Police looking to arrest ‘drug baron’ after Greek request

Police looking to arrest ‘drug baron’ after Greek request

TIRANA, Dec. 7 – Albanian police said this week they are seeking to arrest Klement Balili, a large business owner and former regional official in southern Albania, who Greek authorities suspect is the head of a powerful drug trafficking group.

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Corrupt officials will face justice with new reform, says U.S. ambassador

Corrupt officials will face justice with new reform, says U.S. ambassador

TIRANA, Dec. 5 – For the justice reform to work, high-level corrupt officials must face justice, and Albanians must expect and believe that that will happen, U.S. Ambassador to Tirana Donald Lu said this week. “You should expect that senior

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EURALIUS caught in a translation spat

EURALIUS caught in a translation spat

TIRANA, Dec. 6 – Albania’s Democratic Party and representatives of the international community continue to disagree over the implementation of the Vetting Bill, part of the judicial reform which aims to root out corruption and bribery from the country’s justice

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Editorial: The fabric of society is unraveling

Editorial: The fabric of society is unraveling

By Alba Çela Do not turn on your TV sets and don’t look at your phones. Every glance at the screen will cause one to shiver and squirm: Men who kill women by throwing them naked out the windows, men

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Albania accumulates €105 mln in new unpaid bills

Albania accumulates €105 mln in new unpaid bills

TIRANA, Dec. 7 – Central and local government arrears have re-emerged as a risk to the country’s public finances after some €500 million was cleared in 2015 in payments to private sector companies contracted for public works under a two-year

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Identifying potential markets and buyers emerges as exporters’ top concern

Identifying potential markets and buyers emerges as exporters’ top concern

TIRANA, Nov. 30 – Identifying potential markets and buyers is the most problematic factor for Albanian exporters who have been hit by a sharp cut in international commodity prices affecting the country’s poorly diversified exports, according to a survey conducted

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Junior coalition partner against excise rate on vehicle LNG

Junior coalition partner against excise rate on vehicle LNG

TIRANA, Dec. 1 – The Socialist Movement for Integration, the junior ally of the ruling Socialist Party, has officially opposed plans to impose an excise rate on vehicle liquefied natural gas, saying the new tax would affect thousands of households

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Albania-Kosovo trade exchanges continue to remain lower than with Serbia

Albania-Kosovo trade exchanges continue to remain lower than with Serbia

TIRANA, Nov. 30 – Behind political rhetoric of excellent economic cooperation with Kosovo, trade exchanges between the two countries are almost the same compared to Albania’s trade volume with Serbia and only half of what Kosovo imports from Serbia. While

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In revealing interview, Nishani drops hints about post-presidency life

In revealing interview, Nishani drops hints about post-presidency life

TIRANA, Nov. 30 – President Bujar Nishani is considering returning to Albanian politics following the end of his mandate, he said in television interview this week. President Nishani said he would seek a second term if there was a serious

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Vetting bill lost in translation

Vetting bill lost in translation

TIRANA, Dec. 1 – Albania’s main opposition Democratic Party believes that the highly debated vetting bill sent for review at the Venice Commission has not been translated accurately. Therefore, it plans to ask the Constitutional Court to seek a new

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 7 – Albanian police said this week they are seeking to arrest Klement Balili, a large business owner and former regional official in southern Albania, who Greek authorities suspect is the head of a powerful drug trafficking group. 

Greek authorities have sent an official file to back an earlier warrant for Balili, Albania’s Ministry of Justice told the local media this week.
There is an international arrest warrant for Balili, whom the Greek media have labeled as a “drug baron” and the “Escobar of the Balkans,” and the Albanian Serious Crimes Prosecution Office has opened a criminal investigation against him.

The file to back the arrest warrant arrived last month, said Justice Minister Ylli Manjani, and it was immediately forwarded to the Prosecutor's Office. The file was then returned for translation as required by law. The file has hundreds of pages and the ministry hired 15 interpreters to finish it as soon as possible, forwarding translated to the prosecutors this week.
Manjani's statement explaining the process came out after media reports indicated the ministry was delaying the process on purpose.

Balili's name came up in an investigation which was finalized in early May with an operation undertaken by Greek authorities in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Albanian police and authorities of several European Union countries also cooperated with the operation, which targeted a large drug trafficking organization, which authorities suspect is led among others by Balili, according to Voice of America's Albanian Service.

A large number of members and directors of the organization were arrested in Greece and some other European countries, while Balili escaped arrest in Albania, and was living openly in Saranda despite the international arrest warrant against him, according to local media.
Albania’s authorities have said they could not act in arresting him without proof, and that's why the Greek authorities say they forwarded the voluminous file which is said to contain around 10,000 pages of material.

Greek media have reported the delays have come due to Balili having political protection in Albania. CNN Greek reported that Greek authorities had been told in confidence at the Albanian Embassy in Athens that Balili had political protection in Tirana and could not be touched.

A business owner in Sarana, Balili was appointed head of the Transport Department of the Saranda region in 2014. Albania's opposition said at the time he had an arrest record and should not allowed to work for the public administration.
The Albanian Service of Voice of America reported that Balili's nephew, was elected as mayor of Delvina, in the recent local elections, under the banner of Socialist Movement for Integration and another close relative of Balili had been an SMI coordinator.

Balili and his brothers have numerous commercial activities in transport, construction and fishing. They were able to do a large and expensive reconstruction of an old building in Saranda, turning it into a luxury hotel.
The hotel's opening ceremony last year was attended by high officials, including Parliament Speaker Ilir Meta, the then Minister of Economy and Tourism, Arben Ahmetaj and the then Socialist MP Koco Kokëdhima, according to a VoA report. 


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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 5 – For the justice reform to work, high-level corrupt officials must face justice, and Albanians must expect and believe that that will happen, U.S. Ambassador to Tirana Donald Lu said this week. 
“You should expect that senior corrupt politicians, from the right and the left, will face justice,” U.S. Ambassador said at the Anti-Corruption Symposium “Eyes to the Future: Breaking the Corruption Barrier” held in Tirana this week.

Ambassador Lu praised the passage of constitutional amendments for the establishment of the Special Structure on Anti-Corruption (SPAK) and the National Bureau of Investigation (BKH) which will provide an independent prosecutorial and investigative capacity to catch organized crime bosses and corrupt senior officials.
“You should expect that drug dealers, organized crime bosses, and corrupt politicians, judges and prosecutors will be afraid,” he said, highlighting that many crime bosses will go to jail.
The U.S. diplomat said that many officials are afraid and are fighting the reform by “inventing stories and telling lies about the EU Ambassador, EURALIUS and the Constitutional Court.” 

Commenting about the claims of the Democratic Party that the Vetting Law sent to the Venice Commission was badly translated, Ambassador Lu cited the Chief Justice Bashkim Dedja who admitted that the “Constitutional Court has already sent a revised translation to the Venice Commission and none of the translation differences were substantial.”
The Albanian opposition, however, claims that the translation differences are substantial and can influence the opinion of the Venice Commission on the bill on the vetting of judges and prosecutors.

“All major political parties have put their faith in the judgment of the Venice Commission. We look forward to its opinion to help guide Albania in its implementation of judicial reform,” Ambassador Lu said.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama who was present at the conference said that he expects “no surprises from the Venice Commission because the bill has been drafted based on constitutional amendments certified by the commission.”

Rama urged the Constitutional Court to not set any further other obstacles to the implementation of the vetting bill.
International community expects from Albania to start fighting high level corruption in the small Balkan country early next year.

Once enough prosecutors have been vetted, the clean prosecutors will select members of the High Prosecutorial Council. The High Prosecutorial Council will select a chief prosecutor for the Special Structure on Anti-Corruption (SPAK). The senior prosecutors of the SPAK will select a director of the National Bureau of Investigation (BKH).
Several media outlets in Albania have reported that the Special Structure on Anti-Corruption and specialized U.S prosecutors will launch arrests of officials and crime bosses before the parliamentary elections.

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 6 – Albania’s Democratic Party and representatives of the international community continue to disagree over the implementation of the Vetting Bill, part of the judicial reform which aims to root out corruption and bribery from the country’s justice system.

Earlier this week, the opposition party challenged the U.S. Ambassador and European Union Delegation by publishing several extracts of the vetting bill document which was translated in English and sent to the Venice Commission for review.

The Democrats believe that the examples clearly reveal that the Venice Commission has been “intentionally disoriented in regards to the vetting bill.” 
Democratic Party MPs Oerd Bylykbashi and Gazmend Bardhi repeatedly said that the mistakes in the translated document involve main dispositions that can lead at a wrongful recommendation by the Venice Commission.

They blamed the European Assistance Mission to the Albanian Justice System funded by the European Union, EURALIUS for the mistakes in the English version sent to the advisory body of the Council of Europe for review.

“The vetting process can not be done nor corruption can not be rooted out of justice system with an anti-constitutional bill, by making manipulations in the translations, or by attacking the opposition,” Democratic Party MP Oerd Bylykbashi said in a press conference Tuesday.

According to Bylykbashi, the facts that support these claims are “stubborn” as the translated version of the bill is easily accessible at the website of the Venice Commission. 
Bylykbashi claims that the website of EURALIUS contains no English version of the document.

“The evidence is clear. Why do they lie? For what purpose?,” Bylykbashi said in a clear response to U.S Ambassador Donald Lu who hinted that the claims of the Democrats are untrue.
Bylykbashi said that the Democratic Party believes that other people have sent a badly translated version of the Vetting Bill to the Venice Commission, before the Constitutional Court sent the official version.


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                    [post_content] => By Alba Çela

Do not turn on your TV sets and don’t look at your phones. Every glance at the screen will cause one to shiver and squirm: Men who kill women by throwing them naked out the windows, men who strangle children with wire threads and then hang themselves, teenagers who attempt to rape little boys behind school yards, bitter souled people who pour out venom on social media sites after the death of a journalist just because he had a fixed political position, sons who go to the hospitals to strangle their ill fathers with belts. Irresponsible people leave a construction site on a road without warning signs at night so a young boy is killed in a fatal car accident. Inferno cannot even keep up!

The values and sense of community that help to make society safer and kinder are becoming extinct, replaced by a senseless race for nothingness. Not much can stand against this dark tide. Quality education that emphasized empathy, instills values and strengthens a solid sense of responsibility is desperately lacking. Both schools and dinner tables are failing at it. The family is now perhaps the greatest source if vicious crime in the country with domestic violence grave incidents up the roof. Despite important changes in legislation, experts say that legal loopholes and gaps persists and that the implementation of existing laws is marred by inefficiency and corruption.

Ever more indifferent and punishing, both media and the online society react first with a force hypocritical uber-noise and then with cruel silence. 
Civil society watches powerless as their fight for human rights and empowerment and protection of the vulnerable hits the wall of patriarchal mentality, demographic and geographic upheavals, dramatic upturns in the value system and the gray economic and social context that empowers evil to prevail.

This is not happening only in Albania, yet it is as scary as in any other place. This is a small country where people still know each other and see each other and interact with each other at very high frequencies therefore it is even harder to accept a reality where they seem to kill and harm each other with such ease.

Something needs to change. Efforts to increase information and awareness among those who are under threat and harm’s way on likely protection and escape routes need to be better coordinated, increased, and managed well. People need to change through introspection but also through being introduced and encouraged to participate in referral mechanisms. They need to be better educated, young people need to be enabled to protect themselves and their peers. Otherwise this is the inferno we all deserve.

                    [post_title] => Editorial: The fabric of society is unraveling
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 7 – Central and local government arrears have re-emerged as a risk to the country’s public finances after some €500 million was cleared in 2015 in payments to private sector companies contracted for public works under a two-year deal.

Finance ministry data shows the central and local government units had accumulated at least €105 million, equal to 1 percent of the GDP, in unpaid bills to private companies, VAT refunds and other payments resulting from court decisions, by the end of August 2016.

Local government units hold the overwhelming majority of about 90 percent of the arrears and could be the most problematic to pay off as the central government has made it clear the now bigger municipalities following the 2015 administrative reform will have to use their own funds to pay them off.

Finance ministry data shows local government units had accumulated a stock of about 12 billion lek (€87.2 million) at the end of 2015, posing a key threat to their fragile finances which are also supported through central government grants.

“Our survey of local government arrears revealed a stock of around 12 billion lek of arrears at end-December 2015, mostly inherited from the old local government units prior to the 2015 territorial reform. We will require local governments to prepare action plans, which will provide for the clearance of the legacy stock of arrears, out of their own resources, in a comprehensive and transparent way, with external auditors ensuring the integrity of the process,” says the Albanian government.

With help from USAID and the World Bank, the Albanian government says it is preparing a new law on local finances that will improve reporting requirements, tighten monitoring, and provide mechanisms for dealing with local government that fall into financial trouble.

Meanwhile, central government units increased their stock of arrears to 2.5 billion lek (€18.1 million) at the end of August 2016, according to latest finance ministry data.  The bulk of new central government domestic arrears, consisting of domestic expenditure arrears of the central government and domestic tax refund arrears, was due to road construction projects and court decisions

“The emerging stock of arrears at the local level should be promptly resolved. Progress with arrears clearance and prevention at the central government level should be sustained by urgently implementing multi-year commitment limits and by permanently deactivating the large stock of unbudgeted investment projects, a problem that has festered for years,” says the IMF in its latest country report as part of a three-year deal supported by a €331 million loan about to conclude in early 2017 with no renewal, putting relations with the Fund back to an advisory role.

While Albania’s three-year conditional deal with the International Monetary Fund is coming to an end, the Fund has warned the Albanian government to be careful with the accumulation of new arrears and revise the current property tax.

The appeal comes almost a year after the Albanian government cleared unpaid bills of about €500 million to the private sector under a two-year program that is estimated to have strengthened private sector balance sheets, reduced nonperforming loans and supported domestic demand, although credit growth still remains at negative growth rates.

The Albanian government has also earlier announced plans to revise the current property tax by the end of 2017 following next year’s expected elections.

The reform is expected to shift property tax calculation from its current rate depending on the size and location of the property to a formula based on current market value by end-2017, in considerably higher rates.

The arrears also pose a new threat to government plans to reduce public debt, currently hovering at a staggering 72 percent of the GDP, down to 60 percent of the GDP in the next few years in a more affordable level for the current stage of Albania’s economic development.
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                    [post_date] => 2016-12-02 12:36:23
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 30 - Identifying potential markets and buyers is the most problematic factor for Albanian exporters who have been hit by a sharp cut in international commodity prices affecting the country's poorly diversified exports, according to a survey conducted by the World Economic Forum in its latest 2016 Global Enabling Trade report where Albania improved its positioning to 60th among 136 global economies, ranking one of the region's best performers.

Access to trade finance is rated the second most problematic barrier for exporters as lending continues remaining at sluggish growth rates affected by non-performing loans at 20 percent keeping lending standards tight and the poor reflection of the key rate at an all-time low of 1.25 percent on triggering lower loan interest rates.

Rules of origin requirements abroad and access to imported inputs at competitive prices are a burden for about 19 percent of exporters.

Albania’s exports were down by 4.6 percent in the first three quarters of this year affected by a sharp cut in oil and mineral prices and the depreciation of the euro against the national currency. The garment and footwear industry, the country's traditional top exporters employing about 100,000 people saved exports from a sharp decline with a 20 percent hike this year.

The IMF has recently warned Albania’s poorly diversified and low value-added exports could face headwinds over the medium term due to oil price shocks and tougher competition in the key garment and footwear from new Asian frontier markets.

As far as barriers regarding imports are concerned, tariff and non-tariff barriers are the key concern for about a quarter of Albanian importers.

Burdensome import procedures and corruption at the border were cited as the second and third most problematic factors by 35 percent of importers.

Albania, a non-EU CEFTA free trade deal member, is a net importer with exports covering only about half of imports.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Enabling Trade report, evaluating 136 economies based on their capacity to facilitate the flow of goods over borders and to their destination showed Albania improved its ranking by 4 places compared to 2014 when the country's position was revised to 64th compared to an initial 69th out of 134 countries.

Only Macedonia ranked slightly better at 56th among regional EU aspirant competitors.

Albania ranks 8th among 136 countries in domestic market access, assessing the level and complexity of a country’s tariff protection as a result of its trade policy, but 52nd in foreign market access assessing tariff barriers faced by a country's exporters in destination markets.

Efficiency and transparency of border administration rank Albania 50th.

The country ranks 59th in the operating environment assessing the country's level of protection of property rights, the quality and impartiality of its public institutions, efficiency in enforcing contracts and the availability of finance.

Availability and use of ICTS rank Albania 78th due to poor business-to-business and business-to-consumer transactions.

The country ranks poorer in the availability and quality of transport infrastructure and services.

Published since 2008, the biennial Global Enabling Trade report assesses the extent to which economies have in place institutions, policies, infrastructures and services facilitating the free flow of goods over borders and to their destination.

 

 

Albania's most problematic factors for importing

 
  1. Tariffs and non-tariff barriers 25.7
  2. Burdensome import procedures 19.4
  3. Corruption at the border 16.4
  4. Domestic technical requirements and standards 13.2
  5. High cost or delays caused by domestic transportation 7.9
  6. High cost or delays caused by international transportation 7.3
  7. Crime and theft 5.9
  8. Inappropriate telecommunications infrastructure 4.2
  Most problematic factors for exporting  
  1. Identifying potential markets and buyers             9
  2. Access to trade finance 4
  3. Rules of origin requirements abroad             7
  4. Technical requirements and standards abroad 6
  5. Access to imported inputs at competitive prices 3
  6. Inappropriate production technology and skills 5
  7. Difficulties in meeting quality/quantity requirements of buyers 7
  8. Tariff barriers abroad             7
  9. Burdensome procedures at foreign borders             6
  Source: World Economic Forum, Executive Opinion Survey 2015 [post_title] => Identifying potential markets and buyers emerges as exporters’ top concern [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => identifying-potential-markets-and-buyers-emerges-as-exporters-top-concern [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-12-02 12:36:23 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-02 11:36:23 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=130238 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 130235 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2016-12-02 12:33:31 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-02 11:33:31 [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 1 - The Socialist Movement for Integration, the junior ally of the ruling Socialist Party, has officially opposed plans to impose an excise rate on vehicle liquefied natural gas, saying the new tax would affect thousands of households and business and not help bring pollution levels down, in a new rift in the ruling coalition following previous differences in the justice reform. In an amendment submitted to Parliament, the SMI parliamentary group which has some 20 MPs and whose votes are key to approve laws, says the 25 percent price hike in the liquid gas used for vehicles would affect thousands of households and businesses who have invested in liquid gas-powered cars. "It is a fact that households are more and more using liquid gas-powered cars and have converted their cars by investing quite a lot on this. In addition, small and medium-sized businesses, including big ones, have also oriented their transportation needs to LNG-powered vehicles," says the SMI. "The increase by 13 lek (€0.1)/litre or more than 25 percent of the current price, would severely affect the budgets of these entrepreneurs who have invested a lot in modern and safe LNG systems considering liquid gas as an excise free product,” the ruling Socialists junior ally added. Conversion from petrol running to liquid gas-powered systems costs an average of €500 in Albania and is estimated to reduce consumption costs up to 50 percent because of cheaper liquid gas prices. "Under the conditions when households are facing a lot of financial straits, imposing this excise rate would be unreasonable at a time when fluctuating oil prices are severely affecting household budgets," says the SMI in its explanatory report. The SMI also cites environmental concerns over discouraging the use of liquid gas, whose pollution is far lower compared to oil. "Based on a report approved by the government it has been envisaged that 116 kilotons of CO2 or 16 percent of the total contribution would be reduced by replacing fuel with natural gas. A 13 lek/litre excise rate would make meeting this national target tougher," says the SMI. The SMI amendment comes after Environment Minister Lefter Koka representing the SMI in the center left coalition government had earlier opposed plans to introduce an excise rate on liquid gas, saying that the measure does not help reduce pollution and car emissions “We have approved a government decision committing to reduce greenhouse gases, mainly coming from car emissions, until 2030. This discourages the increased use of liquid gas,” said Koka, calling on the government to revise its excise rate plans. Other independent experts have also raised concerns the proposed excise rate only for vehicles could create confusion and leave room for abuse at a time when liquid gas is massively used as a   cheaper alternative to heating and cooking compared to much more expensive electricity prices. Liquefied petroleum gas, LPG, is currently traded at fuel stations both for household and car consumption from the same filling stations at undifferentiated prices. Government officials have assured liquid gas for household needs traded in cylinders will not be affected and special trading stations will be set up. In its 2017 fiscal package, the Albanian government plans to collect an annual 600 million lek (€4.3 million) from the introduction of a 13 lek/litre (15.6 lek/l VAT included) (€0.11) on autogas. The hike is expected to affect thousands of car owners who have converted their petrol running cars to LPG due to significant lower prices and reducing consumption costs by an estimated 30 to 50 percent compared to running on diesel or petrol whose prices in Albania are among Europe’s highest due to the high tax burden levied on them. Albania imports 25,000 metric tonns of liquid gas for car use annually and much more for household consumption. “The application of an excise rate on liquid gas for car use at 13 lek/litre is being made in order to bring it closer to EU standards and regional countries taxing this product,” says the government in its explanatory report accompanying the 2017 budget. “Considering that the annual import of liquid gas for car use is at about 25,000 metric tons a year, the effect on government revenue is expected at 500 million lek in excise rate and at 100 million lek in VAT accounting for a total extra revenue of 600 million lek (€4.3 million),” the report adds. Albania’s liquid gas prices stand at 55 lek (€0.4)/litre compared to an average of 160 lek(€1.16)/litre on diesel and petrol whose tax burden is estimated at 100 lek/litre, making the record low international oil prices poorly reflected domestically. As one of the countries where the Trans Adriatic Pipeline bringing Caspian gas to Europe crosses through, Albania is expected to benefit cheaper gas prices by 2020 when first gas flows are expected although the country currently lacks consumer infrastructure for massive gas use for cooking and heating purposes. Only 3 percent of some 500,000 motor vehicles, some 15,000, are estimated to run on liquid gas in Albania. [post_title] => Junior coalition partner against excise rate on vehicle LNG [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => junior-coalition-partner-against-excise-rate-on-vehicle-lng [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-12-02 12:33:31 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-02 11:33:31 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=130235 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 130233 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2016-12-02 12:31:24 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-02 11:31:24 [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 30 - Behind political rhetoric of excellent economic cooperation with Kosovo, trade exchanges between the two countries are almost the same compared to Albania's trade volume with Serbia and only half of what Kosovo imports from Serbia. While traditional factors due to the isolation and lack of communication between the two Albanian-speaking countries for almost five decades until the early 1990s and the late 1990s Kosovo war that led to its independence from Serbia in 2008 partly explain the situation, the huge almost 2 billion euro investment in the so-called Highway of Nation on both sides of border sharply cutting travel time does not yet justify a slowly growing annual trade volume of €192 million between the two countries. The two countries have held three joint government meetings in the past three years in an effort to boost cooperation with a focus on the economy, but trade exchanges between the two countries are suffering this year, apparently affected by lower "fuel, electricity, construction material and metals" dominated exports to Kosovo. Latest INSTAT data shows exports to Kosovo, Albania's second main destination in the past few years but still at only about 10 percent compared to what Albania exports to Italy, dropped by 26 percent to only 13.5 billion lek (€98 million) in the first ten months of this year. Imports from Kosovo also dropped to mere 4.6 billion lek (€34 million) in the first ten months of this year, ranking Kosovo out of the top ten partners for imports. Albania's 2015 trade exchanges with Kosovo at €192 million were only slightly higher compared to trade exchanges with Serbia. Both Albania and Kosovo have a huge trade deficit with Serbia. Albania's exports to Serbia rose to 3.2 billion lek (€23.3 mln) in 2015 but imports were seven times higher at almost 21 billion lek (€153 mln), according to INSTAT, Albania's state statistical INSTAT. Kosovo also imports from Albania some 40 percent of what it imports from Serbia, which continues remaining its main trading partner. For Kosovo, Albania is the second most important destination of exports and only the sixth most important partner for imports, according to Kosovo's statistical agency. Experts say trade disputes continue hampering Albania-Kosovo trade. “Albania still doesn't recognize certificates of origin issued by Kosovo authorities which makes the export of Kosovo products to Albania difficult and causes unnecessary long lines and wait-times at the Vermice border crossing point with Albania," Naim Gashi, an economy professor with the University of Prishtina has told Radio Free Europe in its local Albanian service. However, compared to 2009 when Albania completed its part of the highway, trade exchanges have more than doubled and tourist numbers sharply increased. Albania’s trade exchanges with Kosovo increased to 26.4 billion lek (€187.6 million) in 2015, up 6.7 percent compared to 2014 but more than double compared to about 10 billion lek (€72 million) in 2009 when Albania completed the Durres-Kukes highway but Kosovo had not built its part of the Highway of Nation yet. Ongoing trade disputes between Albania and Kosovo over potatoes, cement, milk, flower, wine and pharmaceutical products have considerably curbed trade exchanges between the two neighboring countries in the past few years. Kosovo companies almost doubled their presence in Albania to 411 companies in 2015 while their stock of foreign direct investment was reported at only €15 million until 2014, according to INSTAT and Bank of Albania data. The presence of Albanian companies in Kosovo is estimated much bigger and the FDI stock at about €100 million at the end of 2014. Tourists from landlocked Kosovo account for almost half of foreign tourists to Albania in what is known as ‘patriotic tourism. The two countries have also stepped up cooperation in the energy sector. Last July, Albania and Kosovo inaugurated a German-funded 400 kV interconnection line that will help the two neighboring countries increase energy security by diversifying electricity resources and set up a joint energy market, but its launch is being held back by Serbia over a transmission grid dispute with Kosovo. [post_title] => Albania-Kosovo trade exchanges continue to remain lower than with Serbia [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => albania-kosovo-trade-exchanges-continue-to-remain-lower-than-with-serbia [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-12-02 12:31:24 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-02 11:31:24 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=130233 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 130203 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2016-12-02 10:05:34 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-02 09:05:34 [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 30 - President Bujar Nishani is considering returning to Albanian politics following the end of his mandate, he said in television interview this week. President Nishani said he would seek a second term if there was a serious request from parliament for him to do so. He also said he has no plans to retire yet, however, he will continue to provide his contribution “to the interest of the society and Albania.” “It may be politics, civil society or organizations that are at distance from political parties that still are at service of politics. We will find out since it’s too early to decide,” President Nishani told Top Show on Tuesday. President Nishani, whose first term is about to end did not dismiss the idea of running for a second mandate, but said that the purpose of “getting a second term can not be a unilateral one.” “If there will be a dignified presidential race with a certain group of members of parliament, then of course will seek a second term. If there will attempts for a political farce I will definitely not be part of it,” Nishani declared. During the interview, President Nishani commented some of his decisions to veto several government bills such as the waste imports ld ongoing clashes with Ministers of Interior Affairs Saimir Tahiri, Minister of Defence Mimi Kodheli and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ditmir Bushati. He said that during his time in the Presidency, he witnessed “the bitter of reality of attempts to delegitimize, block and skip the President’s role being perceived as clashes with the Government.” “The philosophy of ‘with me or against me’ has ended. State paths are well defined but must be coordinated and combined. I have vetoed several bills, but I  also approved dozens of others. This does not mean that I approved bills because I favor the government or I oppose it,” Nishani said. He added: “Unfortunately I have faced a philosophical and political stance to delegitimize, block, limit and lack respect the President, but our office has never issued a political address against the government, its chairman or minister. There have been some reactions against some unfair political actions, but all of it has been in the interest of informing the public opinion.” President Nishani also expressed concern about the massive expansion of marijuana plantations in Albania that have affected the lives of “citizens of Albania and forced them to be part of criminal activities.” He commented on relations between Albania and Greece and said that the “principle of reciprocal respect is non-negotiable” and highlighted the importance of abrogation of the war law so that citizens of the Cham community “ are given the possibility to earn their property right and freedoms lost years ago.” In terms of the statement delivered by Prime Minister Edi Rama who called the president elect of the United States Donald Trump “the shame of our civilization”, Nishani said that although he wished those words were not spoken,  the statement must not be considered as dramatic, since relations between the United States and Albania are at an institutional level and both countries and people enjoy a mutual and excellent ties. President Bujar Nishani was elected in 2012. He was a member of the former-governing center-right Democratic Party now in opposition. Though formally apolitical since getting the post, Nishani has been in a continuous conflict with the governing Socialists since they came to power in 2013. The president's mandate ends in 2017 when the country will vote in parliamentary elections.   [post_title] => In revealing interview, Nishani drops hints about post-presidency life [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => in-revealing-interview-nishani-drops-hints-about-post-presidency-life [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-12-02 10:05:34 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-02 09:05:34 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=130203 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 130197 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2016-12-02 10:02:22 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-02 09:02:22 [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 1 - Albania’s main opposition Democratic Party believes that the highly debated vetting bill sent for review at the Venice Commission has not been translated accurately. Therefore, it plans to ask the Constitutional Court to seek a new opinion from the Venice Commission based on a new and better translated version of the draft. At a meeting of the Democratic Party Parliamentary Group, the leader of the opposition, Lulzim Basha, highlighted some of the mistakes he noted at the document which was sent to the Venice Commission and explained that provisions in the document are not accurate. Basha announced that experts from the Democratic Party are preparing an official appeal to be sent to the advisory body of the Council of Europe as well as Parliament of Albania and Constitutional Court  regarding these concerns. Meanwhile, the chairman of the Constitutional Court admitted Thursday that the document had had translation issues. The constitutional amendments and the vetting bill sent to the Venice Commission are a bit different from the documents approved in parliament. However he guaranteed that the changes are not essential and do not impact the substance of the law. “The document sent to the Venice Commission has some inaccuracies compared to the document in Albanian language. That document was translated by them. There were some claims about some inaccuracies and we did the verification and found out that those differences do not change the essence of the law,” Bashkim Dedja said in an interview. He added that the court has hired licensed translators that have provided an official translation of the bill that has been sent to the Venice Commission. The cost of these inaccuracies to the country’s economy are unknown as the Venice Commission plans to take a decision on the legitimacy of the Vetting Bill by December 15. At the same time, European Commission has announced that membership negotiations with Albania will begin with the implementation of the vetting bill.   [post_title] => Vetting bill lost in translation [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => vetting-bill-lost-in-translation [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-12-02 10:02:22 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-02 09:02:22 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=130197 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post_count] => 10 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 130316 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2016-12-09 11:06:15 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-09 10:06:15 [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 7 – Albanian police said this week they are seeking to arrest Klement Balili, a large business owner and former regional official in southern Albania, who Greek authorities suspect is the head of a powerful drug trafficking group. Greek authorities have sent an official file to back an earlier warrant for Balili, Albania’s Ministry of Justice told the local media this week. There is an international arrest warrant for Balili, whom the Greek media have labeled as a “drug baron” and the “Escobar of the Balkans,” and the Albanian Serious Crimes Prosecution Office has opened a criminal investigation against him. The file to back the arrest warrant arrived last month, said Justice Minister Ylli Manjani, and it was immediately forwarded to the Prosecutor's Office. The file was then returned for translation as required by law. The file has hundreds of pages and the ministry hired 15 interpreters to finish it as soon as possible, forwarding translated to the prosecutors this week. Manjani's statement explaining the process came out after media reports indicated the ministry was delaying the process on purpose. Balili's name came up in an investigation which was finalized in early May with an operation undertaken by Greek authorities in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Albanian police and authorities of several European Union countries also cooperated with the operation, which targeted a large drug trafficking organization, which authorities suspect is led among others by Balili, according to Voice of America's Albanian Service. A large number of members and directors of the organization were arrested in Greece and some other European countries, while Balili escaped arrest in Albania, and was living openly in Saranda despite the international arrest warrant against him, according to local media. Albania’s authorities have said they could not act in arresting him without proof, and that's why the Greek authorities say they forwarded the voluminous file which is said to contain around 10,000 pages of material. Greek media have reported the delays have come due to Balili having political protection in Albania. CNN Greek reported that Greek authorities had been told in confidence at the Albanian Embassy in Athens that Balili had political protection in Tirana and could not be touched. A business owner in Sarana, Balili was appointed head of the Transport Department of the Saranda region in 2014. Albania's opposition said at the time he had an arrest record and should not allowed to work for the public administration. The Albanian Service of Voice of America reported that Balili's nephew, was elected as mayor of Delvina, in the recent local elections, under the banner of Socialist Movement for Integration and another close relative of Balili had been an SMI coordinator. Balili and his brothers have numerous commercial activities in transport, construction and fishing. They were able to do a large and expensive reconstruction of an old building in Saranda, turning it into a luxury hotel. The hotel's opening ceremony last year was attended by high officials, including Parliament Speaker Ilir Meta, the then Minister of Economy and Tourism, Arben Ahmetaj and the then Socialist MP Koco Kokëdhima, according to a VoA report. 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