Editorial: Citizens need to know why the intelligence chief resigned

Editorial: Citizens need to know why the intelligence chief resigned

Visho Ajazi, the head of Albania’s intelligence service, SHISH, has resigned without giving any reasons for his decision. This abrupt resignation has raised many questions, particularly because it happened in the context of new political developments in the country –

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The man who built a temple at 82-years of age

The man who built a temple at 82-years of age

By Eduard Alia Earlier this year I read an article about a man in Spain who had devoted his life’s work to build a cathedral.  It was a fascinating story – worthy of media attention!  Though, it got me thinking

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Resignation of chief spy leaves unanswered questions

Resignation of chief spy leaves unanswered questions

TIRANA, Nov. 1 – Visho Ajazi Lika, who served as head of Albania’s State Intelligence Service (SHISH) for five years, has resigned from his post, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement Monday. The statement said Prime Minister Edi

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Doing Business 2018: Albania’s business climate deteriorates, regional competitors gain ground

Doing Business 2018: Albania’s business climate deteriorates, regional competitors gain ground

TIRANA, Oct. 31 – Albania lost seven places to rank 65th among 190 economies in the 2018 Doing Business report, lagging behind almost all regional competitors which made considerable progress over the past year, according to a World Bank report.

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Inequality gap widens as richest 10% spend 3.5 times more

Inequality gap widens as richest 10% spend 3.5 times more

TIRANA, Oct. 31 – Albania’s inequality gap widened in 2016 as the richest 10 percent of households spent 2.5 times more than the overwhelming 90 percent of Albanians, an annual survey conducted by state statistical institute, INSTAT, has found. A

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Taxpayer support for PPPs set to sharply increase under controversial €1 billion project

Taxpayer support for PPPs set to sharply increase under controversial €1 billion project

TIRANA, Oct. 30 – The cost of about a dozen public private partnerships the Albanian government has signed with private companies in the key health, waste-to-energy and customs sectors is expected to increase by a third in 2018 and is

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Editorial: Eroding the public’s trust in equality before the law

Editorial: Eroding the public’s trust in equality before the law

The case of former Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri is not obeying the classical rule of public tumult in Albania: let three days go and everything shall pass. The request of prosecutors to the Parliament to allow his arrest was struck

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Albania’s poor judiciary reputation holds back Austrian, German investors

Albania’s poor judiciary reputation holds back Austrian, German investors

By Hans Spernbauer* I have been working in Albania for more than 10 years and I have been trying to bring companies from Austria and Germany to Albania. We are also very successful in different areas, especially in the agricultural

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2018 fiscal package: Gov’t withdraws from VAT on small businesses, sets value-based property tax

2018 fiscal package: Gov’t withdraws from VAT on small businesses, sets value-based property tax

TIRANA, Oct. 25 – The ruling Socialist Party has withdrawn from its intention to extend the 20 percent value added tax on all small businesses and set lower than expected property tax rates on households and businesses. In its 2018

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‘Patriotic’ tourism loses ground as more Central European tourists discover Albania

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TIRANA, Oct. 24 – The number of Kosovo tourists to Albania has registered a surprise decline this year, slightly curbing the impact of the country’s ‘patriotic’ dominated tourism industry as more Central European tourists discover the country, triggering a sharp

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                    [post_content] => Visho Ajazi, the head of Albania's intelligence service, SHISH, has resigned without giving any reasons for his decision. This abrupt resignation has raised many questions, particularly because it happened in the context of new political developments in the country – tied to an investigation of alleged ties of the former interior minister with cannabis traffickers.

SHISH has been heavily involved in preventive and discovery efforts in the war against cannabis in Albania. It is not a secret that the intelligence service is often the right tool to address the fight against organized crime – including drugs trafficking.

Of course this is on top of other state security concerns, including terrorism prevention. Albania's intelligence service has managed to prevent terrorist attacks in the past, in cooperation with partner services. All efforts to be applauded.

So then, what is behind this resignation?

The opposition says Ajazi resigned due to government pressure as a result of the involvement of SHISH in the detection of drug trafficking and the investigation involving Saimir Tahiri, the former interior minister.

The fact that Ajazi has not spoken publicly and not given any reason for his resignation has led to some confusion.

The resignation happens when the relations between yesterday's allies, SP and SMI in the opposition have changed in a negative way and Prime Minister Edi Rama and President Ilir Meta are not in good terms. Their consensus is needed to sack and approve the head of SHISH.

So where does Ajazi's resignation stands in this context? Most Socialists and media tied with the left have seen Ajazi as a man nominated by former Democratic Party Prime Minister Sali Berisha and thus naturally allied with the opposition. So his resignation is seen in that context. Rama needs a more trusted person as top spy.

Even so, in such a microscopic place that behaves as if it were the center of the world, there are other scenarios for the engagement – pressure from outside powers etc – conspiracy theories that sometimes rise in this region.

But is it completely possible that none of the above explanations is true. The explanation can also be more mundane, not related to performance or political conflicts – neither with the commitment of SHISH to drugs and its interstate traffics, neither with the reform in justice nor with the prime minister, President or foreign powers. It could have been something personal. The problem is that the intelligence chief has resigned and has given no explanation.

That is wrong. The heavy inheritance when the intelligence service heads left office to be hanged or shot – during the communist regime – is over.

Albania is a democratic country, and citizens need to know the motives of why the intelligence chief resigns. We need to set Western democratic standards – and those require transparency.

 
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                    [post_content] => By Eduard Alia

2Earlier this year I read an article about a man in Spain who had devoted his life’s work to build a cathedral.  It was a fascinating story – worthy of media attention!  Though, it got me thinking that I knew of someone in a remote village in northern Albania who had single-handedly built a church which had gone largely unnoticed even within Albania.

So I decided that on my next trip to Kryezi, in the district of Puka, I will try to meet the man who single-handedly built a church. I was curious to find out a bit about what had driven him to do this.

And so I did. Ylli Rrapi, a vivacious man of 86 years, showed up on a hot autumn day, I must say he was dressed very dapper. He sports a moustache and a hat. He’s all buttoned up but no tie. So much for the formal clothing, you can but sense there is a lot of strength in him, not least from his handshake. He is a stone mason, a master by all means, who has built more than 100 homes over a career spanning about 70 years. He was 82 years of age when he built the church.  One would expect to meet a tired man, Ylli is quite the contrary.

He showed me around the detail of his work on the chappell. It’s very respecting to the rather unique traditions of stone masonry of High Albania, but a bit peculiar too. For instance, I noticed the church’s windows are gothic on the outside, yet bearing roman arches on the inside. Ylli provides a tour of his work with absolute delight.

“There was once a church here which was sacred to both Muslims and Catholics of this area, ” he explains, “the communist regime destroyed it, and with it they destroyed some centuries old oak trees that once stood on its grounds”.

According to local legend the church is more than 800 years old. Written records which exist confirm it was there in 1657, same for the oak trees.

Ylli shows where he had to compromise with the old and where he tried his best to stick to the original church even though no blueprints of the original church exist. For instance the church had been oriented north/south previously – with the entrance to the south. It was no longer possible to build it that way as most of the land, once seized by the communist dictatorship to turn into farming, is still used for this purpose by the locals. So Ylli had to turn the new church to face west.

The windows are no compromise – Ylli located the ancient stones and re-built them to reflect the old church as much as possible. His attention to historical detail is evident from the corner stones which hold an arch over their shoulders. These are most peculiar: one bearing the cross, one bearing an “X” sign. Ylli was grateful to have located those ensigned stones as most were either thrown away or used for support walls to the arable land. He says “they clearly demonstrate the ancient origins of the church.” As I found later online, the “X” sign was indeed used by early Christians along with the sign of the cross. The two ensigned stones now proudly support the beatiful arched entrance to the church – a testament to the old, which unfortunately has not found much respect in Albania’s recent troubled history.

Ylli further explains that the church is rather special, something already confirmed by its rare symbols really. “As the church is dedicated to St Venera (Shen Prenda / Veneranda in Albanian), people, especially women, with fertility problems came here to pray and their problems would go away. For as long as I can remember, locals have not allowed burials on the grounds of this church”.  Now, the St Venera connection helps me to make sense why the chappel is of importance to both Muslims and Christians alike.

Ylli’s village, Kryezi, has three churches and two mosques. As is the case all over Albania, Muslims and Christians live in complete harmony. But very few Albanians take religion very seriously and whilst I can see that Ylli himself is about as religious as the average person in Albania, religion is clearly not what he lives and breathes.

To get to the point, I ask Ylli about his motivation. He replies “I built this for the generations to come. The dictatorship took this [church] away from us, I wanted to re-build this monument so that it can be enjoyed for another 800 years”.

I can sense he wanted some retribution against the communist regime but more than that his motivation is purely one of contributing to the community, it’s clearly much less to do with religion per se. This really is a temple intended to bring people together, in its mystic charms and obscure history.

And as to the generations to come? I learn later that Ylli’s only family have emigrated to Italy in search of a better life, as have many Albanians – his grand-children will not enjoy the fruits of his work. His wife passed away recently and he lives alone in a beatiful stone house which he built himself and which, I must say, is very stately.  If it’s not about him, then it must be all selfless really.

I was informed that his family opened the doors of their home to be used as the village’s only school in the 1930’s when it didn’t have one. A community spirit runs in Ylli’s blood. I wish more Albanians were like that.

After a photoshoot and saying my goodbyes I ask him whether he would like to change anything to this art-piece (he would not agree to call it his masterpiece!). He replies with a bright spark in his eyes that he wants to plant some cypress trees – he will pay for these himself too, as he has done for much of everything else with this object.

I once again shake his strong hand – I am in awe of this man who built a monument to the re-gained freedom, a temple to the community - at the age of 82. A genuine selfless act for others. I wish more people around the world were like him.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 1 – Visho Ajazi Lika, who served as head of Albania’s State Intelligence Service (SHISH) for five years, has resigned from his post, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement Monday.

The statement said Prime Minister Edi Rama “welcomed the resignation, thanking Mr. Visho Ajazi for his contribution.”

At a time when the country is overtaken by political instability, the chief spy’s resignation has sparked questions whether the decision was personal or had come under pressure from the government.

The head of the SHISH is allowed to indefinitely keep the post and so can be removed from office either through a resignation or through a consensus of the country’s prime minister and president. In this case, it is still unclear what exactly drove Ajazi to resign.

Ajazi was appointed as Director of SHISH back in 2012, after a decree by former President Bujar Nishani dismissed the then-Director, Bahri Shaqiri. Despite the Socialist Party’s – which, in 2012, was acting as opposition in the country – claims that Ajazi was tied to the Democratic ruling government, he remained in his post until 2017 through various political storms.

Ajazi was one of the first officials to warn of the links between cannabis cultivation and the police and was an essential player in the country’s delicate moment of decisiveness in the war against criminality.

In the context of the political storm surrounding the charges against former Interior Minister Saimir Tahir, these details weigh on the mystery surrounding Ajazi’s resignation.

Yet, despite the opposition insisting it was the result of political pressure, other sources report that Ajazi decision to resign was personal.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Edi Rama has already proposed to President Ilir Meta, Ajazi’s replacement -- Helidon Bendo, who is current deputy director of SHISH.

By law, the new Director of SHISH is also appointed through a President-PM consensus.

Political analyst Blendi Fevziu says Ajazi’s resignation was unexpected for everyone but Rama, who if not notified, was definitely informed of the decision.  

“The thing is that Ajazi’s resignation disturbs the balances of law-making institutions. Rama has sent the name of Ajazi’s deputy and it is clear why. First, he might be more acceptable for President Meta who must confirm the proposal and second he is more of a guarantee for partnering services, especially the Americans, because he has worked for SHISH for 21 years,” Fevziu wrote. “The question-mark to why Ajazi resigned will last and maybe never receive the answer everyone is thinking of.”

During an interview for the talk-show ‘Fakt’, Meta spoke of the latest development and whether the new director of SHISH has already been decreed by him.  

“For your curiosity, I have signed the decree for the release from office of the SHISH Director, Mr. Visho Ajazi, after his resignation,” Meta said, adding that there was no rush in signing the decree that would name Bendo the new SHISH director and that he was proceeding with his functions as deputy director and acting head of the service for the time being.

Meta was also asked whether he would sign the decree if Ajazi’s resignation was the result of political pressure, rather than a personal decision.

“Firstly, in my line of duty as the head of institutions, I have always respected the principle of continuity in contribution, and in the case of an institution of special importance and national security, I can say that it was only a week ago I assured Ajazi that he would have my full support in continuing his duty, by fighting the war against terrorism and organized crime. And he thanked me for the trust,” Meta said.

In terms of Rama’s role in the situation as an actor who could pressure Ajazi to resign, Meta said that “Mr. Rama did not ask for such a thing. The first contact with Mr. Rama was yesterday, when he presented me Mr. Ajazi’s resignation, along with his request to officially release him from office.”

Nevertheless, according to head of opposition, Lulzim Basha, Ajazi’s resignation comes as a result of political pressure by the government.

Basha said that the secret service has been reporting the ties between the police and the growers and traffickers of marijuana in the country for years, thus becoming a point of pressure now that the Tahiri scandal is unfolding.

“An informative service which drafts reports for the involvement of the heads of police in the cultivation and trafficking of drugs, like SHISH has done, is a thorn on the side of Rama’s narco-state. So, I cannot come to any other conclusion but political pressure. This shows that the narco-state is in panic and is doing everything to cover the Saimir Tahiri affair,” Basha said.

Bendo’s appointment as of Rama’s proposal is still underway until Meta signs the decree that will make Bendo’s new position official.

A career intelligence officer and a mathematician by training, Bendo had been at the service since the tumultuous 1990s, at the same time that Ajazi also signed up.

However, Ajazi left to live in Canada for many years working in IT, where his primary training is based, until returning as head of the intelligence service.

Albanian media reported this week Ajazi had competed several months ago to get a job as a security advisor at NATO headquarters, indicating he was planning to leave the service.

SHISH is Albania’s primary intelligence service. Its responsibilities include acquiring intelligence and counterintelligence on issues relevant to national security. Its responsibilities also extend to issues related to constitutional order and specifically encompass a role in fighting organized crime, illegal trafficking and terrorism.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 31 - Albania lost seven places to rank 65th among 190 economies in the 2018 Doing Business report, lagging behind almost all regional competitors which made considerable progress over the past year, according to a World Bank report.

Albania’s ranking in this year’s flagship World Bank report, a reference point in foreign investors’ decision-making, was negatively affected by deterioration in key indicators such as getting electricity, paying taxes and enforcing contracts overshadowing last year's major progress when Albania climbed 32 steps to rank 58th among 190 global economies. Although having introduced an e-system, dealing with construction permits still ranks Albania out of the top 100 performers.

Enforcing contracts, an indicator measuring the time and cost for resolving a commercial dispute at a local first-instance court and the quality of judicial process, ranks Albania 120th, unveiling the poor confidence in the highly perceived inefficient and corrupt judiciary which is about to undergo reform with the start of vetting process that will scan all judges and prosecutors.

The report singles out getting credit and labour market regulation as Albania's only reforms.

"Albania strengthened access to credit by introducing amendments to the Civil Code and the law on securing charges and by adopting a new insolvency law. A security interest can now be granted over any type of movable property—including tangible and intangible assets—and secured creditors are given absolute priority within insolvency proceedings," says the report about getting credit.

In the labour market regulation, Albania also amended legislation to reduce the maximum number of hours, including overtime, allowed in a workweek and to mandate that women and men be given equal remuneration for work of equal value.

When compared to its regional competitors, Albania ranked better only compared to Bosnia and Herzegovina in this year’s report. Neighboring landlocked Macedonia featuring one of the region's lowest tax rates is the Western Balkans best performer ranking 11th, followed by surprise Kosovo 40th, Montenegro 42nd and Serbia 43rd.

A World Bank Group flagship report, Doing Business covers 190 economies and 10 indicator sets including starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, paying taxes, trading across borders, getting credit, protecting investors, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency.

Paying taxes also ranks Albania among the region's poorest with medium-sized companies spending an average of 261 hours a year and having to pay about 37.3 percent of their profit in taxes and contributions, lower only compared to Serbia's 40 percent.

The high tax burden compared to other regional countries applying flat tax regimes of about 10 percent has emerged as one of the key concerns for doing business in Albania along with the inefficient judiciary and corruption, according to surveys by foreign investor associations in Albania.

Since 2014, the corporate income tax and the withholding tax on dividends, rents and capital gains have increased by 5 percent to 15 percent, making the tax burden in Albania one of the region’s highest and a key concern for foreign and local investors.

This year’s report unveils Albania which has enjoyed one of the Western Balkans highest growth rates and managed to remain one of the region’s largest foreign direct investment recipients mainly thanks to some major energy-related investment has to seriously consider improving business climate in order to be more competitive regionally.

The need for reform becomes even more appealing as two major energy-related investment such as the Trans Adriatic Pipeline and the Devoll hydropower will considerable wane their contribution to the country’s economy by the end of 2018 and new major investors and know-how are needed to drive the country’s growth.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 31 - Albania's inequality gap widened in 2016 as the richest 10 percent of households spent 2.5 times more than the overwhelming 90 percent of Albanians, an annual survey conducted by state statistical institute, INSTAT, has found.

A survey with some 9,000 households nationwide shows consumption levels for the overwhelming 90 percent of Albania's households remained at a standstill after growing by a negligible 0.6 percent at a time when consumer prices grew by 1.3 in 2016, making real in consumption of goods and services at negative growth rates for the average Albanian.

The data indicates the 3.4 percent growth rate Albania registered in 2016, triggered by some major energy-related investment, was not inclusive and failed to produce welfare for the average Albanian.

Economy experts estimate the developing Albanian economy has to grow by an average of 6 percent annually, a growth rate it enjoyed for a decade until the outbreak of the 2008 global financial crisis, in order to produce tangible welfare for its citizens.

By contrast, the richest 10 percent of Albanian households increased their spending by 14.6 percent compared to 2015.

An average household of 3.9 people in the bottom income decile spent some 63,609 lek (Euro 471) a month in 2016 with a per capita spending of 18,119 lek (€134), slightly above the estimate subsistence level of 16,000 lek (€119) calculated by the Ombudsman’s office.

Meanwhile, the richest 10 percent of Albanians, whose households are composed of an average of 2.6 people, spent an average of 158,946 lek (€1,177) a month, with a per capita spending of 62,562 lek (€463), almost the same to what an average of household of four in the bottom income spends.

When compared on a per capita level, due to the smaller households in the top 10 percent income decile, a person from the bottom income households spends 3.5 times less than their richer peers.

The INSTAT survey shows spending on “food and non-alcoholic beverages” continues to dominate Albanian households’ budgets, accounting for almost half of total expenditure. The 45 percent spending on basic “food and non-alcoholic beverages,” down from 48.7 percent in 2015, is estimated to be highest among EU aspirant regional Western Balkan countries.

The situation reflects rather expensive consumer prices for the average Albanian income, triggered by heavy reliance on imports and the application of standard 20 percent VAT even on basic products.

Albania’s food and non-alcoholic beverage prices were estimated at 72 percent of the EU 28 average in 2016, higher compared to EU members Poland and Bulgaria and regional EU aspirants Serbia and Macedonia, according to a report by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union.

The high spending on basic products and utility bills, altogether at about 56 percent of spending budgets, limits expenditure on clothes and footwear to only 4.8 percent, restaurants and hotels to 4.4 percent and entertainment and culture to 3 percent of the monthly spending.

Inequality across Albania's 12 regions is huge ranging from about 57,000 lek (€422) a month per household in Gjirokastra and Elbasan to about 80,000 lek (€592) in Durres and 85,000 lek (€630) in Tirana.

However, due to bigger households in northern Albania, spending per capita in the northern regions of Kukes and Dibra where the average household is composed of 5 people, is much lower, unveiling the ongoing trend of more prosperous central and southern Albania.

The Albanian economy grew by an average of 4 percent in the first half of this year, but the almost decade-high growth rate was mainly fuelled by some large energy-related investments such as the major Trans Adriatic Pipeline and the Devoll hydropower with not much direct impact on the overwhelming majority of Albanians.

Experts estimate Albania’s economy needs to grow by 6 percent annually in order to produce welfare for its households who have taken to massive migration in the past couple of years, applying for apparently ineligible asylum in EU member countries, mainly in Germany and France.

The Albanian economy has been growing by an average of 1 to 3 percent annually since 2009 following a pre-crisis decade of 6 percent annually.
                    [post_title] => Inequality gap widens as richest 10% spend 3.5 times more 
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                    [post_date] => 2017-10-30 14:55:50
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-10-30 13:55:50
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 30 - The cost of about a dozen public private partnerships the Albanian government has signed with private companies in the key health, waste-to-energy and customs sectors is expected to increase by a third in 2018 and is set to register sharp hikes in the next few years as the Albania proceeds with an ambitious but rather controversial €1 billion PPP project.

In its 2018 budget report, the Albanian government expects taxpayer support to eight existing PPP contracts and three new concessions that become effective in 2018 to increase to 9.4 billion lek (€69.2 mln), up from about 7.2 billion lek (€53 mln) in 2017, registering a 30 percent or €16 million annual hike.

The higher support is related to the new concession contracts that will start getting their first financial assistance by the Albanian government. An Albanian-led consortium which last year won a 10-year PPP contract to provide laboratory services in the country’s main hospitals will get 886 million lek (€6.5 mln) in its inaugural year of operation. The concessionaire is expected to get a total of about 9 billion lek (€66.5 mln) in financial support from 2018 to 2027 in return for investment in the renovation, maintenance and operation of hospital labs for the next ten years.

A new Tirana waste-to-energy plant whose construction was awarded to a Netherlands-based consortium led by an Albanian company earlier this year will receive an initial 1 billion lek (€7.6 mln) for 2018 based on a 30-year PPP contract the Albanian government signed earlier this year. The concessionaire on the so-called ‘Tirana incinerator,’ which has already triggered environmental concerns, will cost taxpayers a total of €135 million until 2047.

The environment ministry says the construction of the modern plant by 2019, when it is also expected to produce electricity from waste burning, will put an end to the waste management issue in Tirana, closing down and rehabilitating the current problematic Sharra landfill.

The first waste-to-energy plant has already been made operational in Elbasan under a 7-year concession contract and a new one is being built in Fier, southwestern Albania, after its construction was displaced twice following repeated protests by local village residents worried over pollution.

The Elbasan and Fier plants, which will be transferred to the local municipalities by 2022, will each get about €5 million in financial support for 2018 alone.

Despite assurances of modern technology employed, environmentalists are worried the new plants and their incinerators will further increase dangerous pollution in the country and damage the promising tourism industry.

Other PPP projects that will receive taxpayer financial support for 2018 include the medical check-up, kidney failure and customs scanning concessionaires, all of which have been marred by lack of transparency.

The Albanian government has also planned to award Norway's Statkraft about 1.37 billion lek (€10 million) in 2018 for building replacement roads as part of its major Devoll Hydropower, one of the largest ever foreign direct investment Albania has attracted.

The Albanian government has also envisaged three other concessions which in 2018 will get no financial support for 2018 but are expected to affect public finances over the next few years.

The biggest project is that of the Arbri Road linking Tirana to the underdeveloped Dibra region, northeastern Albania, and neighbouring Macedonia. The 13-year concession contract is expected to cost Albanians a total of about 24 billion lek (€177 mln) until 2030 in payments either through installments covering the investment cost or guarantees on the concessionaire's revenue, in this case traffic guarantees in case the concessionaire does not meet annual targets from the tolling system.

An Albanian company is on track to get the concession contract after a tender held last October, having previously been awarded a 10 percent bonus for an unsolicited bid to complete the Arbri highway’s remaining 40 km for 33.6 billion lek (€245 million) in about four years.

Back in 2015, the Albanian government approved a special law offering China State Construction Engineering Corporation to complete the Arbri Road under a concession deal but contract negotiations failed.

Set to become the country’s first toll road by early 2018, the Durres-Kukes highway linking Albania to Kosovo, is not going to receive any financial support during its first year of operation when drivers crossing the highway pay average tolls of €5. The Albanian-led concessionaire will still get about €15 million in government financial support to cover investment costs and in traffic guarantees over the 30-year 2018-2047 public-private partnership. The concessionaire is supposed to collect and keep toll revenue and in exchange implement and finance motorway improvement measures, construct a new bridge on Drini River in Kukes, northeastern Albania and carry out emergency geotechnical and stabilization works.

The Albanian government and the municipality of Tirana have also announced an 8-year PPP project to build primary and secondary education schools in the capital city, but no initial support is envisaged for 2018. The government plans to sign contracts worth 6.44 billion lek (€47.3 million) on the construction of pre-university schools in 2018, according to the finance ministry.

At about €70 million, the 2018 support to PPPs is not estimated to pose any threat to the 2018 budget considering that the government spending on these kind of investment is at only half of the threshold the government has set. The 2018 spending on PPPs will be at 2.4 percent of total annual tax revenue, down from a 5 percent spending revenue threshold the government has set on support to concessions.

Legal changes envisage tax hikes will be imposed to bring spending on PPPs in line with the 5 percent of the annual tax income threshold in case the target is missed.

 

Billion Euro PPP

 

While the 2018 public private partnership costs pose no threat to public finances, an ambitious €1 billion PPP project the ruling Socialists have announced for the next four years has worried the International Monetary Fund, the opposition and some economy experts who say the planned road, education and health PPP investment could create new arrears and hamper efforts to bring public debt to 60 percent of the GDP by 2021.

The €1 billion PPP initiative launched by Prime Minister Edi Rama comes at a time when foreign direct investment, a key driver of Albania’s growth in the past couple of years, is set to considerably lower its contribution to the Albanian economy as major energy-related projects such as TAP and the Devoll hydropower projects complete.

The Arbri Road linking Albania to Macedonia, some 150 schools, hospitals and healthcare facilities are on the PPP agenda.

Albania has already awarded dozens of concession contracts whose current investment value is at 505 billion lek (€3.7 billion lek), about a third of the country’s GDP and is set to increase by another 156.7 billion lek (€1.15 billion) in 2018 when some major road projects are initiated under the billion Euro PPP project.

The IMF expects the Albanian government’s commitments to PPPs to climb to €1 billion, around 7 percent of GDP by 2021, posing a threat to the Albania government’s agenda of reducing public debt to 60 percent of the GDP by 2021.

Central bank governor Gent Sejko said he sees no risk as long as the investments are well-studied and profitable. However, economy experts are rather skeptical over the project benefits and even fear they could serve as money laundering schemes for drug trafficking money following rising cannabis cultivation in the past couple of years.
                    [post_title] => Taxpayer support for PPPs set to sharply increase under controversial €1 billion project
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                    [post_date] => 2017-10-27 09:36:06
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-10-27 07:36:06
                    [post_content] => The case of former Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri is not obeying the classical rule of public tumult in Albania: let three days go and everything shall pass. The request of prosecutors to the Parliament to allow his arrest was struck down by a majority vote and the affair has kept the political, social and media debate roaring. 

What happened in the Parliament’s council of mandates was unprecedented. The duty of the body is not to review the evidence. That's the job of courts. Parliament is simply supposed to let the justice system do its job, not take over its duties.

Yet, that is what happened, in the eyes of many. Even-though the Socialist Party did allow the investigation to go forward, the fact that persecutors cannot arrest Tahiri means they cannot do their job properly. Perhaps more importantly, it erodes the public trust in the justice system and the universal value of equality before the law.  

The ruling majority and prime minister kept changing their minds and narratives, wanting it both ways. Tahiri out of the party and investigated, but not arrested, much to the fury of the opposition. Ultimately parliament decided not to fully lift the immunity, no matter how the prime minister tries to spin it. But what impact will this matter have? 

Long term it harms the idea of rule of law in Albania. It has hurt the public's trust that the law is equal for all regardless of public post or money in the bank.

It feeds into the narrative that drug money has affected the whole country, empowering criminals and corrupt politicians who would like to perpetuate the impunity trend. 

There are questions as to how drug cultivation and traffickers could get so strong without the involvement of law enforcement agencies and state structures -- including political parties, especially with allegations that millions of euros have gone into electoral campaigns.

What will happen to Tahiri is unknown, but how this case was handled by the ruling majority shows that the entire platform the Socialist Party had proposed on rule of law and reforms is now in jeopardy. It's simple: a thriving crime scene and its connections to politics cannot fit the image of a NATO member country that hopes to join the EU. 

It's part of a trend. An MP kills a pedestrian in car crash, for example, leaves the crime scene and never faces charges. Prosecutors say they want to arrest an MP on charges of ties to organized crime, and parliament won't let them. 

The message to the Albanian in the street is clear: those who are politically-connected are immune. Whatever good will and trust for justice reform there was among the Albanian public has now gone out of the window. 

Prosecutors seek to fully investigate Tahiri over the wiretaps provided by the Italian justice where allegedly his name is mentioned frequently by some Albanian narco-lords. The opposition says that unless he is arrested, he has the power to impede the investigation.

Recent constitutional changes strip MPs off their immunity letting prosecutors investigate but still keep some protection in place when it comes to making an arrest. Major stakeholders in this debate have gone into political spin mode. The Prime Minister makes noise with his 8 am party meeting with tiring long form speeches and with his arrogant and unethical behavior to journalists. 

The opposition makes noise declaring the end of the world: the fall of the government, the reign of the bands, the dissolving of the state. And then it stays quiet when reminded of its own skeletons in the closet. 

Overall, the entire affair has the country mesmerized and in a negative atmosphere. 

Truth is the first victim of this mess. Public trust is the second. The fate of this case is still very unclear. Much will depend on how the justice system decides to go on with the case and whether a trial takes place. The case is becoming above all a buzz kill, hurting the trust and the emerging hope in the public pulse concerning key reforms -- and the hope of getting Albania’s EU bid unstuck. 

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Eroding the public’s trust in equality before the law
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                    [post_date] => 2017-10-27 09:27:35
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                    [post_content] => By Hans Spernbauer*

I have been working in Albania for more than 10 years and I have been trying to bring companies from Austria and Germany to Albania. We are also very successful in different areas, especially in the agricultural sector, in the metal sector and in the wood sector, where we have gathered many connections, business transactions and of course many experiences.

In the recent weeks, there have been many newspaper articles about the economy, how the economy can be better developed and where are its shortcomings. However, many of these articles go beyond reality. The real problems are still present for example in the lack of legal certainty or in the lack of quality in the company itself and in its employees.

In the last 10 years, we have brought to Albania many heifers, gilts and also day old chicks for layers. We are very active and we consult farmers on the food recipes composition and its quality and we also bring to Albania mineral mixtures for the optimal food recipes. However, we have also provided a lot of facilities in accordance with EU standards by supporting investors in setting up the standards.

We have also achieved for suppliers from Austria or Germany to trust Albanian companies or the Albanian jurisdiction and the legal security. After a customer did not meet a payment obligation, the Austrian company filed a complaint. What then followed was an Odyssey that should not happen in EU membership interested countries. The lawsuit was placed in 2011 and since then it has been shifted more than 20 times because a judge did not appear in court, because the appointed court expert had been rejected or because of  an expert’s opinion that goes beyond reality. It has been noted that there was not really any interest to create clarity, even though the facts were clear. That has led to a ping pong game between the court and lawyers and we still do not have any decision. This is not an isolated case. Many more cases files not to say quite all of them stays in the shelters of the courts waiting for a final decision, for the other judicial session to be held, for the judge, prosecutor, expert or lawyer to appear in court etc.. And these is what happens in all the levels of the judiciary, in quite all types of cases starting from the most problematic, the property cases to the most sensitive, the penal cases.

Austrian and German companies from the agricultural sector are connected in unions and they also get information from the Chamber of Commerce and they all know that in Albania you can only deliver with prepayments. There is no trust in the legal security of the Albanian courts. People have the impression that the court administration deliberately for any reason, such as staff shortage, ignorance, lack of knowledge or lack of interest, delays the proceedings. The scandal of the hidden files in the District Court of Tirana emphases more the people’s impressions and doubts about the judiciary system. 300 files which were supposed to be submitted to the High Court were hidden in the archives of the Tirana Court, even though there was a recourse against them. Although the responsible subordinates were fired and penal charges were made against them, there is a suspicion that other courts may have been in scandals of this nature as well. The decision not to send these files to the High Court turns out to have caused an endless Calvary of patience for the citizens for almost a decade waiting for justice and not finding solutions.

You have the feeling that the foreign company will eventually give up and say: "I cannot get the money, but that means also that the industry will be informed not to do business with Albanian companies”.

In one other case, we also needed 3 years for a judgment in favor to the Austrian company, but the defendant company has gone bankrupt, obviously in consultation with the court and leads its business further under another name, with the same managing director, and in the same way as before. This is also known to all companies in the animal food industry in Austria. The reputation of Albanian jurisdiction is therefore bad and is very difficult to convince companies from Austria and Germany to do business with Albanian companies. This leads to the fact that EU quality standards can be very difficult to implement in Albania.

On the other side, for example, the metal sector lacks in the quality of its personnel and its production capacities. These companies are looking for cooperation partners in Albania or qualified welders for projects all over the world. In Albania there is a lack of qualified technicians of all kinds, especially welders, electricians, metal workers and other skilled workers. There are many training institutions in this field but very few of them certify the quality of these trainings.

Only the qualifications according to EU standards of Albanian welders and of the Albanian companies correspond to the quality standard of the EU. It is not always a problem of poor education. On the contrary, graduates from some universities in Tirana are very well trained and are also praised by Austrian and German companies which are surprised by the knowledge of these graduates. But even these graduates and also many more qualified professionals are leaving the country finding job opportunity to more developed countries in the West. “Brain Drain” phenomenon is implicating serious consequences in productivity.

In the IT sector, more and more projects are being relocated to Albania, outsourced from Austria and Germany. But in the field of skilled workers, metal workers, welders, and electricians, the training is far from the EU standards. Here should be done more. EU certificates should be required not only from the Albanian companies, but as well from the state institutions. It does not help if only a few companies are trying to achieve EU standards, but the quality of the standard has to be adapted to the EU standards for productions in Albanian companies, in order to strengthen the production economy. State institutions with their regulatory roles should do more regarding this aspect not only by asking for EU standard qualification trainings to the workers but also by controlling the quality of the trainings. The accreditations of the training institutions would be the solution to ensure that the trainings that they provide meet an acceptable level of quality.  As I mentioned before there are many training institutions for skilled workers in Albania but only few of them certify the quality of these trainings or the abilities provided. The skilled worker ability needs to be tested against an agreed benchmark or standard in order to get a valuable certification, a valuable proof of ability.  This process of testing known as assessment if it is carried out by an external assessor which meets the EU standards of assessment would deliver confidence in services. The skilled workers with these certifications would be a valuable input for many companies in Albania especially in the metal sector and would increase their productivity. The accreditation of these training institutions would offer support to business, economy and society.

According to the latest data released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Albania ranks at the last place in European level for the number of the ISO certificates. This is one of the main reasons why the Albanian businesses continue to experience difficulties for their products merchandising and in exporting their products abroad where the competition is even stronger. The lack of these certificates makes them unable to guarantee the standard of their products. It should be noted that the more certificates a business has the easier it is for it to penetrate in foreign markets through its products. Business also must be more aware in this direction if they want to expand or to export or to develop a long term trustworthy relationship with their clients. By guaranteeing the quality of the product or the service, businesses boost their chances to success.

 

* Managing Director of AIEx Tirana - Austrian Institute of Excellence
                    [post_title] => Albania's poor judiciary reputation holds back Austrian, German investors
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                    [post_date] => 2017-10-25 15:51:48
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 25 - The ruling Socialist Party has withdrawn from its intention to extend the 20 percent value added tax on all small businesses and set lower than expected property tax rates on households and businesses.

In its 2018 fiscal package, the VAT threshold on businesses has been lowered to annual turnover of 2 million lek (about €15,000), down from a current 5 million lek (€37,000) while the property tax will be collected on a value-based formula applying a 0.05 percent rate on homes and 0.15 percent on business facilities.

Finance Minister Arben Ahmetaj says the lower VAT threshold will only affect some 9,000 businesses from the current 70,000 small businesses out of the VAT system.

"Some 61,000 businesses will continue to remain exempt from VAT because of their low turnover below 2 million lek," Ahmetaj said this week at a meeting with business representatives.

Albania has some 160,000 businesses, 90 percent of which small family-run ones employing up to four people.

The government had earlier announced only handicrafts traders, street vendors, taxi drivers, barbers and fruit and vegetable traders and municipal-run markets would be excluded from the 20 percent VAT. The reform was announced as part of its renewed nationwide campaign against informality, which is estimated at about 30 percent of Albania's €11 billion GDP.

The withdrawal from the initial intention comes amid concern that the VAT system would trigger a hike in consumer prices and negatively affect small businesses already facing fierce competition by supermarket chains involved in the VAT system.

Levied at a fixed 20 percent rate on almost all goods and services, VAT is the key tax the Albanian government collects, accounting for about a third of total revenue.

VAT is a considerable burden on final prices with Albania being the region’s sole country not to apply differentiated VAT on basic products, negatively affecting consumption levels.

Albania has one of Europe’s lowest consumer prices but suffers the poorest consumption per capita, according to a report by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union.

The profit tax will remain unchanged at 5 percent for businesses with an annual turnover between 5 million lek to 8 million (€59,000) and at 15 percent for businesses with a turnover of more than 8 million lek.

 

Property tax

The new value-based property tax proposed by the government increases fees for downtown apartment owners almost two-fold, especially in big cities, compared to current fixed rates depending on the size and location of the property.

A 100m2  apartment owner in Tirana currently pays a fixed annual amount of about €22 at a modest rate of 30 lek (€0.22)/m2 if the apartment was built after 1993 and half of that amount if built in the pre-1993 under communism or earlier, no matter what property’s market value is.

Starting January 2018, the same owner supposing the apartment’s market value is at about €100,000 would have to pay about €50 in annual property tax, more than double compared what the Tirana apartment owner currently pays in monthly installments along with tap water bills.

Finance Minister Arben Ahmetaj has earlier announced no higher taxes will be applied for second and third home owners.

The proposed tax rate is significantly lower compared to the IMF’s recommendations of a rate between 0.076 percent to 0.114 percent of the property’s market value. The IMF, whose relations with the Albanian government have been downgraded to advisory, had also recommended the tax rate included the construction site value, which in case of villas would have considerably increased the property tax considering their surrounding areas.

When it comes to businesses, the 0.15 percent rate on the building’s market value is not expected to bring any major change. The property tax levied on business facilities is already high, ranging from 200 lek (€1.46)/m2 in remote areas to 400 lek(€2.93)/m2 for the municipalities of Tirana and Durres, home to about half of the country’s population and businesses.

A 100m2 downtown Tirana business facility currently pays 40,000 lek (€300) annually in annual property tax. Supposing the facility’s market value is at €200,000, the same business will continue to pay €300 under the new value-based formula.

Albania's local government units currently collect only about 0.2 percent of the GDP in property tax, almost half of what regional countries do and far from meeting the normal level of 1 percent of the GDP.

Albania’s 61 municipalities collected only about 30 million in property tax in 2016, about 40 percent of which in the municipality of Tirana which has been collecting the tax along with the tap water bills since March 2016 to increase collection rates.

The government says a fiscal cadaster is being developed in cooperation with state-run OSHEE electricity distribution operator and pilot projects are being carried out in four large municipalities in order to strengthen collection by integrating property tax bills into electricity bills.

 

Tax incentives 

In addition to some easier procedures, the 2018 fiscal package is not expected to bring any other major change in taxes, one of the key concerns for businesses after the 10 percent flat tax regime was lifted in 2014 and the corporate income tax raised to 15.

The IT sector and luxury tourism investments will benefit from incentives under the new fiscal package.

IT businesses will have their corporate income tax cut to 5 percent down from a current 15 percent and undergo zero customs fees for imports of IT products.

The rapidly growing tourism sector will also benefit from some other incentives after VAT on accommodation units was cut to 6 percent, down from a previous 20 percent earlier this year.

Certified four and five-star hotels will also have the 6 percent VAT extended for all the services they provide, be exempted from the environmental impact tax upon their construction and be stripped of their corporate income for a 10-year period.

The incentives are expected to benefit more than a dozen tourism resorts and villages that are being built along the Adriatic and Ionian coasts.

 

Tobacco, car tax hikes 

The new fiscal package also envisages a slight increase in the tobacco excise rate which starting January 2018 rises to 117 lek (€0.86) for a 20-cigarette pack, up from a current 115 lek with no major impact on final prices and discouraging smoking after sharp increases in the previous years have already considerably curbed imports and pushed thousands of smokers to cheaper domestically produced tobacco, commonly sold informally.

The new fiscal package also extends the luxury tax levied on four-seaters with an engine bigger than 3,000 cc and a reference price of 5 million lek (€37,000) to 7-seaters, which according to the road transportation directorate affects 900 current owners who have modified cars to avoid the tax.

Currently, luxury car owners pay an initial registration fee of 70,000 lek (€520) if the car's value is more than €37,000 and an annual registration tax of 21,000 lek (€155) if the car's engine is bigger than 3,000 cc.

 

GDP forecast

The Albanian government expects the country's growth to pick up to 4.2 percent in 2018 and public debt to drop to 68.6 percent of the GDP in forecasts which are much more optimistic compared to what international financial institutions forecast for the Albanian economy.

The government expects FDI, consumption and tourism to be the main drivers of the Albanian economy in the next three years.

Currently, the major Trans Adriatic Pipeline and some big hydropower plants are leading Albania’s growth but their impact by 2019 when they are completed will have waned, already raising concerns in the face of lack of new major projects.

Budget revenue is expected to increase by 7.7 percent to reach 28.1 percent of the GDP driven by a renewed campaign against informality. The collection rate in terms of the GDP remains one of the region’s lowest despite Albania applying one of the highest tax rates among EU aspirant Western Balkan economies, unveiling inefficiency of the tax administration and high informality rates.
                    [post_title] => 2018 fiscal package: Gov’t withdraws from VAT on small businesses, sets value-based property tax
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 24 - The number of Kosovo tourists to Albania has registered a surprise decline this year, slightly curbing the impact of the country's ‘patriotic’ dominated tourism industry as more Central European tourists discover the country, triggering a sharp hike in prices.

On a constant upward trend during the past decade, especially following the 2009 opening of the Highway of Nation cutting distance between the two neighboring Albanian-speaking countries, Kosovars still dominate the number of foreign tourists to Albania, accounting for more than a third of the total, but their number during the first three quarters of this year fell by a sharp 22 percent to about 1.5 million, according to a report by INSTAT, the state-run statistical institute.

The 427,000 fewer Kosovo tourists during the first nine months of this year and especially the peak July-August season were compensated by a sharp increase in tourists from Poland, Switzerland, Germany and Italy.

A sharp hike in accommodation, food and entertainment prices in some key destinations triggered by wealthier European tourists visiting the country seems to be the main reason behind the sharp cut in the number of Kosovo tourists who during the first three quarters of last year accounted for 50 percent of Albania’s foreign tourists.

A top destination for Kosovo tourists, the Durres beach also saw fewer Kosovo tourists this year with average holiday cut to one week, despite the diversity of accommodation alternatives starting as low as €10 a night at private apartments to €50 and more in luxury seaside hotels.

Plans to impose tolls on the Albanian and Kosovo part of the Highway of Nation have already raised tourism and trade exchanges concerns.

The Durres-Kukes highway linking Albania to Kosovo is on track to become the country’s first toll road next December as the concessionaire completes the installation of electronic toll collection systems charging an average of €5.

If Kosovo also concludes plans to impose tolls on its part of the Highway of Nation, a round trip to the neighboring country could cost an extra €20, becoming a significant barrier for businesses and households in two of Europe’s poorest countries.

Tourists from neighboring Macedonia, where ethnic Albanians account for a third of its 2 million population, were the second largest group visiting Albania during the first nine months of this year when their number rose by about 12 percent to 510,000.

The map of Albania's patriotic tourism also includes neighboring Montenegro where about 5 percent of its 622,000 population is ethnic Albanian, providing Albania with about 290,000 tourists in January-September.

A considerable number of Greek, Italian, German, British, Swiss and U.S. tourists visiting Albania also have Albanian roots, considering Albania’s huge 1.5 million migrants, cutting resident population to only 2.9 million, compared to 4.4 million on civil registry.

Tourists from Italy, where about half a million Albanian migrants live and work, registered a sharp 47 percent to 295,000 in the first three quarters of this year, making them the fourth largest group in terms of citizenship. Cheap prices compared to the Italian standard, promotional articles on Italian media about Albanian destinations and regular daily flights and ferry trips linking Albania to the neighboring country across the Adriatic contributed to the higher numbers.

Tourists from neighboring Greece, the host of another 500,000 Albanian immigrants and the third largest source of visitors to Albania, also rose by 15 percent to 351,000.

Tourists from Germany and Switzerland also registered sharp hikes of 50 to 57 percent during this year with 102,000 German tourists and about 50,000 Swiss ones visiting the country in the first nine months. A considerable number of German and Swiss tourists to Albania have Kosovo roots, given the sizable Kosovo migrant communities in those host countries.

Tourists from the U.K and U.S. also saw their numbers increase by sharp double digits with 111,000 British tourists and about 85,000 American visitors in January-September 2017.

Albania has been recommended as an under-the-radar destination by several prestigious media and travel portals in the past few years being dubbed as ‘Europe's last secret.’

The Balkan country offers a combination of rocky and sandy beaches, the most famous of which along the southern Riviera, and some emerging mountain tourism destinations in the country’s northern area such as Theth, Valbona and Kelmend which are on track to make Albania’s tourism a year-round industry.

The communist past is also what fascinates tourists about Albania, which was cut off from the rest of the world under a Stalinist dictatorship for about five decades until the early 1990s.

 

Poles dominate top 10 hike

 With a an annual increase of about 66 percent in the number of tourists, the Poles are the surprise visitors on Albania's top ten chart of tourists by citizenship in the first three quarters of this year.

INSTAT data shows about 105,000 Polish tourists visited Albania in the first nine months of this year, reconfirming Polish interest in Albania after an annual survey conducted by the Polish Tour Operators Association, PZOT, ranked Albania’s as the Poles’ ninth favorite destination for 2015-2016.

"Holidays in Albania will make you happy with the virgin landscape, the centuries-old historical monuments and a friendly atmosphere. Albania is ideal for perfect holidays,” Poland Travel, the Polish national tourist office, described Albania earlier this year.

Polish ambassador to Albania Karol Bachura says Albania has become a new discovery in the old continent.

“I think Albania is relatively close, it has great potential as a tourist destination, a wonderful climate and it’s a safe country,” Ambassador Bachura told a local Albanian TV last summer.

“Polish tourists are present all around Albania, but the majority of them certainly prefer the coastline, especially the southern part of the country. However, there are tourists seeking new forms of tourism such mountain hiking, motorcycling etc.,” the ambassador said.

Albania and Poland have been marking this year the 80th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. Ties between the two countries date much earlier from the 15th century Skanderbeg era to Polish contribution to Albanian discovery of oil and minerals in the first half of the 20th century.

 

An emerging key driver of growth 

 Some 4.2 million foreign tourists visited Albania during the first three quarters of this year, up 5.7 percent compared to the same period last year, making tourism a key driver of Albania’s expected 4 percent growth rate for this year at a time when the economy has been mainly fueled by some large energy-related projects such as the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) bringing Caspian gas to Europe through Albania, Greece and Italy.

The contribution of the tourism industry in the first half of this year was at €722 million, making it one of the key drivers of growth at a time when the long-ailing construction sector has only revived thanks to TAP and some major hydropower plants.

Prospects remain positive as some big resorts are under construction, further improving Albania’s tourism standards and appealing European tourists.

However, Albania’s net income from the tourism industry is too small considering the large amounts Albanians spend on trips and holidays abroad.

Albanians spend huge amounts in trips abroad, especially on holiday in destinations such as Greece, Turkey and Montenegro, curbing the huge amounts the country benefits in travel income and resulting in modest surplus from the tourism industry.

Last year, when the country’s tourism revenue hit a record €1.5 billion, the surplus in the tourism and travel industry was at €389 million, up from €237 million in 2015, and a mere €87 million in 2014.

Earlier this year, Albania cut the key value added tax on accommodation units in the tourism industry to 6 percent, from a previous 20 percent, in a bid to make the tourism industry more competitive compared to regional competitors which a longer tradition in tourism.

Albania’s emerging travel and tourism industry registered a strong recovery last year when a record 4.7 million foreign tourists were reported to have visited the country, bringing more than €1.5 billion in travel income, according to central bank and INSTAT data.

The industry which directly employs 85,000 people is emerging as a key driver of the Albanian economy already accounting for about 13 percent of the country’s GDP and with optimistic mid and long-term growth prospects as the country’s attracts more and more tourists.

Albania’s emerging tourism industry is set to register one of the region’s highest growth in the next decade in terms of its contribution to GDP, employment, investment and exports, according to a report by London-based World Travel & Tourism Council, WTTC.

In its latest Economic Impact Research report, the WTTC ranks Albania 26th out of 185 countries for its travel and tourism long-term growth prospects from 2017 to 2027, leaving behind almost all regional competitors.
                    [post_title] => ‘Patriotic’ tourism loses ground as more Central European tourists discover Albania
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            [post_date] => 2017-11-03 09:39:18
            [post_date_gmt] => 2017-11-03 08:39:18
            [post_content] => Visho Ajazi, the head of Albania's intelligence service, SHISH, has resigned without giving any reasons for his decision. This abrupt resignation has raised many questions, particularly because it happened in the context of new political developments in the country – tied to an investigation of alleged ties of the former interior minister with cannabis traffickers.

SHISH has been heavily involved in preventive and discovery efforts in the war against cannabis in Albania. It is not a secret that the intelligence service is often the right tool to address the fight against organized crime – including drugs trafficking.

Of course this is on top of other state security concerns, including terrorism prevention. Albania's intelligence service has managed to prevent terrorist attacks in the past, in cooperation with partner services. All efforts to be applauded.

So then, what is behind this resignation?

The opposition says Ajazi resigned due to government pressure as a result of the involvement of SHISH in the detection of drug trafficking and the investigation involving Saimir Tahiri, the former interior minister.

The fact that Ajazi has not spoken publicly and not given any reason for his resignation has led to some confusion.

The resignation happens when the relations between yesterday's allies, SP and SMI in the opposition have changed in a negative way and Prime Minister Edi Rama and President Ilir Meta are not in good terms. Their consensus is needed to sack and approve the head of SHISH.

So where does Ajazi's resignation stands in this context? Most Socialists and media tied with the left have seen Ajazi as a man nominated by former Democratic Party Prime Minister Sali Berisha and thus naturally allied with the opposition. So his resignation is seen in that context. Rama needs a more trusted person as top spy.

Even so, in such a microscopic place that behaves as if it were the center of the world, there are other scenarios for the engagement – pressure from outside powers etc – conspiracy theories that sometimes rise in this region.

But is it completely possible that none of the above explanations is true. The explanation can also be more mundane, not related to performance or political conflicts – neither with the commitment of SHISH to drugs and its interstate traffics, neither with the reform in justice nor with the prime minister, President or foreign powers. It could have been something personal. The problem is that the intelligence chief has resigned and has given no explanation.

That is wrong. The heavy inheritance when the intelligence service heads left office to be hanged or shot – during the communist regime – is over.

Albania is a democratic country, and citizens need to know the motives of why the intelligence chief resigns. We need to set Western democratic standards – and those require transparency.

 
            [post_title] => Editorial: Citizens need to know why the intelligence chief resigned
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