Agriculture and investments in the sector

Weekly press conference focusing on economy: 

 

Good afternoon everyone! Thank you!

The today’s conference is a weekly update on various aspects of the country’s economy and it will mainly focus on agricultural and rural development, investments in this sector and an overall overview of this sector’s situation, which, in our view, is a clear overview of the growth this sector is experiencing, but which, of course, considered in future terms, is still a solid foundation, yet an unfinished building.

Prime Minister Edi Rama: I believe same principle applies to the agriculture sector too; if we are to consider the sector in future terms, it is still a long way to go and arrive where we want to be. But, if we were to consider it in terms of the past, the difference is like night and day. The today’s situation, which, just like in every other sector, has a lot more room to improve the country’s agriculture, is really a quite strong reason for us to keep moving ahead unstoppably, and not to go back to where we used to be, because there is no time for a halt, nor to shift direction. This is clearly the right way and facts and figures speak for themselves, yet there is not a magical formula. The only formula to make things change consistently and make the transformation tangible for everyone, is to keep working hard, confidently and patiently, and this has been already confirmed by the results so far.

I would like to focus on one result that, I believe, explains it all. When we embarked on this path, Albania imported 7 units and exported 1, so it was a 7 to 1 import-export ratio in terms of agricultural products. The today’s import-export ratio is 3 to 1, meaning that we export one and import three units. And this means that the locally-grown agricultural product now makes up for the half of what used to be imported previously. Of course, this shows that the country’s agricultural production has increased significantly, while data on agriculture exports show an increase like never before. On the other hand, it couldn’t be otherwise, given that the area of cultivated land has doubled compared to seven years ago as a result of mass investments in irrigation projects to water every single land plot and as a result of the mass support that has been granted to all of those who cultivate the land and deserve even stronger support.

Today, if we take a look at all the elements of the government support for the people who work the land, this support has been extended from A to Z by providing oil to farmers for free in the amount equal to what they used to pay in the turnover tax, the environmental tax and the excise tax included on the oil price, in fact, the support is structured for all its elements in the same way as in any EU member state. Of course, the government support should be strengthened and it will certainly strengthen further, but a stronger support is based on opportunities and opportunities are created through hard work.

We increased the minimum wage to 300.000 lek this year; we have scraped profit tax on small businesses; we have considerably increased the doctors and nurses salaries. We could afford doing so because the opportunities have surged. These are not temporary measures, but they will remain in place for a long time.

The pay rise decision is not a temporary decision so that to cut them again later. The pay rise decision was made to remain into force until the next pay rise decision is made. These are measures with added financial effects on the state budget and they were approved as the state budget can afford it. So, the increase of the quality jobs, not simply jobs, coupled with higher salaries and the pay rise as a whole, are all a result of the increased opportunities. The opportunities increase through hard work and not through empty words, news websites and TV channels, through irrigation channels and not infectious channels.

–Mr. Prime Minister, I believe you already know that I tend not to focus on the topic of the press conference and therefore I would like to ask for your understanding to make a question that has nothing to do with the agriculture, but it is about a stir in the public opinion after wiretaps from the Italian Anti-Mafia surfaced on the media, mentioning also Albanian officials. Indeed, this is the third wiretap involving the Socialist party in the past four years since 2017. I understand that you state that justice should be allowed to do its job when it comes to such cases, and then you issues statements on them, but I believe that a comment on your part would be valuable amid the smokescreen that has been created in the public opinion. Do you have any comment, Mr. Rama, on the alleged involvement of the Socialist Party officials in these wiretaps? Is Albania of today like Italy in the ‘60s, the forerunner of the Mafia, the organized crime and money laundering and are the Socialists friends of the Ndrangheta organized crime syndicate?

PM Edi Rama: I am actually going to disappoint you, as I am not going to state that justice should speak, since justice has clearly spoken about this case through the conclusions drawn by the Italian investigation team and I am going to read their conclusion to tell you why it is an unprecedented shame for each and every one of you who are tasked with informing the public, but instead you just stir it up and kindle the fire through words, gossips, and nonsense talks of people who, according to the Italian prosecution conclusion, not according to me, I quote: “After after a year of trips to Tirana and talks with one another, there is no conversation between these individuals planned  investments in Albania. Those investments failed completely and the only investment made is a small retail store that was subject to disputes between partners. In 2018, according to data on business turnover released by the National Business Centre, this investment has had an annual turnover of 5 million lek only and it has incurred losses estimated at around 400.000 lek. Whereas in 2019, it earned 4 million lek in income and it lost around 1.8 million lek.

This is a quotation from the Italian prosecution’s conclusions and taking all this nonsense and serving it as a food to Albanians on the long nights of TV talk shows and as a way to increase website traffic is shameful. It is a disgrace that best embodies those who nurture such an approach, and who are the same people, whose tendency to destroy this country is a top priority, anytime they are given the opportunity, even when no such opportunity is there, because it is a stupidity unmatched by anything else. Some Italians speak and mention names, imagine investments, and imagine the conquest of the promised land. There is no evidence, there is no fact, there is nothing at all, and just smoke rises – or as you put it – a smokescreen that is disgusting and I really have nothing to say about this, but, since you asked me, I read the conclusion by the Italian prosecution. You can take all those thousands of pages and publish them again and make comments on TV and news websites and make Albanian sick. Unfortunately, this is actually the goal. This is to me spectacular evidence to the degradation of the opposition and the media.

What do you expect me to say? Do you expect me to say that I don’t know who these people are and I have never met such people? It would be useless. Do you want me to say it doesn’t work this way with me, it doesn’t work this way with us, and it would be useless again? It is a shame that has to be identified with those who should feel the shame and you have no reason to be part of this shame, in my opinion. It is the most disgusting way to seek advantages of various natures in political arena, advantages of influence or whatever they are just to destroy this country, where instead of informing, they provide disinformation, instead of debating over the facts, there is a fight over who can distort the truth the most. I have nothing to tell you.

-I would like to address my first question to the Minister of Agriculture. Are you aware, Mrs. Minister, that the Food Safety Authority, a Ministry of Agriculture subordinate institution, has spent the state budget funds allocated for the testing requirements fish and fishery products before they can be exported to Europe to fund other tenders, seriously threatening Albanian seafood exports? A letter has been sent to you and I would like to know what measures have been taken amid such a situation, considering the fact March 31 is the final deadline when the annual testing results should be submitted to the EU institutions?

-A question for the Prime Minister; focusing again on the issue of the recent wiretaps from the Italian anti-mafia, Mr. Prime Minister, without accusing you, I would like to ask you about the fact that construction sector in Tirana, in the capital, has been considered an area that can be used for the money laundering activities and what has raised more suspicions is the fact that investments have been made, but in the meantime no bank loans have been issued, so they have not been made through banks. Don’t the recent wiretaps add to the suspicions, given that you said you were sure Ndrangheta has not been involved in money laundering activities in Albania, and would you state for sure that the municipality of Tirana does not ask for a 20% bribe in exchange of a building permit?

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development: The Albanian Food Authority is certainly a Ministry of Agriculture subordinate institution and it has its responsibilities and competences to carry out all actions as part of its daily activity. The Ministry has its instruments to audit a subordinate institution and of course this institution will undergo an audit process. I have no information suggesting that Albanian seafood exports can face risk, because, as I already said in my presentation, we are lucky enough that the Food Authority has increased its testing and has certified its methods under the EU guidelines as it can’t do it on its own. This is also part of the requirements we need to fulfill under the acquis communautaire on the food safety. This is good news. The auditing process will take place and the exports of the Republic of Albania face no risks. We export eggs, we export fish, we export cheese, honey and we carry out daily testing, every time the export plan is approved under the EU requirements.

PM Edi Rama: Could you explain how come not a single kilo has not been sent back in all these considerable quantity of Albanian exports? Not a single kilo of fruits or vegetables, not a single kilo of fish, not a single egg, not a honey jar has been sent back from the EU.

How can one explain that the EU filters turn out to be weaker than the media control you exert over the Albanian products, that you have poisoned people by conjuring up all sorts of news stories over alleged toxins, contaminations, microbes and the worms that eat up Albanian products. In the meantime, it doesn’t turn out for me, or you can investigate and find out whether there is a farm in Albania that grows tomatoes to export them to Denmark and where there is another land plot where worms grow along with the tomatoes we consume. These are scandals of logic and what is regrettable is the fact that no scandal of logic has ever happen to describe Albania as a decent and good country, to describe Albania better than it really is. What is this fearsome lack of patriotism regarding the way how the facts are produced. Of course it is patriotic to reveal every problematic fact. Of course it is a patriotic act to reveal every wrongdoing when based on facts, but it is not patriotic at all to slander, fabricate and distort facts.

I am speaking in general.

As to other question, the conclusion of the Italian prosecution, and not my conclusion, but that drawn by the Italian Prosecution that has conducted the investigation into these wiretaps that you have seized and release to the public on daily basis, selling them as an alleged discovery of the supposed links between the mafia and the authorities in Tirana. “The Italian authorities reached to practical conclusions after year-long trips to Tirana and conversation with each other – there is not a single phone conversation between them and the supposed persons about planned investments in Albania. They failed miserably and their only investment was a retail workwear shop, which was marred by disputes between the partners.” These are all conclusions drawn by the Italian prosecution.

Ndragheta’s investment in Albania in 2018, “Gallo Albania”, according to the balance sheets produced by the National Business Centre, had an annual turnover of five million lek and it incurred losses estimated at around 400,000 lek, whereas in 2019, it earned 4 milion lek and suffered losses estimated at 1.8 million lek. This is the conclusion. Where do you see the apartment buildings or the skyscrapers and all other sorts of stupidities of delusional mythomaniac, who have thought of Albania, just like you have described it, for the sake of truth, just like the opposition describes it as “a mafia country”, “a country of the drug trade”, where money is laundered and I don’t know what else. Where are all these? These are the conclusions that have been drawn by the Italian prosecutors. It is unprecedented that the Ambassador of the Italian Republic is forced to issue a statement on the issue. Do you know why he did it? Because they are scandalized by the fact that an investigation, according to the Italian prosecution, has nothing to do with any potential channel of money laundering in Albania, becomes a “common cause” of the media to tear Albania down from the hands of Albanians themselves.

Do you think that Italian media wouldn’t report on the case should the investigation was to establish that such activities were taking place here?! This all has been reduced to a horrible story of completely sinful relationships with the truth. It is all about taking papers from wiretapping files in Italy and make a mess of it to confuse everyone. Who does this to his own country? Because it does not matter at all whether in one way or another it is related to “x” or “y” person.

It does not matter at all, I am personally accustomed to the mud-slinging and I am all aware of the fact that as long as I will be in this office, I will face the mud. This is what Faik Bey has once said when I was not born yet, that if there is one thing they do not forgive you in this country is success. But who does this to his country?

Are there money laundering activities? Is there any country where no money laundering activities take place? Can you name any? All countries fight against dirty money. Anti-money laundering institutions operate in every country. Extremely stringent anti-money laundering rules are in place in Albania compared to many other countries. If an Albanian citizen living and working abroad transfers 15.000 euros to purchase a house in Albania – and this is a problem I have been discussing consistently with the relevant institutions – this amount of money is frozen for months in order to verify the source, creating problems to emigrants when it comes to sending money back home to Albania. How come that you jump to such conclusions, claiming that construction projects are being implemented without bank loans? You should investigate such claims first and such a probe is really welcome as it would help us too, but in the meantime I can tell you that the General Directorate for the Prevention of Money Laundering in Albania verifies each customer, who purchases a house or real estate properties and this institution conducts extreme verifications that I don’t agree at all in principle. However, this is what the law stipulates; this is the path we have chosen. I don’t interfere and I can’t change these rules. Every potential buyer who purchases an apartment in Albania, be him an Albanian residing in Albania or an emigrant, a Kosovo Albanian or an Albanian from Macedonia, or every foreign national is subject and goes through the filter of a strict verification process by the Directorate for the Prevention of Money Laundering. Not only that, but all construction companies are obliged to provide explanations, and they complain frequently about this as it “scares” their customers. Are there money laundering activities? Definitely there are! I don’t rule it out at all, but where? How? How much? This is the challenge facing the relevant institutions and their efforts to combat it and I would urge you all to join these institutions by conducting investigation. Follow the lead of the investigative TV shows “Stop” and “Fiks Fare. And I am addressing you who pretend to fight the mafia, and I don’t mean you personally, but those who “fight the mafia” while laid down on the couch like Migen’s “pigs satisfied”, who feed Albanians with nonsense for hours on end every night and play the role of the experts in the fight against crime and corruption and they are definitely the most corrupt and incriminated individuals than anyone and we all combined, though neither I nor you are part of this category, but they are more corrupt and more incriminated than all individuals involved in the crime syndicates. What is this story? They lay down on couches, comment on some speculations and make allegations against people. How the relation with the truth and the relation with the public could possibly work this way? The Italian prosecution has drawn the conclusions. Aren’t you satisfied with these conclusions? Then you go on probing, but what I consider a true investigation is the one that is conducted by the investigative show “Stop”, which doesn’t deal with the global mafia, because whoever claims to fight the global mafia and pretends to have reached highest accomplishments in this fight, he or she actually, of course unintentionally, but fully aware uses the mafia, the organized crime, uses criminals to embark on a political battle or to reap benefits of various nature by taking advantage of the media influence. It is as easy as that. It doesn’t take science to explain. A cleaning worker at lower-level position in the administration was nailed down by providing solid evidence and she is in jail now. That investigation is a service to the country, a service to the fight against corruption. That investigation helps the efforts to shed light into the deficiencies of whatsoever insider the state institutions. Do you thing we stand in different barricades? No, we are all in the same barricade. I am very sorry to see the victims of such abuses, like it was the case concerning the girl, who fell prey to the cleaning worker, but I am also very happy to see that, thanks to the contribution of a media, a trash is nailed down and a boil is removed from the state’s body.

What sort of question is this? Are you sure that a 20% bribe is not paid? How a conversation could be possibly initiated this way? It is like I was to ask you now are you sure that gamblers are not the ones who decide the editorial policy of your newspaper. My question makes somehow a sense, for the sake of truth.

I urge you all to investigate and establish evidence and I would be the first one to thank and praise you all and I would express my gratitude, because it would be the greatest help you can provide me with and the greatest contribution to the public and it can also help the state institutions to improve their performance.

How a conversation could possibly be initiated with us gathering here and talk about some Italian-speaking scum and their conversations turn out to have no impact of whatsoever on our country, and no investment in our country, and point a finger at SP.

To make it clear, you are not a patch on SP.

–Hello Mr. Prime Minister. I would like to ask a question about the coronavirus vaccine. Given that the first batch of the Pfizer vaccine doses are running out, the Minister of Health announced a day ago that as many as 500 doses have been administered to the doctors and nurses at the COVID-designated hospitals. On the other hand, Pfizer is hitting distribution and production problems. Astra Zeneca is also running into production and supply problems. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy called on the EU member states a day ago to provide vaccine doses to the countries that have yet to secure the first doses. At what stage is Albania now? Will other doses be provided in time to continue the vaccination process even for those who have already received the first dose?

PM Edi Rama: The vaccines doses needed for those who have received the first dose are certainly there and this is the reason why a calculation has been made to make sure that none of them is denied the second dose due to the lack of the vaccine. Pfizer is currently facing a serious problem with all countries. I am sure you have learned that Italy has threatened legal actions over the Pfizer delays in vaccine supplies not only to Italy, but to many other countries too, as the vaccine producer has announced a temporary delay in shipments, saying such a move is needed to increase its production capacities. And indeed we are contacting them not only once, but – and I am not exaggerating it – seven times a day to make sure that they fully respect the contract with us and deliver the first batch of the vaccines, but in the meantime, as I have earlier stated, we are not dependent on Pfizer only, as we are already negotiating with Astra Zeneca and the negotiations have progressed significantly and I am looking forward to announcing the good news about this in the coming days. However, one can never state for sure when things will take place, but what I can openly say is that Albania is not lagging behind others and Albanians won’t be denied the care in order to end this cholera and this extremely tough phase of the fight against COVID-19 as soon as possible. So, I hope we will be able to give good news soon. We are currently constantly communicating with Pfizer and I hope Pfizer will soon deliver a part of the first batch of the doses it has promised and I am confident that more vaccines will be provided in the next ten days or two weeks.

–Hello! For several weeks now, Albania has been in the grip of floods due to the torrential rains. I would like to know whether the government has made a preliminary assessment on the area of the flooded agricultural land, damages to the crops and will the government provide compensation for these damages?

PM Edi Rama: We have made a basic balance for the most critical phase, but we are now in a less critical phase and we are certainly attentively following the situation, which is currently at completely reasonable levels given the large rainfall intensity and the landslides along certain national roads due to the heavy rains for a prolonged period remain the main problem and we are working day and night to address the matter. As to the flooded agricultural land, I can say that the flooded area is at minimum for now compared to what we have seen in the past and compared to the intensity of the rainfall, because serious hard work has been done in advance to maintain the drainage ditches, canals and river dikes operational. However, we are monitoring the situation on daily basis and we expect to make a complete damage assessment at the end of the rainfalls.

–I have a question for Mrs. Minister regarding the application for the excise-free oil for farmers. How is the process progressing? How many farmers have filed their applications to date and will the Feb 25 deadline for the applications will be postponed if farmers suffer more flood-related damages? And second question is about a decision you have signed on banning poultry imports from certain countries, including Germany, Hungary, Ukraine and other countries. Would you please specify the concrete reason behind such a decision? Thank you!

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Milva Ekonomi: The application process continues normally and we are lucky enough to cooperate with a series of entities subordinate to the Ministry of Agriculture to support farmers. Second, the entire awareness raising campaign conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture has helped to significantly raise awareness among farmers to resort to applications. A total of 3200 applications have been filed as of yesterday, and the application is a very easy process as it is done via the so-called front office and back office, where we process the information. I think that based on our calculation, the Feb 26 deadline could be acceptable to complete the whole amount of the required information, based on the number of farmers with tax ID number. However, the process and the floods situation need to be considered step by step. The Feb 25 deadline will be considered again and a decision could be made at a proper moment. We should take into account all objective factors that could influence this deadline. On the other hand, work is also underway to further resolve the document compliance processes, so this is a parallel process.

As for the orders and directives that have been issued regarding certain situations on the country’s exports and imports, they are directives stemming from the country’s cooperation with the European Union and the results of certain analysis after that come out after looking at all parameters and I want to emphasize and once again, no step in this area is taken without being in constant communication with the relevant EU agencies. At no time does Albania make decisions on its own. Every decision is consulted, analyzed and then acted upon, after the product analysis has been done which is also verified in EU countries.

–Mr. Prime Minister, you say we have no reason to believe the aired wiretaps, and instead we should believe the report you just cited. Well, I have a question then. Why should we trust Taulant Balla, when he says that the individuals in the leaked wiretaps are to be found inside the President’s office? Meanwhile, Greek media reports that you have had no role of whatsoever in the dialogue process between Greece and Turkey and that the dialogue between the two countries was decided prior to your visit to Ankara. Are these statements true, Mr. Prime Minister? As far as the Pfizer vaccine is concerned, does Albania plan to launch legal actions against Pfizer over violating the contract, just like some EU member states plan? Thank you!

PM Edi Rama: First of all, to err is human, whereas to persist in error is diabolical, the Latin say and I do really regret that I have to tell you this in this case, but I am not telling it to you as person, but as a category, because it is remarkably terrible how the level of your hearing is so low and your level of insistence on error is so high. I did not cite any report, but exactly the same source, the Italian prosecution, which has investigated the case. The 2000-page wiretapped conversations also contain the prosecutors’ conclusions and I would quote their conclusion for third time for you and everyone else, because the conclusion, strangely enough, is quite a short and a very simple one, but you keep calling it a report. This is not a report. This is a prosecution source. It is the same source, the one that has professionally administered all the wiretaps and has not taken them to publish everywhere, let alone to launch a mud-slinging campaign against your own country, not against me or the government, but your country, telling viewers this is the country where you actually live, but this is actually a complete lie. “In practice,” the Italian prosecution says, “after more than a year of trips to Tirana and talks with each other, that is, with each other, on investments to be made in Albania, they totally failed and the only investment made is a work-wear retail shop, about which the partners were involved in disputes. In 2018, Ndragheta’s investment in Albania, Gallo Albania, according to the balance sheets published from the National Business centre, has had an annual turnover of 5 million lek and it has incurred losses estimated at 400.000 lek, whereas in 2019, it has gained 4 million lek in earnings and 1.8 million in losses.” Are we and you, who have come together to talk with Albanians about issues concerning Albanians, involved in all this mess? Why should you be held responsible if I speak about you during a conversation with another person? What is your responsibility? When I served as Tirana Mayor, a person took a picture with me after a party meeting and he used that picture to pressure on the land owners to sign the documents he wanted, because he supposedly was my aunt’s son. A rogue. And what does this have to do with anything?

–Mr. Prime Minister, why should we trust Mr. Balla, who claimed that the involved individuals…

PM Edi Rama: Don’t interrupt me. I am not debating with you. I am just answering to your question and you should listen the answer to the end and if my answer is incomplete, you can make your question again, but we can’t engage in a debate with each other since this is not a political talk show.

As to the question why should you trust Taulant Balla, you should ask him in person. I don’t know what his statement is about and what he means by it, because I am not interested at all in this, but since you are asking me about it, I am obliged to provide answers.

You know quite well how willing I am to defend Ilir Meta when he is not to be defended, but indeed if Ilir Meta is mentioned by name in these wiretaps, and if his advisor, who is known as a trader of fake news stories, as the Italian court has ruled and found him, I have the same attitude when it comes to them too. Then what? They may know these people. Then what? As long as the Italian prosecution has drawn this conclusion and clearly says what I already read three times, why we should speculate over this or him? Of course, the investigation has found that a MP, who has been serving as the link between them, that Italian MP has been under investigation and it is a known fact he is a friend of Lulzim Basha and a friend of the Democratic Party and these people have close links with the right wing parties. Then what? What should I say? Should I say that Lulzim Basha used to receive this MP, who was asked by the mobsters to visit the country and meet him in order to promise he would help the mafia? I can never say that, because I love Albania more than you do and I do so because I am more cautious careful even when I talk about my political opponents, to render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, but what belongs to God should be rendered unto God and the God is Albania. It is a country, where one of the reasons why many are seeking to leave is because it is unliveable in this fuzziness, in this vileness, in this mud masquerade, slander, accusations, and counter-accusations. This is for sure. Nobody does to its own homeland what do to Albania those who take a microphone and are ready to scratch each others’ eyes out, they are ready to tread over Albania at any moment by spreading undeserved notorious reputation. I already told your colleague. Are there money laundering activities in Albania? Of course there are. Whoever says the opposite, he talks in vain. But is there any country where no money laundry activities? No. Does Albania face problems? Of course it does. But is there any country that doesn’t face such problems? And second, how these negative phenomena are fought? How much are they fought? How much should we strengthen our fight? This is the debate. Why should we trust him? Go and ask him. I am telling you not to see the woods for the trees. This is the source about which you have been confusing the public for days now. What for? Is it for political reasons and for the links with the politics? How can one play politics and how one could possibly fight politically by destroying your own country? How? What one can earn from this? Who would be the winner? What would such a victory be worth for? Are people ready to take the trouble and go over the details? You are the ones who go over details throughout the day. How could you possibly feed people with such nonsense? You should of course report the news story on the wiretaps and you can of course reveal everything, but you should also report and quote the Italian prosecution, telling people what have these “leading mafia mobsters” have done in Albania. They have just opened a retail work-wear shop!

–Mr. Prime Minister, you blame the media for tainting the image of Albania, but indeed it is the politicians who have been playing low tricks to the country over the years as they have granted tenders, they have made decisions, and at the same time you asked for the media’s help to conduct investigations? Shouldn’t you call on the Special Prosecution Office to probe and find out whether this file, investigated by the Italian prosecution and published by the Albanian media, offers indications? A lawsuit against Tirana Mayor was filed with the Special Prosecution office by “Thurje” movement today.

PM Edi Rama: Dear lady, do you understand Albanian or should I speak another language for you to understand?  First of all, I am not blaming the media, because throughout my elaboration I highly praised one of the media institutions and the investigative programs, like “Stop” and “Fiks Fare”. I praised both of the programs. Second, why you keep asking me given that I read the Italian prosecution’s conclusion thrice and this is the conclusion presented by the institution that has been dealing with this issue and investigating the case. Haven’t you realized yet that when such wiretaps reach you, the case has been exhausted by the respective prosecution office? Don’t you understand this? Such wiretaps are not released, because it was you who found them. These wiretaps are part of the file that is referred to the court and there is always a conclusion, or a part of it is referred to the court, when an investigation continues and has yet to complete. This document clearly says that these individuals have opened a clothing store and they have suffered losses and they have left the country. They haven’t invested in Albania. What are you asking from me now? Are you asking me that I call for an investigation here? What for an investigation should be launched here and why should I ask for this? The institutions should do their job and the Special Prosecution Office knows well its job and it doesn’t depend on me and the Prosecution Office doesn’t depend on my requests. It should do its job if there is something that needs to be investigated. It would be great if it were to be investigated by SPAK, but it is the Italian prosecution that says all this.

As for the comment on the politicians, you should keep it for yourself, because just like the media outlets are not all the same, just like you all are not the same, the politicians are also not the same. Of course, the politicians serving in public offices bear incredible responsibility, but you are equally responsible, because by creating an environment where nine out of ten stories are fake news and one is true, you don’t properly contribute to shed light on the truths and help in this fight through these truths. So, what are you asking for in this case? Because this is really strange. What are you asking for? Why do you ask? Do your job and the bare truth is in front of your eyes. Why should I know this and not you? Why should you learn it from me when you attend this meeting? Why should you learn the Italian prosecution’s conclusion from me? An indictment against Erion Veliaj has been filed with SPAK. Let 1000 of indictments be filed. It means nothing. Filing indictments have become part of this propaganda, part of these low tricks by those who feed this overflowing canal of scum, because they lack any other opportunity, they are totally hopeless, they have no other idea how to win the elections and therefore they just escalate this “river flow.” Meanwhile, it is precisely because you are not all the same, I am holding the same position for all of them, I am not saying that you should not see that this is mentioned, that in fact here is Ilir Meta, here is Ilir Kulla, here is Lulzim Basha. Should we be held responsible because two Italians are caught talking with each other? Are you out of your mind? How one could possibly do this to his own country? And I am not talking about myself, because I know best what and who I am and I care for nobody. I don’t care about anyone when it comes to my duty and the relation I have with myself, but I am commenting for the fact that the public is being bombarded with this low trick, this disgusting story for days now. And that is disgust! I don’t mean the news story. It is great that you report it. But you should also report the prosecution’s conclusion. Why don’t you report it?

– I have a question for the Minister of Agriculture regarding the tax-oil free scheme for farmers. Given the land fragmentation in the country and given that the 0.4 hectares land area is the criterion for the farmers to be entitled to tax-free oil, will this large group of farmers with fragmented agricultural land benefit under the government’s scheme? If this category of farmers exists and is not involved in the scheme, why is that? And if these farmers do not exist, to your knowledge, how do you know this information suggesting that they do not exist?

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Milva Ekonomi: Thank you for the question. As we already explained, the minimum requirement for a farmer to be eligible to the tax-free oil scheme is that he owns at least 0.4 hectares of land. Of course, the agricultural land distribution reform in Albania has led to the land fragmentation with farmers owning relatively small areas of land measuring around 0.1 hectare. However, this large group of farmers will certainly be provided the opportunity to apply under the tax-free oil scheme, despite the 0.4-ha land criterion. This criterion was not determined at random, but it was based on a preliminary feasibility study on all features of the Albanian farm over all these years and the way how the land has been distributed and the way how they apply under the scheme, which requires the property certificate registered with the state cadastre agency, the certificate issued by the Agency for the Treatment of Property, rental and lease agreement, as well as the cooperation among farmers in collective enterprises. As soon as they publish these documents, and of course at the e-government services system comes into play. One of the e-services we have made available is the State Cadastre Agency, which processes the information immediately, starting with the individual number and the tax ID number regarding the size of the land area each farmer owns or rents and of course we receive information that is a kind of a nutshell information. A total of 4700 farmers applied when the scheme was made operational, but the number of the applications jumped to over 47 000 in one week only, which means that Albanian farmers are really interested in becoming part of this scheme. There are times when these algorithms that have been built may indicate other causes that are extreme tendencies, meaning that certain applicants actually own a relatively small land area. A team of experts at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development receives and examines each case that may be few, they are very few because the general tendency is done on the basis of the feasibility study and the programming is done on the basis of this study. No farmer who has applied and has failed to be qualified under the scheme, they won’t let be untreated in terms of the response and the opportunity he has to benefit under the scheme.

-You didn’t provide any answer to the question regarding the recent Greek media comments …

PM Edi Rama: Please don’t interrupt us. As for the question about Greece, I have no comments to make. What is more important is that you are happy and take pleasure every time you come across negative comments and statements about Albania and every time you hear that nothing good comes from the work of the Prime Minister, your wish is fulfilled. This is all and there is no problem for me.

–Thank you  for providing us the opportunity to make a question, yet all the questions I had actually planned were exhausted by my colleagues who took the floor earlier.

PM Edi Rama: Finally, there is someone who errs, yet he doesn’t persist in error. It was enough to seeing how Rovena erred and you didn’t persist in her error.

–Mr, Prime Minister; addressing the National Council on Integration a day ago, Zef Mazi, the country’s chief negotiator for accession negotiations with the EU, said that the first Albania-EU intergovernmental conference on the formal launch of the accession talks is expected to take place in June, or few months after the general elections. How much do you feel responsible as Prime Minister for the continued delays of the first intergovernmental conference? Of course, I mean other responsibility than the one you have often highlighted, namely the problems and the dynamics in the region?

PM Edi Rama: Except? What do you mean by except? Except is it all. You have to realize that if Switzerland was to apply for EU membership would have had to wait for now. This is what I can say. This would have also been the case even with Switzerland and you can make your own comments about other aspiring countries.

–I have two questions to make. The first one is about the topic of the today’s conference. Given that some presentations over the positive performance of the agriculture sector were made, there is a paradoxical fact published from INSTAT, which shows that the average salary in agricultural sector has dropped to 33.000 lek from 36.000 lek. My question consists on the fact that agriculture is a sector that despite its positive performance, it has lacked direct support, the so-called wartime salary or other relief measures. This is the first question. My second question has to do with the textile and footwear industry, which has recently warned that it would be forced to cut many jobs if no government support is provided. Do you plan to support this important industry, which has been ground to a halt due to the failure to export or because of the cancellation of orders? Thank you!

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Milva Ekonomi: As to the salaries in the agriculture sector, we need to distinguish between two important moments. The first is the salary of workers in farms and, second, the salary of workers in the agro-processing sector, which includes plant products processing or processing of the products of animal origin, which is an element that needs to be further examined, because as the exports grow, the salaries should be increased too. However, it is a situation that needs to be monitored constantly, because the decrease in salaries could be temporarily and it could increase soon. The INSTAT report actually includes the third quarter of the last year and the new report on the fourth quarter of 2020 has yet to be released. It is a quarterly fluctuation. We need to take a look at the salary level at the end of the year so that we can provide a definitive answer on the sector’s performance. Meanwhile in terms of the field crop sector, which employs a significant number of people, I am sure the situation has been more stable and this is for another fact. Yesterday we had a good opportunity to see together with the Prime Minister and Mrs. Krifca one of the companies that produces seedlings that has received support from ARDA and it was good news in fact when you saw the greenhouse that had produced seedlings that were without seedlings, had sold them all in the span of 2 weeks. This shows that the situation there is more stable and is working however when we do a wage analysis we have to make the connection that wages have with the industry sector that agriculture has a wide range of sectors it covers but I am sure it is only a quarterly fluctuation.

PM Edi Rama: We should be realistic when talking about wages in agriculture, we should bear in mind the fact that there is a lot of informality between the declared wage and the real wage, which is the opposite of what happens with the textile and footwear industry, where the real wage is sometimes, due to abuses, is lower than the declared wage. But I am not worried about this aspect in the sense that the trend in agriculture is very positive and real wages are definitely in a safe upward trend despite any momentary fluctuations that may be in the declared wage. We find this in the whole reality of agricultural production where the biggest problem is the lack of willingness to work, when jobs are open for everyone and of course this is definitely related to other aspects and the demand to have much higher wages. So I believe that in this aspect things are in the right direction but we definitely still need a lot of patience because we must not always forget that opportunities are what dictate even then the growing capacity for investment, for wages and so on. We need to increase opportunities and opportunities increase with work and patience, not with talk. I believe that was the last question or not? Ok?

Thank you very much for today’s communication, thank you for the opportunity to address the “famous” issue of Ndragheda that has come and occupied all Albanian media space, with a small clothing store as the Italian prosecution says. That is, they come and open a small clothes shop and then you sell Albania that you take and tear it, packing it with wiretaps of Italian delirious mythomaniacs. I wish this is the last even though I know it won’t be the last. Goodbye!