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Independent experts back US report on Albania’s corrupt business climate

Independent experts back US report on Albania’s corrupt business climate

TIRANA, Aug. 1 – The opposition, government and independent economic experts have followed the State Department’s 2018 Investment Climate report rating Albania as a difficult place to do business according to foreign investors with opposing comments and sentiments. “Albania is

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Albania: source of victims of trafficking in persons, report says

Albania: source of victims of trafficking in persons, report says

TIRANA, July 31 – On the World Day against Trafficking in Persons, the line for children’s counseling Alo 116 published a report stating that abuse and trafficking of Albanian children continues at alarming levels. The stream of denouncement calls to

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Steam locomotive installation in honor of Tirana’s future, first-ever electric train

Steam locomotive installation in honor of Tirana’s future, first-ever electric train

TIRANA, July 26 – A symbolic installation of a steam locomotive was placed this week where Tirana’s old train station is, soon to be replaced with the first electric train going from the capital to Durres. Mayor of Tirana Erion

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Five Albanian artists showcased in Washington DC

Five Albanian artists showcased in Washington DC

TIRANA, July 25 – The World Bank inaugurated a modest exhibition consisting of 13 paintings made by Albanian artists at US capitol Washington DC. More specifically, it was World Bank Group Executive Director for Albania Patrizio Pagano who ideated and

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Scores dead as Greece hit by massive wildfires

Scores dead as Greece hit by massive wildfires

TIRANA, July 25 – The deadliest wildfires Greece has seen for over a decade swept over the Attica region on Monday, causing 80 confirmed victims and 187 injured people — numbers that keep growing, along with the scores of those

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Washington DC: Women’s organizations come together to discuss trafficking challenges

Washington DC: Women’s organizations come together to discuss trafficking challenges

TIRANA, July 24 – Amy Sebes, founder of the Association of Albanian Girls and Women, held a meeting in Washington DC to present the Albanian diaspora with the challenges trafficked women and girls face once traumatized from this phenomenon still

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Klaivert Dervishi: The 17-year-old Albanian eSports world champion

Klaivert Dervishi: The 17-year-old Albanian eSports world champion

TIRANA, July 19 – Seventeen-year-old Albanian Klaivert Dervishi was part of the duo that impressed audiences in Valencia’s DreamHack venue, by winning the Fortnite gaming competition, which granted the winning team €5,000. In what looks like a hobby to some,

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EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn visits Tirana

EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn visits Tirana

TIRANA, July 17 – The European Commissioner for Enlargement Johannes Hahn’s visit to Tirana on Tuesday marked the beginning of the analytical assessment process, which will precede EU accession negotiations, scheduled to potentially begin next June. The official start of

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Two more High Court members ousted under re-evaluation

Two more High Court members ousted under re-evaluation

TIRANA, July 18 – On Wednesday, High Court members Tom Ndreca and Admir Thanza were also ousted by the Independent Qualification Committee, unable to justify their wealth and shady connections under the re-evaluation law. This decision officially places the High

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Italian police confiscate €3 million worth of alleged Albanian cannabis

Italian police confiscate €3 million worth of alleged Albanian cannabis

TIRANA, July 17 –  A speedboat filled with 262 kg of cannabis, which Italian media said was coming from Albania, was caught in Italy’s Bari port on Monday. A 26-year-old Italian citizen has been arrested, while the cannabis amount is

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Aug. 1 - The opposition, government and independent economic experts have followed the State Department’s 2018 Investment Climate report rating Albania as a difficult place to do business according to foreign investors with opposing comments and sentiments.

“Albania is not a hospitable country for foreign investments. There have been no serious foreign investments in the past five years. There is a lot of political clientelism and kleptocracy, as well as pressure. Five years ago, when a new road was built, foreign companies competed for its construction, while for the last five years there is almost no foreign company interested in winning a public procurement in Albania,” said BIRN analyst Gjergj Erebara.

The State Department report says that in Albania, foreign investors and businessmen cite corruption as a major problem, particularly evident in the judicial system, lack of transparency in public procurement and poor implementation of contracts.

“This report is essentially a reconfirmation of a sordid economic reality that Albania is going through: slow economic growth with an economy that grows under its capacity, with a frequently changing legal framework, with abusive governmental decision-making favoring lobbies and large oligarch and kleptocratic accompanying it,” said the Head of the Centre for Economic Research Zef Preci.

The report assesses the implementation of the justice reform is verifying judges and prosecutors for unexplained wealth, but foreign investors perceive the investment climate as problematic and say Albania remains a difficult place to do business.

Erebera added that public-private partnership (PPP) projects are in huge proportions compared to the economy, where four road projects are 711 million euros, or 6 percent of Albania's GDP. Large amounts of money are thrown into few projects and procurement procedures allow suspicion for political clientelism, corruption and pre-selected winners.

“This system is pure political clientelism. It is like a medieval economy, where the king determines who will use the forest, who will collect the taxes, who will use the coal, who will use the coast. So everything is in the hands of an all-powerful person who is called prime minister and he does not provide what the US calls checks and balances, there are no constitutional balances,” Erebara said. 

The report stresses that big foreign investors are pressured to hire subcontractors associated with politicians, while reports on corruption in the government’s public procurement practices are commonplace. 

The report also says that PPP projects have narrowed competition opportunities, including competition among foreign investors in infrastructure and other sectors.

“PPP projects are deep distortions of competition, as the winners are known in advance and the competition is entirely formal. The government should make sure to use the parliament as a guard that protects contracts of this nature, so it avoids punishment in the future, hiding behind collegial decision-making. Most of them are unsolicited bids, meaning the government ignores or does not have plans to develop sectors and different branches of the economy,” Preci said.

In addition, according to the report, investors complain that unstable laws and officials’ difficult regulations are tools to remove foreign investors and favor politically-tied companies.

The opposition’s head of the Democratic Party Lulzim Basha said Albania is lacking foreign investments because it is pressured to cooperate with its clientele businesses. 

“Albania is not a suitable place for American businesses because of widespread corruption, especially in PPP projects and procurement, lack of rule of law and lack of competition,” Basha said.

Meanwhile, Minister for Finance Arben Ahmetaj said the axis of the report is the justice reform, which the opposition should stop trying to block.

“The report clearly states that corruption is grounded and stems from the judicial system and this has ruined the terms of doing business. The report states that if the reform is fully implemented, the business climate will improve rapidly,” Ahmetaj said.

Transparency International's Perception of Corruption Index for 2017 ranked Albania 91 out of 180 countries, a downturn of eight percent a year earlier. As such, Albania is now perceived as the second most corrupt country in the Western Balkans.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 31 - On the World Day against Trafficking in Persons, the line for children’s counseling Alo 116 published a report stating that abuse and trafficking of Albanian children continues at alarming levels.

The stream of denouncement calls to this 24-hour service is still very high for cases of violence against children, domestic violence, physical abuse and economic exploitation.

According to the report, what is actually denounced at the counseling line is just the tip of the iceberg.

Police reported that during 2015- 2017, about 50 children were victims of trafficking, but non-governmental organizations claim that part of the trafficking scheme are more than 2,500 children that live in street and are exploited for work, becoming potential victims of undocumented abuse.

Alo 116 Counseling Line Director Mirgit Vataj says this is the reason why Albania continues to be considered a source of victims of trafficking in persons.

According to police data, 365 children were estimated missing in the last 3 years, 353 of whom were found and returned to their families; these children could have been victims of human trafficking while they were missing, while 12 of them have not yet been found.

Domestic violence, physical abuse, economic exploitation, bullying among children, the problems they face in school with teachers and with each other are some of the most common concerns reported in the child counseling line.

Orphans, children living in troubled families or witnessing domestic violence and those who live with one parent due to the other’s arrest or imprisonment are also vulnerable to trafficking.

Observers believe that now that Albania has a new law on the protection of children, which is in the phase of issuing secondary legislation, it is also best to review all the institutions and problems of this field. 

They believe that the three main institutions - family, society and education institutions - are still unable to coordinate for child development, while community services are lacking in local branches of government. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 26 - A symbolic installation of a steam locomotive was placed this week where Tirana’s old train station is, soon to be replaced with the first electric train going from the capital to Durres. 

Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj said that soon enough Tirana’s citizens will be able to travel to the Rinas airport and Durres by electric train during the installation ceremony of the steam locomotive at the entrance of the New Boulevard, as a cooperation between the Municipality of Tirana, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Energy and the Hemingway Fan Club Tirana.

“The new electric train will be passing on the other end, which is why we put the locomotive on this side. Under these opportunities, I believe that within the next mandate we will have the chance to experience the first trip on the electric train, without pollution, from Tirana to Rinas Airport, and then from Tirana to Durres. We will have the opportunity to see where we were, where we are and where we want to go in the future,” said Veliaj.

He added the steam locomotive installation doesn’t only serve as a reminder of the past.

|This locomotive was produced in 1951. This coincides with the year when the first consortium that preceded the EU, the steel and coal union, was created. The agreement of '51 gave birth to what today is called the European Union, the negotiations with which we will open next year. So this

memory is not only physical, but also political, and humanitarian, as well as a reminder of the fact that relations between people have developed aside science, transforming what started as trade into the multilateral relations we today call the European family,” Veliaj said.

Veliaj stressed that Tirana’s future is not that of a city where the work is done only by the municipality, but one in which its youth adopts a part of the city to beautify it.

“In most countries around the world, a park, a flower, an installation, a statue, are not actually productions of the municipality, but the boys and girls of that city, commune or neighborhood that come together to create a micro-environment, which they adopt,” he said.

The new locomotive located on the New Boulevard was produced in Poland in 1951 while its mission was completed in Albania, in 1986. 

It initially served passengers and then freight trains, and will now remind citizens of the railway stations that resemble the stations of life, the stories, the emotions, the love that kept families alive and the distances that this locomotive shortened. 

More than a relic of the Albanian railway launch, artists have thought of the steam locomotive as a symbol of the unstoppable journey of Tirana's development.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 25 - The World Bank inaugurated a modest exhibition consisting of 13 paintings made by Albanian artists at US capitol Washington DC. 

More specifically, it was World Bank Group Executive Director for Albania Patrizio Pagano who ideated and organized the exhibition. 

“This event’s purpose was to expose Albania not only in the economic aspect and in context of the benefits the country is gaining from a number of World Bank projects, but also in the artistic aspect, as a big part of the country’s development is culture, especially now that Albania is investing so much in tourism and in making the country attractive to foreigners,” Greta Minxhozi, World Bank consultant, said.  

Thirteen paintings belonging to five Albanian artists are exhibited in Washington - the chosen artists are Ardian Isufi, Ardian Kapo, Eros Dibra, Gazmend Leka and Ilir Koka. 

These artists’ work is by now known in a number of cultural capitals, such as Paris, New York, London and Berlin.

“It is a small number, but it personifies an very developed visual art in Albania,” Albanian Ambassador to the US Floreta Faber said.

The exhibition was brought to life by World Bank art curators, selected among the artwork placed at the Kalo Gallery walls - one of the main private art galleries in Tirana.

“I had the idea seeing the same was applied to other countries, so I realized the same was needed for Albania. The World Bank’s art sector selected a number of paintings and asked me to bring them for exhibition, but it took about two years for this to come to life,” Kalo Gallery founder Perparim Kalo told the Voice of America.

Artists themselves claimed that the artwork exhibited in Washington doesn’t represent a specific school or type of art.

“Each artists represents and expresses his own self. By expressing themselves, they create the Albanian artistic reality,” painter Ilir Pojani told VoA. 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 25 - The deadliest wildfires Greece has seen for over a decade swept over the Attica region on Monday, causing 80 confirmed victims and 187 injured people -- numbers that keep growing, along with the scores of those missing, as the search continues. 

The death toll significantly rose on Tuesday, when a group of 26 bodies were found in the harbor town of Rafina, according to Greek Red Cross workers’ reports.

The victims were found in a group, in a final attempt to protect themselves from the advancing flames. Among them were mothers and children. 

“They had tried to find an escape route but unfortunately these people and their kids didn't make it in time. Instinctively, seeing the end nearing, they embraced,” Nikos Economopoulos, head of Greece's Red Cross, said.

Mayor of Rafina Evangelos Bournous told international media the dead could exceed 100, as some of the missing might have died.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras declared three days of national mourning for the wildfires that also damaged structures, disrupted major transport links and sent people fleeing their homes.

Caused by high temperatures and high winds of up to 100 km/h, Greece’s fire brigade notified the intensity and spread of the wildfire in the coastal village of Mati slowed down on Tuesday, as the winds died down.

However, the situation is still not completely under control and the fire department has urged residents to report missing friends and relatives, while authorities are still looking for dozens of people. There is still no formal count of the missing. 

Areas unreachable on Monday due to the wildfire’s intensity became accessible to firefights on Tuesday, uncovering lines of burned-down cars and charred fields with small fires still running.

Fire brigade spokeswoman Stavroula Maliri said that “residents and visitors could not escape in time although they were a few meters from the sea or in their homes.”

A six-month-old baby was reported from officials to be one of the youngest victims from the main wildfire, while another smaller fire broke out also on Monday in a forest near the coastal area of Kineta.

People are seen as a wildfire burns in Mati

 

SOS Alert

A state of emergency was declared in the metropolitan area of Athens, while Tsipras cut short a visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina to return to Greece.

Tsipras said what Greece is dealing with at the moment is “completely asymmetric.”

The government said it needed air and land assets from European Union partners, a call to which Cyprus and Spain were among the first to address.

Authorities also said on Tuesday they’d be making use of a US drone to monitor and track suspicious activity.

The Greek government also announced a full list of measures to ease the damages suffered by those affected by the fire, including monetary subsidies and a number of other strategies. 

Although Tsipras and other officials have denied that several major fires broke out at the same time, citizens have still blamed the government for lacking a proper emergency plan and cutting down on operational costs. 

The fires in Mati were by far Greece's worst since flames devastated the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007, killing scores.  

Albanians among Greek wildfire tragedy victims

A number of local media sources have reported from correspondents at least one Albanian victim and two missing persons during the ongoing search at the wake of the wildfire.

The Albanian Embassy to Greece has only confirmed three injured Albanian nationals, while correspondents in Athens have reported two missing Albanian women, employed at a tavern, three injured, among whom children and one victim - Nica Leka, from Saranda. 

Two Polish and three Danish victims have also been confirmed by international media, drowned in their efforts to escape the fire by getting into the sea, while on Thursday an Irishmen who was spending his honeymoon in Greece was also confirmed among the victims.

The Albanian government, in line with a number of EU states, offered Greece a monetary assistance of 100,000 euros, taken from the state’s reserve budget for the rehabilitation of damages caused by the wildfire. 

Along Prime Minister Edi Rama’s signature, the donation was authorized by the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Finances. 

“Albania feels especially close to neighboring Greece at this tragic time for all those who lost their relatives and are facing the devastating results of a crazed fire. The Albanian government just approved a donation in solidarity to our brothers and sisters,” Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote in a Facebook statement. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 24 - Amy Sebes, founder of the Association of Albanian Girls and Women, held a meeting in Washington DC to present the Albanian diaspora with the challenges trafficked women and girls face once traumatized from this phenomenon still present in Albanian society. 

The AAGW, which she established 15 years ago, has provided social and emotional support to hundreds of trafficked Albanian women, empowering them and helping them to reintegrate in society.

Although the number of girls and women being trafficked abroad has marked a significant drop, Sebes spoke of another emerging problem - human trafficking within Albania.

“Trafficking within Albania has grown, especially from small towns to big cities and especially to Durres during the summer months. This is quite disturbing,” Sebes said.

The voices of trafficked girls who found shelter and support by the AAGW made the challenges experienced by them more accessible for the participants who gathered at the premises of the non-profit Open Gov Hub.

“I am very touched by the work she has done to help the victims of trafficking. As a member of Vatra we want to raise awareness about this problem to help women in Albania and everywhere else,” member of the Pan Albanian Vatra Federation Teuta Bucaj said. 

Sara Çapaliku, on the other hand, has worked in Albania with non-governmental organizations that assist trafficked women and told the Voice of America there is still much to be done in raising awareness in society concerning this negative phenomenon.

“There is not enough awareness, people think this is not an ongoing and repetitive issue, but only that its methods have been refined. I do not think awareness has grown in Albania and I do not think the state has done any great work to invest in the reintegration or the salvation of these victims,” she said.

Albanian Ambassador to the US, Floreta Faber, however, said that beyond the challenges, Albania has increased the representation of women at managerial levels and recognizes their potential as a motor for a more advanced society.

“Today we have more than 50 percent of the administration run by women, senior managerial levels run by women, we have 30 percent of women parliamentarians and I would say a large number of ambassadors in different countries are women.This has increased internal confidence for a large number of other women that they too can be part of this great effort to develop society,” Faber said. 

Participants sent inspirational messages to trafficking victims by putting in words of encouragement for all those women and girls who still face the consequences of a long, but still tangible, battle in Albania. 

 
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                    [post_date] => 2018-07-20 00:59:15
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 19 - Seventeen-year-old Albanian Klaivert Dervishi was part of the duo that impressed audiences in Valencia’s DreamHack venue, by winning the Fortnite gaming competition, which granted the winning team €5,000.

In what looks like a hobby to some, Dervishi has found a passion which he plans on sticking with, and eventually even turn into a profession.

Having broken his third world record on June 28 in the solo vs. duo category, where he managed 31 kills, Dervishi says he is considering to even start his own game one day, or become the head of eSports - a form of competition using video games.

Last April Dervishi, who goes by the name of Teeqzy in his online gaming platforms, placed an absolute world record of 43 kills in the solo vs. squad category - this remains the highest number of kills a player has managed to achieve at a Fortnite Battle Royale, in all game platforms and modes.

“My online name Teeqzy doesn’t have any special significance,” Dervishi told Tirana Times during an exclusive interview, “I just randomly clicked on the keyboard, and really liked the way the outcome sounded.”

Followed by approximately 126,400 subscribers at his online YouTube channel, Dervishi differs from other gamers in terms of his performance - while it is common for Fortnite gamers to under-perform during live Youtube gaming sessions, he reached his record 43 kills during a live gaming session, as he was also playing the moderator’s role.

Now, the Albanian teenager, who lives in Belgium, has been offered job positions and significant amounts of pay from some of the best gaming companies in the world.

“I play many hours each day, in order to train. I don’t feel time passing because I play with passion and when I don’t feel like playing anymore, I simply stop and make time for myself. My parents were worried at first, as they primarily think about my studies, but I proved to them I can dedicate time to gaming as much as studying, and so I won their trust,” Dervishi explains. 

His words are not just claims, and his results are proof of that - Dervishi graduated high school with honors, while he is already making his own money at seventeen, having won complete financial independence.

“Being financially independent at seventeen is awesome. I am aware that I’m very lucky but nonetheless I’m trying to remain grounded and be careful, money-wise. I don’t spend on too many things, except maybe for tools or equipment that are needed in gaming. I am also trying to save in the meantime, to be able to afford my future projects.”

His maturity and level of confidence when it comes to his gaming routine and future have managed to also win his parents’ trust and support, which has also reassured him on the steps he is willing to take in the future to make his gaming plans a reality.

“First and foremost, I play for passion, not money or popularity. I am the same person I was when I first started, and, of course, I am Albanian, before being Belgian,” Dervishi comments, on what is probably the most frequently asked question coming from Albanian media. 

“I have kept contact with my home country, Albania, I try to visit as frequently as possible, when I make time between dealing with school and gaming. I try to make the most out of seeing my family and vacating there…family comes before everything else,” he concludes. 

Teeqzy and Verrmax was the duo that awarded the Millenium team the world cup in online gaming at Valencia’s DreamHack - a sports event that has been increasingly gaining attention also in Albania, due to its popularity but also due to recent research pointing to links between game skills and intelligence, thus removing the stigma associated with spending too many hours in front of the computer. 

 
                    [post_title] => Klaivert Dervishi: The 17-year-old Albanian eSports world champion 
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                    [post_date] => 2018-07-18 13:27:33
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-07-18 11:27:33
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 17 - The European Commissioner for Enlargement Johannes Hahn’s visit to Tirana on Tuesday marked the beginning of the analytical assessment process, which will precede EU accession negotiations, scheduled to potentially begin next June.

The official start of this process, which aims to compare Albanian legislation with the European one through the 35 negotiating chapters, took place at a joint cabinet meeting with Hahn and other Commission representatives accompanying him. 

Hahn stressed the analytical assessment is a process which other Western Balkan countries have already gone through and which the remainder of candidate states will also be subjected to.

He also pointed out that “the better the quality of this analytical process from all institutions involved, the more proactive and engaged we are during this phase, the better it will be for the opening of accession negotiations.”

On his part, Prime Minister Edi Rama said the government has already decided on the structures and institutions that will be involved in the process, which will be led by Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Ditmir Bushati, while also giving each ministry its own say in negotiations. 

He added the government is ready to further assist the project financially, by adding funds and increasing human resources. 

The decision on whether to open accession negotiations with Albania and Macedonia was postponed by the EU Council last month, due to internal EU problems and doubts on the stability of reforms undertaken so far by both candidate status countries.

Although representatives have said a final decision - and date - will be reached by next June, a number of additional conditions were placed for Albania, a big part of which requiring government-opposition cooperation, while upcoming European Parliament elections also make it unclear what the future holds for Albania’s and Macedonia’s EU future. 

 
                    [post_title] => EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn visits Tirana 
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                    [post_date] => 2018-07-18 00:24:32
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-07-17 22:24:32
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 18 - On Wednesday, High Court members Tom Ndreca and Admir Thanza were also ousted by the Independent Qualification Committee, unable to justify their wealth and shady connections under the re-evaluation law. 

This decision officially places the High Court’s functionality at risk, as it remains with seven judges out of 19. 

Both judges were already being investigated for issues related to their declaration of wealth, the cleanliness of their figure and their alleged inappropriate ties with the criminal world.

Thanza was accused of hiding a 1999 conviction for theft in Italy, which he said he’d taken upon himself covering for his sister in law. 

Wednesday’s decision complicates even further the functionality of a High Court which, since 2013, has been functioning with a limited number of judges. From 2016, clashes between the socialist majority and then-President Bujar Nishani blocked procedures to name judgies for vacancies. 

As the implementation of the Justice Reform began, appointments became impossible due to the lack of new institutions predicted under the new legislation. This has left the court with nine out of nineteen members. 

With the ousting of Ndreca and Thanza, the High Court is left functioning with seven members, while another member - Artan Zeneli - is also under investigation. 

 
                    [post_title] => Two more High Court members ousted under re-evaluation  
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                    [post_date] => 2018-07-17 12:10:04
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-07-17 10:10:04
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 17 -  A speedboat filled with 262 kg of cannabis, which Italian media said was coming from Albania, was caught in Italy’s Bari port on Monday.

A 26-year-old Italian citizen has been arrested, while the cannabis amount is estimated at a market value of around €3 million. 

The cannabis was hidden inside the double floor of the speedboat and was found by Bari Guardia di Finanza naval operators. 

The speedboat was allegedly arriving from international waters, most probably Albania, Italian media wrote, and was heading towards the Brindisi coast.

According to preliminary investigations, the speedboat driver was trying to transport the cannabis to Puglia, as during the summer cannabis trading opportunities grow bigger as the number of vacationers increases in both countries. 

Meanwhile, Greek police also announced the arrest of a 36-year-old Albanian in Northern Greece, close to the border with Albania, as he was trying to transport 112 kg of cannabis inside his car towards Ioannina. 

Greek police also said the Albanian, whose name has not been made public, was already wanted by police in the country for a drug-related crime.

It added that, in June only, in the Epirus area - neighboring Albania - 237 kg of cannabis have been stopped and 39 people have been arrested. 

 
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            [post_date] => 2018-08-01 15:49:35
            [post_date_gmt] => 2018-08-01 13:49:35
            [post_content] => TIRANA, Aug. 1 - The opposition, government and independent economic experts have followed the State Department’s 2018 Investment Climate report rating Albania as a difficult place to do business according to foreign investors with opposing comments and sentiments.

“Albania is not a hospitable country for foreign investments. There have been no serious foreign investments in the past five years. There is a lot of political clientelism and kleptocracy, as well as pressure. Five years ago, when a new road was built, foreign companies competed for its construction, while for the last five years there is almost no foreign company interested in winning a public procurement in Albania,” said BIRN analyst Gjergj Erebara.

The State Department report says that in Albania, foreign investors and businessmen cite corruption as a major problem, particularly evident in the judicial system, lack of transparency in public procurement and poor implementation of contracts.

“This report is essentially a reconfirmation of a sordid economic reality that Albania is going through: slow economic growth with an economy that grows under its capacity, with a frequently changing legal framework, with abusive governmental decision-making favoring lobbies and large oligarch and kleptocratic accompanying it,” said the Head of the Centre for Economic Research Zef Preci.

The report assesses the implementation of the justice reform is verifying judges and prosecutors for unexplained wealth, but foreign investors perceive the investment climate as problematic and say Albania remains a difficult place to do business.

Erebera added that public-private partnership (PPP) projects are in huge proportions compared to the economy, where four road projects are 711 million euros, or 6 percent of Albania's GDP. Large amounts of money are thrown into few projects and procurement procedures allow suspicion for political clientelism, corruption and pre-selected winners.

“This system is pure political clientelism. It is like a medieval economy, where the king determines who will use the forest, who will collect the taxes, who will use the coal, who will use the coast. So everything is in the hands of an all-powerful person who is called prime minister and he does not provide what the US calls checks and balances, there are no constitutional balances,” Erebara said. 

The report stresses that big foreign investors are pressured to hire subcontractors associated with politicians, while reports on corruption in the government’s public procurement practices are commonplace. 

The report also says that PPP projects have narrowed competition opportunities, including competition among foreign investors in infrastructure and other sectors.

“PPP projects are deep distortions of competition, as the winners are known in advance and the competition is entirely formal. The government should make sure to use the parliament as a guard that protects contracts of this nature, so it avoids punishment in the future, hiding behind collegial decision-making. Most of them are unsolicited bids, meaning the government ignores or does not have plans to develop sectors and different branches of the economy,” Preci said.

In addition, according to the report, investors complain that unstable laws and officials’ difficult regulations are tools to remove foreign investors and favor politically-tied companies.

The opposition’s head of the Democratic Party Lulzim Basha said Albania is lacking foreign investments because it is pressured to cooperate with its clientele businesses. 

“Albania is not a suitable place for American businesses because of widespread corruption, especially in PPP projects and procurement, lack of rule of law and lack of competition,” Basha said.

Meanwhile, Minister for Finance Arben Ahmetaj said the axis of the report is the justice reform, which the opposition should stop trying to block.

“The report clearly states that corruption is grounded and stems from the judicial system and this has ruined the terms of doing business. The report states that if the reform is fully implemented, the business climate will improve rapidly,” Ahmetaj said.

Transparency International's Perception of Corruption Index for 2017 ranked Albania 91 out of 180 countries, a downturn of eight percent a year earlier. As such, Albania is now perceived as the second most corrupt country in the Western Balkans.

 
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