Remarks by Prime Minister Edi Rama at meeting with State Police officials to discuss protection of the territory and rigorous enforcement of Criminal Procedure Code against illicit activities, illegal buildings, illegal forest logging, exploitation of rivers, lakes and natural and cultural protected areas:
We are here today to put a strong emphasis on the indispensability of moving to a completely new phase of our joint effort to establish absolute control over the territory and its protection from the illegal activities and interventions. The main goal is to raise as much as possible awareness and the sense of responsibility primarily of all State Police structures regarding this very important aspect of governance and the state’s obligations towards the country and the citizens.
The truth is that we are still in a state of confusion among the institutions and a lack of constant and successful interaction, which certainly on one hand requires full support in legal aspect, which we have already ensured through the most recent amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code and the law designed to discipline constructions. On the other hand, it requires a whole package of new sub-laws to clearly stipulate responsibility of everyone and the ensuing interactions.
It is important that primarily everyone here, and of course every other actor and stakeholder sharing a responsibility in this aspect, realize that every illegal construction today significantly increases our common cost in the future by violating both public and private properties, threatening development plans and hurting the state budget, as it normally turns into a social or financial issue because of the inertia of a legalizations process, which would otherwise never complete if we fail to ultimately put an end to it.
On the other hand, there are illegal buildings that turn into source of abuse, when other construction volumes are added to the building permit again triggering significant costs on the community and development in the future. That the State Police have all the required capacities to control every inch of the country’s territory is indicated by a simple fact, actually as simple as embarrassing one for the sake of truth, because the police act promptly when it comes to building a wall, a roof or a boundary wall in the remote rural areas, where a police officer is always found and ready to go there and question the villagers in those areas, while to everyone’s surprise not a single zealous policeman can be found when it comes to the flagrant abuses with illicit constructions in tourist areas from Velipoje to Saranda.
You certainly understand very well “the why” of such a contrast. But what we are interested in today is not to deal with this aspect, and instead focus on the fact that the State Police have all the capacities to become somehow a shield to the whole 28,000 square kilometres of the Republic of Albania vis-à-vis this crime that has been stipulated as such on the national legislation and vis-à-vis the diverse range of environmental crimes.
The experience amassed over this period is significant and I am convinced that acting on this experience, the police structures, police officers or the inspectorate units are fully capable of expressing their ideas and openly highlight all the problems so that a whole package of regulatory actions is drafted as soon as possible, on which a completely fresh phase works, where, as the Interior Minister noted, every crime against the territory should be equal to every priority aspect of the State Police and their fight from the organized crime, corruption to the drugs trafficking. The territory protection should be equally a priority. Such a directive should be conveyed to entire State Police structure and it is no longer possible that such a situation be tolerated, with the Police Directorates taking no legal responsibilities for a broad illegal construction activity in the country, though police officials are tasked with monitoring, preventing and tackling such activities in the territory.
Tourist areas are the apple of Albania’s eyes. They form the basis of development in the future. We can no longer keep tolerating the inertia of a control over the territory, which it is incomparable if we are to look back to where it was six or seven years ago, but it is still unacceptable for its weakness if we are to consider it in terms of the development in the future.
The same goes for the protected areas and the national roads.
Is there anyone among you to explain that while you are tasked with regulating and disciplining the road traffic and circulation throughout the territory of the Republic of Albania in order to prevent road accidents, yet certain road segments clearly involve high likelihood of accidents just because on the side of such roads all sorts of activities are operational without respecting and providing minimum protection to the road users.
There are still areas on the sides of roads – though much fewer than previously – where licensed activities or activities permitted through permits illegally issued several years ago, which is something we inherit and we can’t do anything about that but just by opening new road segments in addition to the road, where construction material businesses, junkyards, nurseries, sinks, bathtubs and all sorts of other commercial activities without respecting road safety, the environment and the image of tourist Albania.
This is intolerable!
There are people who stage their roadside activities by deploying there tractors, excavators, motors and people go in and go out right at the crossroad.
This should be unacceptable and impermissible and as such it should punishable for any business that if issued a permit to run a warehouse or a building that clearly violates the article of the Code, which bans any sort of construction permit in a distance 20 meters from the road, which has been massively the case in the past, they should at least tolerate, in terms of the space, the rest of people and the part of the state’s obligations to ensure road safety and the obligation we all share to create as much as possible a more cultured image and hygienic image of this country we call a touristic one. But if this doesn’t become part of the vision and mentality of the heads of the road transport and traffic in the Republic of Albania, this would then be a lost battle.
This is the State Police that eradicated the phenomenon of mass cannabis cultivation.
It was you who did this.
Why then the case can’t be the same when it comes to an activity, which is really very obvious to the eyes of every State police officer. It is not about remote mountainous cultivated fields, but about constructions being erected exactly on the sand right in front of the eyes of everyone.
Why it can be done when it is about a villager in remote mountainous areas, while it can’t be done when it comes to those building on seashore?
The State Police have the main responsibility in this process, yet the police are absolutely not the only ones to assume whole responsibility, as all other institutions need to be harmonized. If the State Police fully assume their responsibility and operate watchfully and systematically throughout the territory, then it would be absolutely impossible for other institutions to take a blind eye.
The construction permits should and will be made available to the State Police so that immediate clarity is provided to what kind of activity is allowed in every area. This means that everything else outside this sort of information real is object of the State Police work to hold account everyone and ask for permits to dig up and excavate a hole and build then concrete columns. But, this should be done starting with the tourist areas, protected areas, the areas which are home to cultural heritage, instead of heading to the peaks of mountains, where a villager constructs a wall or a house roof, because the number of complaints being forwarded over the police presence come precisely from the most rural areas of Albania and they show that the police have 100% capacities to monitor and attack illegal activities.
However, though police’s capacity is 100% operational to attack the most vulnerable one, this is not actually the case when it comes to the so-called strongmen.
I don’t know what answer the police director in Shkodra would possibly answer regarding the coastal village of Velipoja, as it would suffice to look at the case of Velipoje for everyone to realize what I am actually saying. And I am not talking about the village’s internal area, but precisely about the beach and the sand. Then what would be the point and what possibly be the excuse for going to the peak of Kallmet just for a section of a boundary wall, whereas other people occupy entire territories on Velipoja beach? And then the story of claims over inherited properties ensues.
It is impossible and we can’t afford to allow even a single millimetre of the territory of this country to be used without a legal permit. Not a single millimetre. This is because Albania is a very tiny country for people to abuse or misuse even a single millimetre of the territory, let alone massively. To conclude, I am very confident, and this is not to conclude by saying kind words, but I can confidently state that the police can transform the state’s approach to the territory within a very short period of time. The police can become not only the insurmountable protecting force against the violators, but also the necessary force of the positive influence on all other state structures, starting with the National Inspectorate for Territorial Protection that has been dealing with a huge volume of work, but the Inspectorate should not act only when it just occasionally happens to find out that a structure has been illegally built. The Inspectorate should serve as a structure that acts based on operations approved by the Minister of Interior and that launches real-time actions upon the State Police requests.
It is not the IKMT inspector, who should discover who is constructing illegally. This is not the function of the Inspectorate.
The Inspectorate is special structure that promptly reacts whenever the State Police officers discover illegal building activities. As soon as the case is confirmed, then inspectors act to deal with the rest of the procedures. But it is the police officers who make the illegal building bust, because otherwise the process would degenerate to whatever the eyes meet, while the process should actually be punctual. Every police directorate has its own territory to protect, and every work has also his or her area they are held responsible for.
Local government is another part of the problem, for the sake of truth. The “conflicts” between the National Inspectorate for Territorial Protection, the Construction Inspectorate and the police should be tackled and will be tackled as soon as possible by the Minister of Interior together with you based on a discussion that should actually take place and complete as soon as possible, taking into consideration all your suggestions directly stemming from your experience in this realm and all the difficulties you encounter on the ground. It is impossible that an illegal construction right at the heart of Saranda, and not in uninhabited areas, but right at the heart of the coastal town huge boulders are unloaded in the sea and all this happens while not a single police officer shows up there and say: “what is going on that you unload these rocks in the sea?” And therefore, people are forced to contact me and it is only when I intervene that everything is then cleaned up within 24 hours. This is unacceptable!
So, it means this is doable. Why it hasn’t been done then? Who is going to be held accountable for this?
The State Police should be rigorous and shouldn’t allow 1, 2, 12, 40, or even 200 individuals, if you will, stain the police reputation and subsequently the state’s reputation. This should be the red line and the Internal Affairs and Complaints Service have a specific role to play; I am convinced this is neither indifference nor incompetence, and nothing else but corruption practice.
It can’t be called otherwise, but corruption practices on the expense of the people and the whole country. How one can possibly unload boulders along the entire coastline of Albania and nobody knows the person who does so? Where do these boulders come from to end up in the sea?
How can possibly the sea can be filled with rocks to build bulwarks, piers and clubs and nobody notices it, while everyone sees the boundary wall built by an individual in a remote village and this individual is caught by police although it takes time to drive such a long distance to this very wall that can be seen by everyone, while nobody sees a whole spectacle right under the nose of everyone. Of course, these all happen where big interests are involved, but this is not the case with the small wall there in the remote village as it represents no interest to anyone. That wall is the interest of a family, whose members have managed to save something and are building a wall through their savings and they face the law. Of course, the law should be enforced there too, but it should not remain there only, while nothing is happening in this respect in other parts of the country. Let the law start be enforced here first, and then move to the remote areas. It is heinous, embarrassing and shameful for us to rush there and let illegal activities happen here.
I have asked the Interior Minister that together with the Director General of the State Police, the Head of the National Inspectorate for Territorial Protection, the Minister of Tourism mastermind and launch an operation against illegal constructions from Velipoje to Ksamil. And such operation should start now and not during the summer tourism season, and no tolerance should be showed, but not by demolishing buildings that have been constructed 20 years ago, as it was unfortunately the case in Zvërnec. Those buildings have been built 25 years ago and people provide for their families through them. Instead, the inspectors and the police should go there where it clearly takes just a look to realize what it is all about. The operation should not target people, who have built their homes and live there for over 25 or 30 years and they can go on running their businesses and services in Zvernec as long as there is no other development plan. The operation should draw a red line that should be crossed by nobody from now on. Where the maps and decisions determine an inviolable red line, that line should be really inviolable. And if anyone dares to build there, not only the buildings will be demolished, but also those who have built them will be arrested and face criminal charges based on law and the legal changes that have been already approved to address this issue.
One should bear in mind that the legal changes stipulate that entire chain of people would face criminal charges and penalties. In other words, the law stipulates that a construction engineer cannot adopt changes to a certain construction project to satisfy the investor’s wishes by adding more floors and construction volumes, because the engineer would end up in prison. Quite the opposite, as soon as the engineer finds out that the investor is doing something like that, he should immediately report it to the police. The same goes for the architect, the work supervisor who should notify the police as soon as they figure out something is happening to that building, otherwise they will face penalties too.
In all cases, when permitted constructions, which involve a whole group of people as part of the project, are found to be abusive, it is your duty to detain them all for complicity in the crime. On the other hand, the law clearly stipulates the steps when it comes to illegal constructions. I believe it is very important that the police officials and officers and all other relevant authorities and specialists familiarize with all the new legal changes so that they focus not on the mountain tops, not in the remote villages, where one should actually be thanked for fixing a wall, and not face fine for building or fixing a wall without permit.
Thank you and I hope and believe very much that very soon this situation will move to a new stage, because a lot of work has been actually done, but quite insufficient for a country that has the ambition to become a Balkan champion in tourism. The costs caused by any illegal construction are terrible. And on top of that, it will no longer be allowed that the State Police demolish an illegal building at the expense of the state and the ruins are cleaned again by the state. This should not be allowed anymore. The law stipulates it clearly. Those who built it illegally should also bear all the costs of cleaning. If they don’t pay for the demolition and removal cost, then they should prepare to face more consequences.
14 October 2021At International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Anti-Semitism