this year, worth about

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Only accountability and transparency can bring back citizens’ trust

Only accountability and transparency can bring back citizens’ trust

By Bujar Leskaj* Within the time frame of less than two months (February-March 2018), three prestigious and credible international institutions have assessed the level of corruption in Albania’s state administration and the problems with the reform in our public administration.

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Editorial: Albania’s real EU membership race is with itself, not Serbia

Editorial: Albania’s real EU membership race is with itself, not Serbia

In a recent interview in Brussels, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama mentioned that he saw Albania’s bid to join the European Union as a race between the country and Serbia, which has been declared as a front-runner by EU authorities,

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                    [post_content] => By Mimi Kodheli*

First of all I would like to congratulate the organizers for this very interesting forum - interesting because I think it will contribute to a better understanding of the multiple reasons and relations connecting Albania and Greece as well as of the reasons, prejudices, stereotypes, ignorance and distorted minds that attempt to divide and oppose them to each other.

It would be too pretentious to assume the task of drawing in few pages and such a short time an exhaustive full overview of the Albania-Greece relations: from the historical point of view it is as vast as the history of the European civilization, from the human point of view it is as deep as the human heart, from the social point of view as complicated as our people’s minds, from the political one … ephemeral. 

So I will stick to (and elaborate later on) something more tangible and transcendental element: the neighborship, giving that we are two of the most ancient neighboring nations of the continent, living on the same territories from the beginning of what is today called Europe. 

What is the actual situation of the Albania – Greece relations?

From the political point of view they can be considered very good and in a process of further improvement. They are of a strategic importance for us. Greece is part of Albania’s strategic quadrangular, together with Italy, Austria and Turkey. It is a NATO good and effectively cooperating partner. It has been and still is a supporting country to Albania in its integrating process to the EU.

From the economic and trade point of view, Greece is Albania's main foreign investor and second largest trading partner. In terms of amount and variety the potentials are still bigger. 

From the legal point of view, we have a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in place since the 90’s, however we should say that our bilateral legal framework has not yet fully produced the expected positive results.

Meanwhile, the relations between the two countries are now progressing positively due to what has been qualified as the "policy of small steps”. Negotiations are ongoing between the two governments to resolve pending issues, divided in three different baskets, some inherited from the past but all affecting the present and with a projection to the future of our nations.

Are we reviewing our relations?

Maybe yes. Maybe we need to… in order to correct some mistakes and failures in our relations and improve them. And I mean here the official relations between our states because the relations between our nations are not of our discretion. They are established and consolidated from hundreds of centuries. They evolve following some internal organic rules belonging to our people.

Moreover our countries are bound by the presence of the large Albanian community in Greece and the Greek minority in Albania. 

In this context, everyone could ask a rhetorical question: Strategically and logically speaking, how could Greece be interested on a poor and unstable Albania and, the other way around, how could Albania be willing a troubled and in crisis Greece?!  

The history (especially the one of Europe) is a proof of the fact that the old geopolitical theory, according to which the neighbor should be down and broken, has been invalidated by the modern times – it brings no good at all but harm.

What we should and are called to do?

Traveling by car from Germany to France or the other way around, some of you have maybe crossed the so-called Europe’s Bridge. This bridge, build in Alsace, connecting Strasbourg to Kehl, constitutes a symbol of the triumph of peace, confidence and cooperation over war, conflict and confrontation that, for more than one century made hundreds of thousands of victims both sides of Rihn river.

Various famous writers have left on the Europe’s Bridge some notes, among which I would like to quote the one from our great writer Ismail Kadare: 

“Traveler, all the bridges in the world from the oldest to the latest, like the one you are crossing, have something in common: they vibrate. Stop your car, get out and press your cheek to the parapet; you will distinctly feel the tremor. It seems that in the infinite variety of structural types, bridges alone have something of man’s confusion, anxieties, hopes, fears and dreams built into them. 

The first man whose path was blocked by a sudden freak of the terrain and who resolved not to turn back but to brave the abyss and cross it was probably elated by the exiting venture, but no doubts alarmed too, as if at committing a sin. The man of old were convinced that in building a bridge they defied destiny and, to appease the anger of gods, were wont to make a sacrifice at the foot of every bridge. 

You, traveler, are on the Bridge of Europe. At its very foundations, our continent has made a sacrifice by renouncing its old prejudices, divisions, hatreds, intolerance and other errors. 

The bridge trembles, thrills with human torments, proving that you are at the heart of Europe.”

Differently from France and Germany as well as from many neighboring countries of Europe, Albania and Greece, have never been in a real and proper classical war. And, according to the dictionaries, an absence of war is usually called "peace". So (except from some sporadic conflicts) actually our people have lived in peace throughout history. 

However as we all know, a Royal Decree of 10 November 1940 has established “the state of war” with Albania and the so called “War Law” versus Albania is still existing in Greece. I will not go into the technicalities of this issue but I would like to refer to and point out this fact to emphasize how destructively absurd can be politics and politicians… how damaging can they be to their own countries and people.

 This “War Law” has negatively contributed not only in creating prejudices and bad feelings but also economic and property issues. 

 Therefore, to open a new page in our relations, the Royal Decree of 1940, needs to be abrogated, along with its effects. We are all happy today to know that this stupid “War Law” is being part of the above-mentioned negotiations that are ongoing between our governments in order to be abrogated.  

Obviously, before we can build anything more substantial enhancing our relations, we must finish first with the Second World War, the same way the new Europe of after WWII and the one of after the Cold War was created: 

Cooperating with trust!

Union of forces, efforts, resources and collaboration have created that synergy no individual could generate on its own, but for this it has always been needed initially trust (or mutual good faith) and confidence: trust in the partner chosen to cooperate with, confidence and belief that the way to be taken is the right one. 

Unfortunately, we are witnessing that the crisis Europe is facing today is first and foremost caused exactly by the lack of confidence and trust. Lack of trust on the EU institutions, partners and others too, lack of confidence on the way of further unification and enlargement. 

Although today, more than ever has become quite clear that the challenges we are facing and the various consequences of the crises affecting of our common security, stability and peace are absolutely interconnected, therefore they cannot be tackled by an isolated approach.

Building trust, creating synergies and strengthening cooperation is of a paramount, especially among neighbors. The contrary has always been proven to be of disastrous consequences.

Breaking connecting bridges, building dividing walls, excluding and botching each-other brings good to no one. All in the contrary, it harms everyone and seriously damage our peoples’ aspirations for peace and prosperity, our common future. 

The relations between Albania and Greece are part of the European politics and future but mostly of our own one, the one of our children. Everybody who can give a contribution to promote and boost them is called too: politician and individual, state institution and civil society.  

From the position of a parliamentarian and the Head of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I would say that due to their particular and honored status, as representatives of the people, the parliamentarians are in a privileged position to convey, in a capillary way, to the people they are representing as well as to the policy makers, feelings of positive inspiration and proofs of good faith in order to promote cooperation, confidence and trust, bringing all of them closer and together by “renouncing prejudices, divisions, hatreds, intolerance and other errors” – as Kadare says. 

*Mimi Kodheli is the chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament of Albania. The article above is an extract of her remarks at the day-long conference on “Re-examining Albania-Greece relations; challenges of the present, prospects for the future” organized by the Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS)  in cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Tirana, bringing together experts, diplomats, politicians and students.

 
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                    [post_content] => Much of the news this week has focused on the Kukes-Durres highway toll clashes, the ensuing arrests and related protests. While these events are important, they are a symptom of a larger problem: A series of government policies that are tearing the social fabric of Albania by failing to produce economic growth while squeezing Albanian citizens and small businesses hard through taxes and then channelling the funds to unproductive and shady ventures fraught with questions over cronyism and ethics. 

Albania’s Socialist government led by Prime Minister Edi Rama, in power nationally since 2013 and locally in Tirana 2000-2011, has implemented an aggressive campaign of tax hikes on businesses and individuals that has failed to translate into better state services. In addition, Albanians now face ever higher electricity, fuel and water bills, which too are also loaded with taxes. All this means less money in the hands of the common Albanians and small businesses, translated into economic decline. In addition, hundreds of thousands have left the country in recent years, citing lack of hope for jobs and quality of life at home. 

Moreover, the government is increasingly relying on private-public-partnerships, long-term concessions which in theory are supposed to be more efficient and cheaper, but in practice have become a major way to channel money out of taxpayers’ pockets and into large companies that keep the government in power -- the owners of which are referred to as “the oligarchs” in Albanian media.  

This comes as there is an increasing gap between those who govern and those who are governed in Albania. With real democracy in decline for years, the government is often finding itself in a bubble, taking decisions, particularly on things that affect citizens’ finances, with little public consultation.

Relying on opinion polls showing that it still has majority support among voters and the fact that the political opposition is weaker than it has been decades, Prime Minister Rama has continued to be arrogant against critics and the people themselves, hoping that apathy and an opposition in tatters means he can take measures that benefit a few on the back of many without any consequences. But that free ride has ended. The Kukes protest shows the poorest Albanians will no longer put up with the state’s ever-heavier hand. And they are not alone, as more and more Albanians refuse to participate in the rigged political and economic system taking roots in Albania today.

In previous editorials, this newspaper has warned of the ill effects on the fabric of Albanian society that come from the decline of democracy and the increasing income inequality. This a good time to ponder where governance in Albania took a wrong term and reconsider tax hikes and other policies that lowered economic freedom and produced no economic growth and well-paid jobs. 

It’s time for Albania’s government to return to lower taxes and regulations and freeing the market to allow wide and fair participation.

 
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                    [post_content] => By Alice Elizabeth Taylor

As you read this news story, a little bit of civil history is taking place. At the Palace of Congress in Tirana, a forum is being held that brings together leading voices in the LGBTI community, as well as the US ambassador, EU representatives, and politicians from leading Albanian political parties. Entitled “LGBTI in the Political Agenda in Albania”, the event will provide attendees with a brief description of the situation regarding status and rights of LGBTI individuals within the country and the daily struggles that they face when it comes to discrimination. The aim of the game is to start a richer discussion on how everyone involved can work together towards the shared goal of greater diversity, tolerance, and respect.

On paper, members of the LGBTI community have almost the same level of rights and social freedoms as heterosexual individuals, but unfortunately, the reality tells a different story. Whilst legal frameworks such as LGBTI People in the Republic of Albania, The Resolution on the Rights of the LGBTI People, and the Anti- Discrimination Law have been adopted by the Albanian Parliament, little is being done when it comes to enforcement.

Whilst homosexuality has been decriminalized since 1995, it has become clear that if Albania wishes to pursue its dream of EU Membership, a lot more work needs to be done. In 2018, same sex individuals are unable to get married or enter into a civil union, forced or coerced surgeries for intersex individuals are still carried out, and there are no legal provisions for those that want to change their name or gender. This is in addition to the social stigma that is palpable in almost every aspect of society -- homosexual individuals are openly vilified, shunned, and even physically and verbally abused, purely because of who they choose to engage in a relationship with.

One young Albanian man, Arber Kodra, decided that the current state of affairs was not conducive to an open and tolerant society and he set about trying to make change. Having already organised several successful forums and workshops through his NGO, “Open Mind Spectrum Albania” (OMSA), he decided to grab the proverbial bull by the horns and go for the jugular. He set about contacting politicians from all parties, as well as local activists, the US Ambassador and delegates from the EU. Whilst the support from non-Albanian organisations was forthcoming, his calls, emails and text to local politicians went largely unanswered.

Not taking no for an answer, he persisted and his hard work, dedication, and perseverance has resulted in the confirmation of participation from Vasilika Hysi (Vice Head of Parliament), Ogerta Manastirliu (Minister of Health and Social Defense), Nora Malaj (MP), Bruna Laboviti(Republican Party), Grida Duma (Democratic Party), Irma Baraku (Commissioner for Protection from Discrimination), and Erinda Ballanca (Ombudsman)in todays event.

Whilst this is a great success for Arber and the cause, I cannot help but notice the lack of male politicians that are willing to put their name to the campaign. Perhaps they feel that their masculinity is threatened by putting their name to such a cause, or maybe they are more concerned about the risk of losing male votes than they are for standing up for what is right. Either way, these individuals need to realize that as a politician, their duty is to serve the people and their constituents- not their own personal agenda. As such, they should be fighting for the rights and equality of the gay community who, shock horror, make up a significant portion of the electorate.

Ignoring this issue is not going to make it go away, while there is a desperate need for more acceptance and more diversity within the institutions and social structures of Albania. Extremism and discrimination should be vilified by the state and individuals should not have to hide their sexuality for fear of losing their jobs, being shunned, or having abuse shouted at them in the street.

I truly hope that the event is a success and pray that everyone who said they would attend, keeps to their word. The reality is that if Albania wants to become a member of the EU, it needs to be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with societies that offer LGBTI, intersex, gender fluid, and other minorities’ equal rights and treatments. They need to be able to say hand on heart that they are all against discrimination in all of its forms and that the laws put in place to protect equality are enforced to the final letter of the law.

And as for the greater society? We need to understand that love is love and that who someone chooses to share a bed, or their life, with has no bearing on who they are as a person or the content of their character.

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_133311" align="alignright" width="300"]Bujar Leskaj, the head of Albania's Supreme State Audit  Bujar Leskaj, the head of Albania's Supreme State Audit[/caption]

By Bujar Leskaj

The closing statement of 20th of March 2018 of the first International Monetary Fund monitoring mission, after having granted Albania a three-year loan of 330.9 million euro on 28th of February 2014 (hence, and passage of this prestigious institution to the mere observer role, on the basis of Article 4 of the IMF-related agreement, and not any more having a direct influential role through conditioning loan installments based on performance of our public finances) raises some fundamental concerns that we all need to properly read and address: the Parliament, the Government, the Local Government entities (municipalities), the independent constitutional institutions, the civil society and the media.

The statement rings the alarm that "Given the high level of public debt (71.2 percent of GDP by the end of 2017 ...), such negative shocks as the slowdown in economic growth ... or materialization of conditional liabilities can have a negative impact on debt and economy’s external sustainability, which would require a strong fiscal correction[1]" The IMF with conditioned liabilities refers mainly to State Budget payments to public-private partnerships that have so far been operating and that will be contracted in the future, both by the central government and local government units.

Concerning public-private partnerships, the IMF emphasizes in the mission statement that "... a key priority is the reduction of fragmented decision-making and the strengthening of risk assessment processes within the Ministry of Finance. These processes are of critical importance given the large conditioned liabilities that are often part of PPP contracts with a long-term horizon. The current practice of unsolicited bids should be eliminated[2]".

In line with the IMF's recommendations, in his greeting at the launch of our National Energy Strategy 2030, on March 26, 2018, a greeting read by USAID's Albania director, Ms Catherine Johnson, the US Ambassador Mr. Donald Lu said, "Let me echo the message that has been conveyed by the IMF that Albania will benefit by not giving non-competitive concessions to individual businesses because there should be a transparent standard contract for all competitors in the energy sector. No one should receive special treatment[3]"

This strong statement comes from Ambassador Lu, a great friend of Albanians, the generator and promotor for the realization of the necessary reform in justice, for the strengthening of the rule of law, of the public institutions and the Albanian nation. In particular, his concern that no private company should enjoy special treatment during public tenders should make us reflect deeply. The situation is really problematic. Legislation in the field of concessions and public-private partnerships (PPPs) faces an essential  handicap. It does not provide for a technical and professional opponent think tank, independent from the Executive, which functions under the direct jurisdiction and supervision of the Parliament. Article 18 of the Law no. 125/2013 "On Concessions and Public-Private Partnerships", under the head "Commission for the Concession / Public Private Partnership", provides for the establishment of this structure, depending entirely on the Contracting Authority (which is in the vast majority of cases the line minister or the Prime Minister), including the payment of the commission of the work done. The experience so far brings numerous examples of poorly contracted and managed concessions, also due to the lack of a professional and independent opponent  from the Executive.

Today, we are in the conditions when the 1 billion euro program of projects made public by the Government and, in general, all the plans for provision of public services at the central and local level through concessions or PPP formula, as the IMF, the World Bank, the USAID and other important donors and partners have emphasized, are strongly pointing to the increased exposure of our economy to the risks of (i) the wrong selection of a public-private partnership without a profound study of the cost-benefit ratio (ii) the long-term nature of these projects and the complexity of their contractual terms, (iii) a missing or incomplete legal framework, (iv) low transparency and public participation in the process, and (v) to high possibility of project's failure at big and long-term cost over the State Budget.

The IMF professional advice should be respected and implemented. Facing the above-mentioned risks, preparing the strategy and action plan for mitigatings these risks is an immediate and urgent responsibility for the main institutions of our State.

The recent experience, ascertained during some of our audits as well, as supreme audit institution has proved that the given concessions and the first years of implementation of the first public-private partnerships have generated numerous problems, including social ones, whereby the most important are:
  1. Concession contracts that are very favorable to certain businesses and uncompetitive for the vast majority of private enterprises;
  2. Unjustified increase of production or service costs for the purpose of avoiding the payment of the profit tax or impacting on the final price on consumer or on the State Budget;
  3. Extension of the concession deadline beyond any time limit;
  4. Difference in the selection criteria for choosing the winning company: different criteria offered to the Albanian public with the criteria announced in the foreign press and in the tendering documents;
  5. Bank guarantee waiver by failed concession;
  6. Very short deadline for the announcement of invitations to concession projects (the world practice has an average of 2 years, while we have been announcing the invitations within a few weeks!);
  7. Complete and chronic lack of prior public discussion of a concession or public-private partnership to be awarded;
 
  1. Lack of strategies for specific sectors where concession or public private partnership is given and broad involvement of central government in project selection and concessionary licensing;
  2. Non reference to and use of the Stabilization and Association Agreement of Albania with the EU, or of other international conventions in which Albania is signatory, which prevail over domestic legislation and are a good premise for the review of previously granted problematic concession contracts, which affect free competition and exacerbate commodity and service prices for citizens.
I think that some concessions or PPPs, for the very strategic importance they bear (eg ports, airports) today and in the future, should be presented and discussed by the Government to the National Security Council. In these cases, the orientation should be towards our strategic allies such as the USA and Germany. Meanwhile, the companies registered off shore, therefore having an unclear and not transparent ownership, should not be allowed to participate in public tenders. On 20 March 2018, the European Court of Auditors (ECA), the supreme audit institution of the European Union, published the findings and recommendations of its Special Report on Public-Private Partnerships that are co-ordinated by the European Commission (which we will translate and make available to the Parliament and the Executive) stated that "Public-Private Partnerships co-funded by the EU in the Member States can not be considered as an economically feasible option for building or making public use of public infrastructure[4]". According to ECA, the audited public-private partnerships (PPPs) posed widespread deficiencies and limited benefits, resulting in 1.5 billion euros of inefficient and ineffective spending. In addition, value for money and transparency were largely undermined by unclear policies and strategies, inadequate analysis, out-of-balance registration of PPPs, and a lack of balance in risk-sharing between the private and the State. We naturally raise the question: when in European Union countries, with a much more consolidated State legislation and culture, the PPPs are considered problematic, how should they be with us? In the press release, the ECA states that its auditors have audited 12 private partnerships co-funded by the EU in France, Greece, Ireland and Spain in the field of road transport and information and communication technology, with a total cost of 9.6 billion euros and an EU contribution of 2.2 billion euros. The ECA, the Supreme Audit Institution of the EU strongly states that "The auditors found that PPPs allowed the public authorities to provide large-scale infrastructure through a single procedure, but this increased the risk of inadequate competition and therefore the public authorities servings as contracting parties were placed in a weaker negotiating position. Moreover, most of the audited PPPs demonstrated significant inefficiencies during the construction of the infrastructure they had undergone, with seven out of nine completed projects (corresponding to € 7.8 billion as project costs) that caused delays of up to 52 months and large cost increases[5]". In Greece (by far the largest recipient of EU contributions through PPPs, with 3.3 billion euros or 59% of the total), the cost per kilometer of three audited highways rose significantly to 69%, while the level of profitability of these projects was significantly reduced, dropping by 55%. The ECA states that the main reason for this ineffective expense was the fact that the financial gaps caused by the renegotiation of PPP contracts were allowed to be covered by the EU budget and the investing State, with badly prepared projects by public partners and contracts with private concessionaires, signed before the outstanding pending issues had been resolved. All the institutions of our State should be fully aware of the deep and serious problems of the management of public-private partnerships that we face. The risks associated with concessions and PPPs make it imperative and necessary for the Parliament to look into opportunities for creating a unit of permanent and professional opponent thinking to the generation and implementation of these contracts, a secretariat within the Parliament, initially composed even by two or three experts, personalities in public finance or in public administration, composing this way a team that functions under Parliament’s authority and is financially independent from the Executive. This Unit should have sufficient financial capacity to commission experts in respective areas for the study/ opponent survey of the concession or PPP being considered, on behalf of and for the account of the Parliament and the relevant parliamentary Committee. Creating such a structure would give the first signal that the recommendations and suggestions of the IMF, the World Bank, the USAID and other important international partners, to the risks that are accumulating on the sustainable management of our public finances, are being heard properly, advice is being implemented and counteraction to these risks is adequate and timely. [1] http://www.imf.org/external/lang/albanian/np/ms/2018/ms032018a.pdf Closing Statement of IMF mission in Albania, page 3, third paragraph, 20th of March, 2018. [2] The same, page 3, third paragraph [3] http://www.tpz.al/2018/03/26/ambasada-amerikane-ultimatum-rames-ndal-koncesionet/ [4] https://www.eca.europa.eu/Lists/ECADocuments/INSR18_09/INSR_PPP_EN.pdf ECA’s Press Release,  Njoftim për Luxemburg, March 20,  2018, page 1, first fragment [5] https://www.eca.europa.eu/Lists/ECADocuments/INSR18_09/INSR_PPP_EN.pdf The same, page 1, third fragment [post_title] => On the government’s unconditional implementation of the IMF recommendations [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => on-the-governments-unconditional-implementation-of-the-imf-recommendations [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-04-10 09:24:38 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-04-10 07:24:38 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=136496 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 136394 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-03-30 11:50:19 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-03-30 09:50:19 [post_content] => It’s one of the prides of post-communist Albania – a major four-lane highway that penetrates the country’s unforgiving mountainous interior to connect to Kosovo, cutting what used to be an arduous day-long trip to a fairly simple three-hour drive from Tirana to Prishtina. It’s no wonder it has been dubbed the “Highway of the Nation” – bringing ethnic Albanians from both sides of the border together in business, tourism and education. Yet, the very expensive highway, built with money from Albanian taxpayers, has come with its own set of problems. It’s costly to maintain and parts if it need repairs and finishing touches. To pay for it, Albania’s government has decided to institute tolls, a payment every vehicle must make to cross one way. It will become the first toll-way in Albania, and in theory it is supposed to help the general taxpayer not pick up the tab for those who use the highway. But the toll – and its price in particular -- has angered local communities, businesses and politicians on both sides of the border. They fear the €5 average one-way fee per five-passenger car and €22.5 per semi-trailer truck will have a negative impact on northeastern Albania, the country’s poorest region, as well as trade and tourism flows between the two ethnic Albanian neighboring countries. Kosovo politicians, businesses and tourists have also opposed what they call a heavy tax levied on Albanians and pan-Albanian integration. To make things more interesting, the government is not even running the tolls itself. It has awarded a 30-year concession to a private consortium to manage the highway tolling and maintenance. Successive Albanian governments have a history of approving long-term concession contracts that have proven costly on the Albanian public’s purse, largely due to having unfavorable clauses in them – whether exclusivity as was the case with Tirana International Airport or a high price that makes it harder and more expensive to do business in Albania as is the case with several concessions. In this case, based on Albania’s GDP and average incomes in Albania and Kosovo the set price of €10 for a return trip for small vehicle drivers and €43 for large trucks is disproportionately high compared to similar segments in similar countries, such as neighboring Macedonia. A high toll like that places new barriers between Albania and Kosovo and could have negative effects on the economies of both countries. In addition, it comes at a time where there is a lot of talk about integration of the people in both countries under one socio-economic-political umbrella, often served as populist-nationalist rhetoric coming from as high as Albania’s prime minister, Edi Rama, who in words would like to see himself as the leader of all Albanians in the region, while in action has decided to erect a new barrier between Albania and Kosovo through this high-price toll concession.   It is no wonder then that this week Kosovo’s prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj urged in a public interview for Rama to stay out of Kosovo’s business. “He has enough problems at home,” Haradinaj said. Officials working for Haradinaj have also expressed anger that they were not consulted by Albania when deciding the toll price. Ultimately, tolls are a practice known internationally and can be used to benefit the taxpayers, but starting a concession with a price that is very high for the market while there is no real alternative to the road that is being tolled could ultimately do more harm than good. As such, Albania’s government should consider drastically lowering the toll to prevent its negative economic, social and political effects.   [post_title] => Editorial: Gov’t should consider lowering tolls on Albania-Kosovo highway [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-govt-should-consider-lowering-tolls-on-albania-kosovo-highway [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-03-30 11:50:19 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-03-30 09:50:19 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=136394 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 136430 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-03-30 10:10:46 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-03-30 08:10:46 [post_content] => By Eleni Sourani* aiis 3First of all, I would like to congratulate the Albanian Institute for International Studies for taking the initiative to organize this very timely conference, related to the present and the future of the Greek-Albanian relations. As it is well known the two countries are in the process, in full speed I could say, to address, in a spirit of openness and mutual respect, all issues, some of which are in the basis of stereotypes and prejudice still prevailing in our relations. Both sides have demonstrated, so far, commitment and strong political will so as to make this process, which started upon Greek initiative, a true turning point in our relations. Therefore, the title of my intervention is: Let’s move ahead. The challenges of the present: First of all, we have to point out that the Greek-Albanian relations are relevant both for the two states and, equally, for the two peoples. We are two neighboring countries sharing both green and blue borders and we are two societies, one having an indigenous national minority and the other hosting a large immigrant community. Our two nations had been in contact and interaction for centuries, while they were isolated from each other for almost half of the 20th century. It is therefore understandable that there are issues, some of them complicated, to be addressed and solutions to be found. Simultaneously, there is a large positive agenda of cooperation which unfortunately evades the attention of the media and the public. However, when one listens to various political commentators or reads articles in the media has the impression that between Greece and Albania there is enmity and insurmountable problems. This is not true; it is just a false perception which in my view is the most important challenge of the present. In diplomacy we never underestimate the perceptions; because perceptions shape policy.  So, the main challenge is to fight the false perceptions. One of my first readings when I assumed my duties in Tirana was the very interesting report of the Albanian Institute for International Studies on the Albanian Greek Relations from the eyes of the Albanian public – Perceptions 2013. I was surprised by the fact that most perceptions are not only false but also utterly obsolete. The same false perceptions are usually portrayed in the media. The first observation, in this regard, is that the starting point of the historic narratives between Greeks and Albanians is different: When Greece refers to the modern Greek-Albanian relations starts in 1991, when the two countries met each other again in the post-Cold War Europe; a Europe totally different from the ‘30s or ‘40s. The Albanian narrative however seems to start in the pre-WWII era if not much earlier. In this sense we need to synchronize our respective narratives. In other words, we need to bring our relations in the real world of 2018, i.e. in an era when the borders in Europe are fully recognized and secured, there are no territorial claims, the protection of human rights, including minority rights, is an international norm and obligation of the states, and relations among countries are based on the principle of sovereign equality. All these fundamental principles are already enshrined in the Friendship Treaty, a legally binding document, signed in 1996, which formed the basis for the conclusion of an extensive legal framework between the two countries. Therefore, approaching our bilateral relations from any other perspective is obsolete and out of today’s reality. So let me mention the Greek approach to our relations. From our perspective, in 1991, Greece being the only EU and NATO member in the Balkans, faced the challenge and responsibility to support all her neighbors in their difficult journey towards democratic institution building, stability, security and prosperity. Concerning Albania in particularly, Greece was the first country which provided huge support, both material and political, in the very difficult years of transition. It has been the largest foreign investor, opened its doors to hundreds of thousands of Albanians who sought a new life there, provided hundreds of millions of euros in development and humanitarian assistance, and supported every step of Albania’s Euro-Atlantic integration process. Obviously, the least that Greece could expect from her partners would be sincere friendship and respect of our mutual commitments. The principle “Pacta sund servanda” is the basis of all relations, be they state or human relations. It is, therefore, not surprising that the non-implementation of a series of bilateral agreements signed between the two countries left a bitter taste in the Greek side. Nevertheless, it is high time to change page. False perceptions, obsolete stereotypes and unfounded prejudices should be buried once and for ever. We are two sovereign countries, two neighboring nations with distinct historic and cultural identities –each one proud of its own-, allies in NATO, with a perspective of becoming partners in the EU, with full respect of each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. We have a common interest for the security, stability and prosperity of our neighborhood and we can achieve this through cooperation and sincerity. In this regard I would like to mention some important initiatives that the Greek Foreign Minister Mr. Kotzias has launched for regional cooperation, to which Albania has always been invited and participates. For example, the Quadrilateral of Foreign, Interior and Energy Ministers in Thessaloniki and the Rhodes Security Conference which brings together countries of the Balkans and the Middle East. In concluding, there are many reason for Greece and Albania to have not only a strategic but also a sincerely cordial partnership and there is not a single reason for the opposite. Our political leaderships are committed to achieve it. I believe that it is the duty of all of us, politicians, academics, journalists, diplomats to support them by fighting the false perceptions and projecting the huge positive agenda of the relations between the two countries and peoples. *The speech of Greece’s Ambassador to Tirana, Eleni Sourani, at the "Re-examining Albania-Greece Relations: challenges of the present, prospects for the future" conference organized by the AIIS [post_title] => Albania-Greece: Fighting false perceptions, projecting positive agenda [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => albania-greece-fighting-false-perceptions-projecting-positive-agenda [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-03-30 13:55:19 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-03-30 11:55:19 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=136430 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 136425 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-03-30 09:30:55 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-03-30 07:30:55 [post_content] => By The Balkanista. I moved to Tirana 6 months ago. What started as a three-day sightseeing and fact-finding adventure turned into a love-affair of the highest order with a place that was once completely unknown to me. I will be the first to admit that when I touched down in Tirana, I did not know what to expect. I knew that Albania was in the Balkans, and that my Great-Uncle Edward Lear had travelled through the country 150 years ago, painting its wild landscapes and waxing lyrical about its customs and peculiarities, but that was about it. Within about three hours I had decided that I wanted to call Tirana home and in a matter of days I was making plans to relocate my entire life, two cats included, to this previously unknown place. As a freelance writer and marketing consultant, I have the luxury of being able to work wherever I want- all I need is my laptop, a connection to the internet, a steady supply of espresso and I am good to go. At the end of February, beleaguered from curious questions and comments from my friends and family abroad, I decided to set up a blog documenting my life in Tirana, and what I was discovering about Albania as a whole. The Balkanista had 30,000 hits by its 30th day and I realised that the positive way I was writing about the country was striking a resonating chord with both Albanians, expats, and people from all over the world. Albania is a country with many problems- crime, pollution, economic struggles, poverty, women’s rights- but I feel that there are also a great number of beautiful things that need to be highlighted as well. To stay abreast of all the negative news one does not have to look very hard, but to find examples of positive news was a little harder. That is why I decided to focus on musicians, artists, activists, culture, history, and the people that are working to make this society a better and more beautiful one. By giving these people a platform to express themselves in a positive way, I hope to show that whilst yes there are underlying social issues, there are also a great number of things going on that make this one of the most interesting places I have ever experienced. Albania is a paradox and a dichotomy and it fascinates me more and more every day. It is a mish-mash of cultures, religions, traditions, and influences all combined effortlessly into a big melting pot of bubbling energy that is ready to explode at any moment. It inspires me to write and be creative, as well as to get out and explore as much as I can. There is an atmosphere of excitement in Tirana as well, and I feel it is a city that is in the infancy of a journey that will see it become a place of incredible cultural and artistic innovation. In my blog, and my new column in this newspaper, I aim to explore the good, the bad, and the ugly of what Tirana, and Albania have to offer. I want to touch on all aspects of society and present my perceptions and opinions as an outsider looking in with a fresh mind and no pre-conceived ideas. I will not shy away from sensitive topics, but I want to be constructive with my approach and I want to use my experience in activism through journalism, to create awareness and present a different way of thinking. To me, Albania and its people are a truly resilient force to be reckoned with, but I feel that many members of the public feel complacent with their country. The problems that affect their day-to-day life have resulted in many stopping to see the beauty and potential around them and I hope that in some way, what I write may help to inspire some spirit in them. From artists to musicians, philanthropists to activists and everyone else in-between, I wish to show that this country is totally unique and special, and that there is still hope to be had.     [post_title] => My journey to Tirana [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => my-journey-to-tirana [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-03-30 12:45:37 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-03-30 10:45:37 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=136425 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 136372 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-03-29 13:00:38 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-03-29 11:00:38 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_136373" align="alignright" width="300"]cocoli Economy expert Fatos Çoçoli[/caption] By Fatos Çoçoli There are six road segments, a regional hospital in Fier and five schools in Tirana that the Albanian government is planning to build under the public private partnership approach and their contracts for this year, worth about €1 billion.  Most of them, if not all of them, under unsolicited proposals, i.e. avoiding competition. Even though the International Monetary Fund has strongly advised of eliminating the practice of unsolicited proposals, the Albanian economy and finance minister has said the government will accept unsolicited proposals until 2021. With the completion of this year or by next year of two major investments, the Trans Adriatic Pipeline and two hydropower plants along the Devoll River, Albania finds itself in a situation when for the 2018-2019 period there will be €200 million less in foreign direct investment each year. This €400 million gap has to be filled by all means, because otherwise, it will not only be new jobs that will suffer, but also many vital indicators in the fragile equilibrium of the Albanian economy will deteriorate. For this reason (maybe many other untold ones), the government has opted not to abide by IMF’s advice. The government is no longer in its desperate need for IMF funds as it was in autumn 2013 when it found the state budget in ruins. The government can now maneuver. But this swerve could cost us and the next generation of our children dearly. PPPs are not like simple concessions. They bear risks, which in case of failing, the government will have to pay with taxpayer money. Only for 2017, the state budget spent through taxpayer money €57 million to pay off obligations for the existing PPPs. This year’s figure has dangerously increased to €70 million as PPPs increased to 12, up from a previous eight. The new projects include the construction of the Arbri Road, the ‘Nation’s Highway’ maintenance concession, the construction of the Tirana incinerator and the construction of six schools in the Tirana Municipality territory. The construction of six schools under this formula in Zagreb 11 years ago, cost six times more than it would have cost the state budget and the Croatians are now mourning the wasted money. The fiscal rule is that if you pay more than 5 percent of the previous year’s tax revenue to pay off PPPs, then a real danger is present. To date, we are paying half of this amount, €57 million, and the government can still signs PPPs. But if they are not transparently contracted, under thorough studies and forecasts, we risk paying an extra 10-fold in the upcoming years, quite irresponsibly burdening our children’s future with an almost bankrupt government because of debts to the private sector. That means cutting off our nose to spite our face. This €1 billion investment based on this year’s PPPs will be a really tough battle. (Translated from Albanian, originally published on ekonomix.al portal) [post_title] => The €1 billion battle [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-e1-billion-battle [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-03-29 13:00:38 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-03-29 11:00:38 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=136372 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 136357 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-03-27 21:08:01 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-03-27 19:08:01 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_133311" align="alignright" width="300"]Bujar Leskaj, the head of Albania's Supreme State Audit Bujar Leskaj, the head of Albania's Supreme State Audit[/caption] By Bujar Leskaj* Within the time frame of less than two months (February-March 2018), three prestigious and credible international institutions have assessed the level of corruption in Albania’s state administration and the problems with the reform in our public administration. From the outset I must admit that these classifications disgrace all of us, the leaders of the Albanian government and other state institutions (dependent and independent), including the author of this modest article. On March 14, 2018, the United Nations published a survey, conducted by the prestigious Gallup International, the Index of Happiness in 157 States around the world. This index contains the sub-index of perceived corruption by citizens as one of its main indicators. According to its data, Albania turns out to be the 19th most corrupt country in the world, where nearly nine out of 10 Albanians believe that corruption in the state administration is widespread. According to data, compared to 5 years ago, the perception of corruption in Albania has deteriorated, from 84.7 percent to 88.6 percent currently. Gallup measures corruption by asking directly from 1,000 citizens for each state. Among the two questions addressed to them about corruption, one goes like this: "Is corruption widespread in government, or not?" Again in March 2018, SIGMA, a joint initiative of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the European Union (EU) for Governance and Management Support, published its monitoring report for 2017 on the progress of public administration reform in 6 EU candidate countries, including Albania. The report on "the Principles of Public Administration: Albania[1]”, inter alia, states, that "... the lack of specific rules to ensure merit, integrity and disciplinary recruitment for certain groups of employees exercising public authority and not covered by the Law on The Civil Service, following the amendments adopted in 2014 remains a matter of concern." The Report also finds that "the percentage of vacancies has been improved, but there has been a significant decrease in the number of participating candidates[2],” which means that there are fewer candidates applying for an open position, a direct result of the perception of citizens that it is impossible to gain work in an institution of public administration, without having any connection or acquaintance with senior executives. In most of the senior positions in the government, the SIGMA report describes, the employees are appointed through the use of extraordinary procedure. On 21 February 2018, the world-renowned nonprofit organization Transparency International, one of the most trusted in measuring corruption in 180 countries, placed Albania at the 91st place among the 180 countries, or eight positions below the previous year. The indicator of this organization is considered globally as the most accurate indicator of the spread of the phenomenon of corruption in a particular society, as it refers to its perception from the citizens themselves. The idea circulated in some segments of our public administration that "corruption has diminished but the perception of citizens has lagged behind" is not true, as citizens face it every day with the state administration and they are able to evaluate its behavior better than all our state institutions. That is why Transparency International measures corruption anywhere in the world directly from citizens’ responses to its questions. Its indicator is the most renowned and internationally accepted indicator today. The same organization mentions in its assessment of Albania that our country's path to EU membership is hampered by slow progress in the fight against corruption and organized crime. Such ratings and considerations should make us all more responsible and conscious, as we are not finding a way out to effectively combat CORRUPTION, the most corrosive element of citizens' trust in the state. We recall how far we are to meet the 17 goals of the United Nations Agenda 2030 (the significant reduction of poverty, sustainable economic development, responsible production and consumption, responsible development of cities and their communities, qualitative education, reduction of social inequalities, etc.) and the tasks we have undertaken to accomplish as a member State of the UN in the framework of its Agenda 2030. UN Secretary-General Mr. Antonio Guterres, on the World Anti-Corruption Day on 9 December 2017, gave the following message: "We can implement the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, only if every country has strong, transparent and inclusive institutions, based on the rule of law and supported by the public."[3] xx I believe that the best way is to create synergies from effective cooperation between the main institutions of the State, the civil society and citizens. In this respect, we should all reflect. For example, the cooperation agreements signed among the Supreme State Audit, the Ministry of Finance and the Prosecutor’s Office in 2012, should be revitalized and target uninterrupted interaction, both with the internal audit structures and the Directorate of Financial Inspection at the Ministry of Finance and prosecutors handling cases sent by the Supreme State Audit to the Prosecutor’s office, why not create a task force to follow up referrals by the Supreme State Audit  and other independent institutions. At the Supreme State Audit, as a supreme audit institution, our role consists in providing recommendations for changes and improvements to laws and by-laws, aiming at minimizing the risk of abuse of office and budget funds, minimizing corruption and tolerance to it, avoiding cases of conflict of interest, etc. The government should issue an order for the implementation of our recommendations by its subordinate institutions. Since 2013, this initiative is missing and has contributed to the strengthening of the culture of impunity in the ranks of the state administration As I have mentioned in previous articles, corruption follows the formula of world-renowned scholar Robert Klitgaard: C = M + D - A where C is corruption, M is monopoly and D the quantity that can be benefited from corruption (otherwise called discretionary power of corruption, freedom of action), while A stands for accountability. Corruption is equal to monopoly, plus discretion minus accountability. If the activity is public, private or non-profit, corruption is likely to happen, when one has the power of monopoly over a commodity or service, as well as the power to decide if you will benefit and how much you will benefit and this one is not a responsible person. Today, all over the world, the supreme audit institutions (the SAIs) are trying to make accountability and governance more transparent, practically rewriting Klitgaard's equation at C = M + D - (A + T) , where the new element "T", i.e. transparency, together with the increase/strengthening of accountability, strongly contributes to curbing and further defeating corruption in state activities. xx From this point of view, we at the Supreme State Audit see the mission and role of our auditors today in a way that by closely monitoring the financial management process, the state auditor is likely to discover deficiencies and deviations from standard state management procedures by identifying those irregularities that perpetuate corruption. Although as a supreme audit institution, of course we do have less investigative powers than the Prosecutor’s office or the State Police bodies, the added value of our work in finding indicia of corruption lies in our auditors' gained knowledge to evaluate in the data and financial statements a high-risk public entity for abuse with state funds and property; the professional ability, knowledge and financial expertise that they have, also providing indicia to other institutions. In more than 900 audits that we have conducted over the period 2012-2017, we have put these audit results ​​into the service of detecting financial fraud and corruption, in addition to the primary role of counseling and the impact on improving property management systems and the use of public money. The number of criminal charges during this 6-year period has been an indicator of our work, by sending 266 referrals or indictments to the Prosecutor’s office for 847 state employees, mostly senior and middle-ranking officials, at a rate of one referral per week or an average of almost one criminal charge every three audits. We believe that those referrals, as well as entirely the audits carried out by the High State Control will provide indicia and valuable material for the new justice reform institutions, which have already begun to function, to deepen the fight against corruption (and this is good news for all institutions and citizens). As an external public audit institution, during the past six years 2012-2017, we have oriented the audit activity towards the challenges of good governance, aiming to gain citizen confidence through an active role in strengthening accountability and transparency, as well as in deepening the war against corruption at all levels of government. Although the international standards of INTOSAI, which we are extensively applying to our work, emphasize the advisory role of the supreme audit institutions in preventing corrupt behavior and abuse of public funds, the environment in which we operate and the high levels of corruption in every cell of the country's public administration have led us to consciously choose a balanced approach between the institution’s advisory and preventive as well as its denouncing roles. The recent cases of Prosecutor’s office action against former state officials denounced by the High State Control, such as in the field of construction and maintenance of national roads and in the administration of state property in real estate registration offices, testify the truthfulness of the Supreme State Audit’s criminal charges, findings and recommendations. But we are fully aware that any partial action or result either by the Prosecutor’s office, the High Inspectorate of Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflict of Interests or the Supreme State Audit will fail to effectively combat corruption, without establishing, and not formally doing it, a national anticorruption front, where the emphasis is on strengthening accountability and transparency of public institutions. The first action by this front must come with the dismissal from central government of those dozens of senior executives evidenced and denounced by the Supreme State Audit in flagrant abuse of state property and funds, and not only waiting from the State Prosecutor’s office moves. xxx Considering recent reports from the European Commission, the U.S. State Department and the three indicators of Gallup International, SIGMA and Transparency International on the worrying levels of corruption in Albania, from the concerns raised by the International Monetary Fund in the concluding statement of its mission in Albania on March 20, 2018, as well as from the worsening level of the business confidence index, published these days by the American Chamber of Commerce in Albania, it is high time we boosted the fight against corruption. Alone, none of our institutions can maximize its work. The justice reform, which is a necessary, but insufficient condition to be effective in fighting corruption, the valuable expertise and contribution of international donor institutions will not be maximized without the synergy and coordination of the state institutions between themselves and with the civil society of the country, for the benefit of all citizens, and not just façade public hearings. In these moments, no separate project and strategy is needed by any institution, but a national unified project, a national strategy and the creation of a unique inclusive front in the fight against corruption, where the contribution of each institution is synergized, integrated and concrete. Only then, the perception of the Albanian citizens, measured and scientifically proven by organizations such as Gallup International or Transparency International, will decrease in relation to the corruption of our state administration by strengthening the rule of law in the country. *Bujar Leskaj is the head of Albania’s Supreme State Audit. [1] http://www.oecd.org/officialdocuments/publicdisplaydocumentpdf/?cote=GOV/SIGMA(2017)1&docLanguage=En, page 27, third paragraph. [2] The same, page 28, first paragraph. [3] http://www.un.org/en/events/anticorruptionday/ [post_title] => Only accountability and transparency can bring back citizens' trust [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => only-accountability-and-transparency-can-bring-back-citizens-trust [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-03-27 21:08:01 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-03-27 19:08:01 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=136357 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 136317 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-03-23 10:02:47 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-03-23 09:02:47 [post_content] => In a recent interview in Brussels, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama mentioned that he saw Albania’s bid to join the European Union as a race between the country and Serbia, which has been declared as a front-runner by EU authorities, but which Rama said cannot join ahead of Albania. Albania’s EU integration race is first and foremost with itself -- in developing and maintaining European standards in rule of law, education, healthcare and human rights -- as well in achieving full economic development and building a strong democratic society -- basically, building hope for the future. Serbia, is already ahead of Albania in several of those aspects, even though many among us don’t like to admit it. But PM Rama’s argument PM is not new, and is in fact a repetition of themes he has mentioned before. These include the idea that that if the EU does not accept Albania, i.e., not open membership negotiations, then Albania will look for an alternative -- a new orientation -- looking to places like Turkey, Russia, or wherever else for support. Or, the theme goes on, Albania will seek another union -- that of territories where ethnic Albanians live, a union also known as Ethnic Albania or Greater Albania. These themes coming from the prime minister are not to be trusted. First and foremost, Albanians are pro-Europe and everyone everywhere knows that Albanians have almost totalitarian support for the country’s EU bid. Corrupt, autocratic and sick leaders in love with power more than the country can try to delay Albania’s EU integration, but they cannot stop it or switch the country’s orientation. For Albanians, there in no Plan B. There is only the West - Europe option. While leaders have been paying lip service to this plan for years, however, every day we see how they have failed to build these EU values in Albania. Back to the supposed race claimed by the PM, Albanian is losing every day. One cannot trust the PM’s musing because Albania’s failure to progress in its EU bid is not related to the fact that Albanian territories are not united but because he and other leaders like him have failed to build Europe inside Albania. Last but not least, in terms of importance, racing another country on which will join the EU first is not is necessarily wrong, on the contrary, but the type of race the PM proposes is wrong. According to him, Albania will beat Serbia in the race because Serbia has Kosovo standing in its way to the EU. The relationship of Serbia and Kosovo and its recognition from Serbia is only one aspect of the transformation of Serbia into an EU member. The essence of being ready for membership relates to internal reforms and in many of these Serbia is ahead. In that context, the race with Serbia is a populist joke. It is not the first of its kind from this PM. And it does not lead anywhere. [post_title] => Editorial: Albania’s real EU membership race is with itself, not Serbia [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-albanias-real-eu-membership-race-is-with-itself-not-serbia [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-03-23 10:02:47 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-03-23 09:02:47 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=136317 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 136596 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-04-13 10:26:01 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-04-13 08:26:01 [post_content] => By Mimi Kodheli* First of all I would like to congratulate the organizers for this very interesting forum - interesting because I think it will contribute to a better understanding of the multiple reasons and relations connecting Albania and Greece as well as of the reasons, prejudices, stereotypes, ignorance and distorted minds that attempt to divide and oppose them to each other. It would be too pretentious to assume the task of drawing in few pages and such a short time an exhaustive full overview of the Albania-Greece relations: from the historical point of view it is as vast as the history of the European civilization, from the human point of view it is as deep as the human heart, from the social point of view as complicated as our people’s minds, from the political one … ephemeral. So I will stick to (and elaborate later on) something more tangible and transcendental element: the neighborship, giving that we are two of the most ancient neighboring nations of the continent, living on the same territories from the beginning of what is today called Europe. What is the actual situation of the Albania – Greece relations? From the political point of view they can be considered very good and in a process of further improvement. They are of a strategic importance for us. Greece is part of Albania’s strategic quadrangular, together with Italy, Austria and Turkey. It is a NATO good and effectively cooperating partner. It has been and still is a supporting country to Albania in its integrating process to the EU. From the economic and trade point of view, Greece is Albania's main foreign investor and second largest trading partner. In terms of amount and variety the potentials are still bigger. From the legal point of view, we have a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in place since the 90’s, however we should say that our bilateral legal framework has not yet fully produced the expected positive results. Meanwhile, the relations between the two countries are now progressing positively due to what has been qualified as the "policy of small steps”. Negotiations are ongoing between the two governments to resolve pending issues, divided in three different baskets, some inherited from the past but all affecting the present and with a projection to the future of our nations. Are we reviewing our relations? Maybe yes. Maybe we need to… in order to correct some mistakes and failures in our relations and improve them. And I mean here the official relations between our states because the relations between our nations are not of our discretion. They are established and consolidated from hundreds of centuries. They evolve following some internal organic rules belonging to our people. Moreover our countries are bound by the presence of the large Albanian community in Greece and the Greek minority in Albania. In this context, everyone could ask a rhetorical question: Strategically and logically speaking, how could Greece be interested on a poor and unstable Albania and, the other way around, how could Albania be willing a troubled and in crisis Greece?!   The history (especially the one of Europe) is a proof of the fact that the old geopolitical theory, according to which the neighbor should be down and broken, has been invalidated by the modern times – it brings no good at all but harm. What we should and are called to do? Traveling by car from Germany to France or the other way around, some of you have maybe crossed the so-called Europe’s Bridge. This bridge, build in Alsace, connecting Strasbourg to Kehl, constitutes a symbol of the triumph of peace, confidence and cooperation over war, conflict and confrontation that, for more than one century made hundreds of thousands of victims both sides of Rihn river. Various famous writers have left on the Europe’s Bridge some notes, among which I would like to quote the one from our great writer Ismail Kadare: “Traveler, all the bridges in the world from the oldest to the latest, like the one you are crossing, have something in common: they vibrate. Stop your car, get out and press your cheek to the parapet; you will distinctly feel the tremor. It seems that in the infinite variety of structural types, bridges alone have something of man’s confusion, anxieties, hopes, fears and dreams built into them. The first man whose path was blocked by a sudden freak of the terrain and who resolved not to turn back but to brave the abyss and cross it was probably elated by the exiting venture, but no doubts alarmed too, as if at committing a sin. The man of old were convinced that in building a bridge they defied destiny and, to appease the anger of gods, were wont to make a sacrifice at the foot of every bridge. You, traveler, are on the Bridge of Europe. At its very foundations, our continent has made a sacrifice by renouncing its old prejudices, divisions, hatreds, intolerance and other errors. The bridge trembles, thrills with human torments, proving that you are at the heart of Europe.” Differently from France and Germany as well as from many neighboring countries of Europe, Albania and Greece, have never been in a real and proper classical war. And, according to the dictionaries, an absence of war is usually called "peace". So (except from some sporadic conflicts) actually our people have lived in peace throughout history. However as we all know, a Royal Decree of 10 November 1940 has established “the state of war” with Albania and the so called “War Law” versus Albania is still existing in Greece. I will not go into the technicalities of this issue but I would like to refer to and point out this fact to emphasize how destructively absurd can be politics and politicians… how damaging can they be to their own countries and people. This “War Law” has negatively contributed not only in creating prejudices and bad feelings but also economic and property issues. Therefore, to open a new page in our relations, the Royal Decree of 1940, needs to be abrogated, along with its effects. We are all happy today to know that this stupid “War Law” is being part of the above-mentioned negotiations that are ongoing between our governments in order to be abrogated.   Obviously, before we can build anything more substantial enhancing our relations, we must finish first with the Second World War, the same way the new Europe of after WWII and the one of after the Cold War was created: Cooperating with trust! Union of forces, efforts, resources and collaboration have created that synergy no individual could generate on its own, but for this it has always been needed initially trust (or mutual good faith) and confidence: trust in the partner chosen to cooperate with, confidence and belief that the way to be taken is the right one. Unfortunately, we are witnessing that the crisis Europe is facing today is first and foremost caused exactly by the lack of confidence and trust. Lack of trust on the EU institutions, partners and others too, lack of confidence on the way of further unification and enlargement. Although today, more than ever has become quite clear that the challenges we are facing and the various consequences of the crises affecting of our common security, stability and peace are absolutely interconnected, therefore they cannot be tackled by an isolated approach. Building trust, creating synergies and strengthening cooperation is of a paramount, especially among neighbors. The contrary has always been proven to be of disastrous consequences. Breaking connecting bridges, building dividing walls, excluding and botching each-other brings good to no one. All in the contrary, it harms everyone and seriously damage our peoples’ aspirations for peace and prosperity, our common future. The relations between Albania and Greece are part of the European politics and future but mostly of our own one, the one of our children. Everybody who can give a contribution to promote and boost them is called too: politician and individual, state institution and civil society.   From the position of a parliamentarian and the Head of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I would say that due to their particular and honored status, as representatives of the people, the parliamentarians are in a privileged position to convey, in a capillary way, to the people they are representing as well as to the policy makers, feelings of positive inspiration and proofs of good faith in order to promote cooperation, confidence and trust, bringing all of them closer and together by “renouncing prejudices, divisions, hatreds, intolerance and other errors” – as Kadare says. *Mimi Kodheli is the chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament of Albania. The article above is an extract of her remarks at the day-long conference on “Re-examining Albania-Greece relations; challenges of the present, prospects for the future” organized by the Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS)  in cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Tirana, bringing together experts, diplomats, politicians and students.   [post_title] => Building strong bridges in Albania-Greece relations [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => building-strong-bridges-in-albania-greece-relations [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-04-13 10:26:01 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-04-13 08:26:01 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=136596 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [queried_object] => stdClass Object ( [term_id] => 30 [name] => Op-Ed [slug] => op-ed [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 30 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 752 [filter] => raw [cat_ID] => 30 [category_count] => 752 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Op-Ed [category_nicename] => op-ed [category_parent] => 0 ) [queried_object_id] => 30 [post__not_in] => Array ( ) )

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