2021 state budget, to emerge stronger from earthquake and pandemic

Speech by Prime Minister Edi Rama in regular plenary session of Parliament on new 2021 state draft budget:

The requests not to deal with the past and refrain from referring to the critical moments or the tragic moments like the 1997 events, would certainly reasonable calls, if one was not to take notice of the fact that today, in 2020, there are precisely the same people who pose a problem. Who is seeking today to return at the helm of this country’s affairs is absolutely inseparable, unfortunately, from the somehow a little distant past and the nearer past. I mean the past where Albanians found themselves in the beguilement of the abyss after being encouraged to invest their savings and many years later in 2013 after having made their right choice to remove from power the very same people, who had inflicted a huge hole of debts and liquidity.

It is the same people today who promote the same fast money-making formula. Not only that, but they invite Albanians to vote for Lulzim (Basha) and you would find then Ilir Meta, Monika (Kryemadhi) and Sali as a gift.

Therefore, we can’t afford neither hide behind the finger, nor see the finger when the latter points to the Moon.

The truth is this; today, though Albania has been through a blow that would have definitely kneeled down everyone and would make the country go into nosedive should the country was to be governed by those who today do nothing but only throw insults, slanders, accusations, fabricate and confuse people. The country today, not only is recovering, but it is being reconstructed rapidly. It is worth drawing a not complicated comparison with a neighbouring country, one of the world’s economic superpowers that have been hit by a series of earthquakes and where experiences are totally different. There are positive experiences, but there are also impressive experiences in terms of the length of the reconstruction process. Or drawing a comparison between the Albanian government-funded reconstruction process and the projects due to be implemented through by the international partners, starting with the European Commission that has already allocated a considerable funding to support construction of the rest of schools. The EU has yet to launch reconstruction works, because it pursues much lengthy procedures. On the other hand, we are about to open a considerable number of schools by November 26 and the new educational facilities will be much larger, more beautiful and much stronger than the previous ones and they won’t differ from the schools in EU member states in terms of educational infrastructure and logistics.

The Albanian families who became homeless in a matter of seconds on the tragic night of November 26 are now gradually moving into their new homes. As we speak, work is well underway to build private homes in every part of the territory hit by this natural disaster. New residential neighbourhoods with modern road, underground infrastructure, as well as every other civil infrastructure and services are being built for the first time in this country, including apartments featuring construction quality equal to that of best commercial buildings.

All these new buildings, all these new houses and apartments, and all these newly-rebuilt commercial units will be provided for free to the quake-affected families.

You can consider similar experiences in every other country and tell us where people have been provided housing for free. Soft loans or long –term loans are extended to the affected families, but not housing for free. We will provide them for free, because we are aware that this is the moment to turn this major crisis into a great a great energy of hope and perspective for the future of thousands of families.

Around 30.000 families were affected by this disaster, from those who became homeless in few seconds to those who cannot enter their houses and apartments due to the severe damages. And none of these families will be abandoned to their fate just like it was the case with the families affected by flooding in Shkodra. The flood damages were estimated in the amount of $5 to 6 million and fortunately nobody became homeless back then, but the affected families received due compensation only when we took office,

All that is worth remembering and comparisons are also worth making to realize what would have happened if the earthquake was to hit when the today’s opposition governed  the country, or what would have happened if the virus was to emerge when the country’s hospitals lacked drug supplies, when companies refused to deliver supplies to public hospitals because the previous government ran up millions of euros in arrears and the private companies could not afford providing medical equipment and medicines.

Not to speak of the unpaid benefits to the people with disabilities. The previous government accumulated 40 million in debt to the most vulnerable social categories.

They are them, but many of you here are like them. I understand that there is always time to repent, there is always time to reflect, and there is always time to change. I understand that only the fool does not change his mind, when figuring out he is wrong and I definitely welcome everyone to take the floor here and distance yourselves both from us and from them, definitely.

But please don’t show up here to deliver “the virgin monologue.”

For a long time now there are people who pretend as if landing from the Moon and as if they have never been here before.

The state budget we will adopt today is very significant. It is the state budget proposed by a political force that has not sought to shun dealing with two consecutive crises, two consecutive blows; one from the devastating earthquake and the other that has actually shocked whole planet and not only Albania and the Albanian economy. On the contrary, we have acted and responded being fervently confident that there are two crises that must be turned into two great opportunities.

They are two crises from which we should emerge stronger. The families that lost their homes must emerge stronger; children who lost their schools, kindergarten and nursery should emerge stronger; teachers and heads of the school structures that were flattened should emerge stronger; the worst-hit communities should emerge much stronger; Durres, Laç, Kavaje, Vora, and Lezha should emerge stronger; Tirana should definitely emerge stronger; by no doubts Kruja, Fushe – Kruja, Rrogozhina will definitely emerge stronger, just like by no doubts the new residential neighbourhoods will be an embodiment of the Albania we want.

Give up saying nonsense about debts and loans. These are all nonsense talks!

The issue facing any government is not the debt it runs or the loans it burrows, but how much capable a government is to burrow and how much capable a government is to pay off its debt. Nobody would grant you a loan unless you are capable of paying off the debt. The capital markets are totally heartless. The capital markets are totally indifferent to the pleas of thousands of families that should be houses as soon as possible. The capital markets are indifferent to the thousands of families that since day one, like never before, were not abandoned to their fate, but instead they were initially accommodated in best hotels in Durres, were provided shelters in houses whose rent are paid by the government and will be paid next year too. The government housing rent is included in the next year’s state budget. All these families are currently housed in rented houses waiting for their new homes to complete.

Meanwhile, the majority of the affected families currently living in tents mostly reside in rural areas and they have insisted to stay there, because they are unwilling to abandon their land through which they earn their living and cannot travel every day to cultivate their land. And it is this category of families for which we have accelerated the construction projects and they will be the first ones to move into their new houses, because building their houses is normally much easier than building apartment buildings.

I do understand the distress many families are going through as their homes have sustained damage level equal to DS4 in Durres, but they are not homeless, as they have been accommodated in rented homes and the rent is being paid by the government. I understand them, but they also need to understand that interventions in DS4 buildings require detailed, specific engineering projects and it is not about 1, 2… or 7, but about hundreds of such projects, which cannot be done in the blink of an eye.

Let them recall how long they had to wait before moving into their previous apartments after having signed the contract with a builder. It took more than one year for them to move into their new homes.

How long it took for the builder to obtain the construction permit, draft the engineering project and complete all required procedures?

Of course, you are different, but you and those outside this parliament share same multiplication table. You share same multiplication table and, by the way, for you to finalize this process, you and the extra-parliamentary opposition should come together and demand that the multiplication table be removed once and for all so that you are all relieved. You can then decide to liberalize mathematics and liberalize everything. Why don’t you include this in your program? What else can you offer Albanian citizens than relieving them from the math anxiety? What else can you do more than that?

You don’t know better than that and trust me you would be reliable if you would call for a unified addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division chart. It is only then when Albanian citizens will trust you, because you have already proved to be illiterate. It does not matter what you are and what you are not. What matters most is that we are lucky to have you here and that Albanians are smarter than you, than us, than each of us here. The reason why you all won’t win the election is the very same, because, as long as you don’t act to reflect upon the Albanians’ wisdom, as long as you would keep considering Albanians as gullible, you are definitely doomed to lose election. You are now temporary winners, but I mean the permanent losers outside this parliament, as you actually enjoy some good properties and you have been given the opportunity to reflect and you are already doing it.

However, the state budget is much more important than these.

The 2021 state budget and the reformed tax system once again affirm that the zero tax rate on the small business will remain unchanged. Small businesses won’t pay profit tax and businesses with an annual turnover of $100. 000 will not pay VAT until 2029.

On the other hand, we will finance the post-earthquake reconstruction process. Even though we were forced to pay around a quarter of a million of workers because of the stay-at-home orders during the lockdown, we plan a significant pay hike under the 2021 state budget. Is there any country in the region making such a decision? I am not naming other countries, yet I would like to ask you whether any country in the region plans to increase the salaries? And the salary hike decision is not made to be reviewed again, but it is a permanent decision.

Doctors, nurses and all health workers in the Republic of Albania will see a 40% pay rise starting January 1 under the next year’s state budget we will approve today. And such a decision is made regardless the COVID-19 crisis.

The state budget we will adopt today also includes a significant pay hike for teachers.

These are all big financial commitments and not small commitments given that we are going through so many constraints, like other countries, due to the pandemic and with an extra constraint caused by the natural disaster on November 26 last year.

Is there any Albanian with common sense and sound judgement who would question the fact that the difference between us, you and those outside the parliament stands not only in the vision and the ideas, but also in the fact that we do what we say and we say what we can do?

We don’t speak at random so that we can gain whatever we can when it comes to the votes!

We talk about a vision, we are delivering on through facts and this budget is a fact, and not a program of our wishes. We haven’t delivered on all of what we have said, yet this doesn’t mean we won’t and this is not because I am saying it, but because this is clearly demonstrated by the continued progress towards achieving our goals.

They keep asking me constantly “why you didn’t deliver on the free health care promise?”

Establishing complete free health care is not like delivering on the promise to scrap taxes, which is a decision that can be made immediately. Free health care is a vision, a major project and steps have been taken towards a free health care system all over these years. I will point out some of these steps that are part of that vision.

Do you have any idea how many Albanians have their medicines fully reimbursed today?

A total of 600.000 Albanians, who have not been given the opportunity to be covered under a health care plan, now receive reimbursed medicines like everyone else.

Do you know how much the reimbursement capacity has been expanded, which means that temporary measures won’t lead you towards the free health care system? The reimbursement capacity is currently estimated at around $110 million. So, the government pays a total of $110 million each year to subsidize the medicine costs for the Albanian citizens. In the meantime the 10% tax that the previous government levied also in every aspirin pill has been scrapped and it does no longer exist.

Do you know the number of free health care packages provided by the Albanian health system today? These packages range from the free eye surgery to other specific surgery procedures and medicines. Take a look at the number of these packages.

Of course, the health care is not completely for free. And this is the reason we are seeking a third term in office, because it is only us the ones who can do that. Albanian voters will grant us the third term in office and they won’t vote neither for you nor for those outside parliament. They are sure they can’t afford voting for Ilir and Monika to join you here in parliament. You are seeking to enter parliament along with others.

This budget includes another aspect. Excise-free oil will provided to farmers. The current tax on oil that s paid by farmers today will be exchanged into oil and not reimbursement. We will provide oil to farmers so that they can fully meet their needs and therefore the oil price will certainly decline. This will be part of a structuring process and financial scheme benefiting farmers and not corruption practices as it was the case when the country was governed by your political party.

Another important fact is that in addition to the pay rise for doctors, the proposed state budget represents the biggest financial commitment of a government for the health system over the past 30 years.

A lot is being about health system and I am happy that all of those who criticize the country’s health system today are mostly people who have never been forced to go to a hospital and I hope they will never be forced to do so, as they would see for themselves that the health system is no longer the one that used to be just few years ago or the one you remember, when it lacked sheets, blankets, aspirin, or even toilets, but rooms with running water and where the toilet was identified just because of the water leaking under the door and you knew the toilet was there. The system has changed, starting with the central hospital. You can go and see it for yourselves. Open your eyes and take a look at the state of the hospitals whenever you make comments or issue political statements about them.

Of course, there are still a significant number of hospitals that need to be rehabilitated. If we were to address everything, if we were to fill all the holes you created over the years, if we were to be that good to reconstruct everything you destroyed and if we were to do everything that has not been done over the past 50 or 60 years – it was only seven years ago when investments were launched in the power distribution system – then we wouldn’t have been here, but we would have been hired to address all the problems in the planet.

I understand both you and those outside parliament, because you have no accomplishments to show off. Would you demonstrate a single accomplishment of yours? The only thing you brag about is the highway to Kukes. But what sort of highway are you bragging about? A highway lacking bridges? A highway lacking entry and exit roads to provide access for dozens of communities? Or a highway that starts as wide road and ends like a bottleneck? A highway where landslides were a common phenomenon? I would invite you to visit the highway now and realize what a highway stands for?

The Nation’s Road is the only public work that partially materializes the ambition to build a motorway that meets proper standards, but it was abandoned to its fate and the road was in a poor state, just like it was the case with every other road infrastructure and other projects you launched while in office. You can’t demonstrate that you have built even a single new school, let alone a highway. You didn’t build a highway. Instead, you carried out tender procedures only. They and you, Sali and Luli held tenders only. You have carried out the highest number of tenders for highways, motorways and off-road vehicles.

But these tenders have not been materialized with work on the ground and you can show not a single new school, kindergarten or a hospital ward. Just tell us how did you build a hospital ward and set new standards.  You failed to set any standards.

The same goes for the Qukes – Qafe Plloçe road where you have set a world record of incompetence with one of the bridge piers being 17 meters shorter than the other and the bridge had the shape of an aquadrome.

You are parliament members, of course completely accidently. You are the lawmakers, falling from the carriage of the united opposition’s long train, but, nevertheless, you are MPs. Apart from being accidental MPs, you are also accidental anti-communists, because you have learned to become anti-communists the way music is played by ear. I want you the so-called anti-communists to speak up today and ask me why I don’t send them to prison.

Your statements sound like the ones issued by the members of the Assembly back in 1945, who called on the Communist Party to send your grandfathers to prison.

Who does send individuals to prison in the today’s system your grandfathers fought for?

You don’t know how to respect your own ancestors. If the late Mithat Frasheri would have received this information from the Assembly, he wouldn’t rest in peace.

It is neither the government, nor the party or the Prime Minister the ones that send people to prison in a democracy. This is what used to happen back in’45. Therefore, refrain from yelling and screaming as if you were Communist Party members in’45. Don’t incite this madness, telling people that the government is the body tasked with imprisoning people. This is scandalous.

That’s why you don’t know how to build new schools as you consider schools as children’s entertainment centres.

This is why you don’t know how to write textbooks and you abandoned people to the madness of the alternative textbooks written by those who were not even eligible to become DP lawmakers, because they were even more incompetent than the ones who were elected lawmakers and therefore they wrote textbooks.

How come lawmakers ask the Prime Minister to send people to prison?

It is the justice system that sends individuals to prison. Like it or not, any suspect is handled by justice and not by the politics.

What did you do for the justice system?

It is precisely because we are not the same, we have finalized the justice system reform and don’t tell me that we are all the same, because despite their vows not to back the reform even if the seventh U.S. Fleet was to land in Lalez Bay villa, they participated in the most spectacular voting I have ever seen with their green card up and their heads down.

We radically overhauled the country’s justice system. Of course, it will take more time for the new justice system to get to the point of doing justice at all levels. You want us to do everything that has not been done in the past 100, 50 or 30 years. How could one possibly ever imagine, how could you possibly imagine that the previously untouchable corporation of judges and prosecutors was to be torn down? I mean precisely the corporation that used to absolve every politician who ended up before justice and emerged cleaner than they were before standing trial.

I would like to conclude by citing the fact that through the proposed state budget due to be confirmed by the today’s vote the minimum monthly salary in Albania will be 300.000 lek. It is not a lot, yet it is a significant salary for many people compared to the salary they used to receive each month to date. Most importantly, this is a confirmation of our path and our determination to move forward.

At the same time, this budget is also a confirmation of the fact that things cannot be done in the way you do them. You don’t mind if you set a mindboggling figure. You and others like you outside parliament, including Ilir Meta, Monika, Sali and Lulzim, to tell people lies and pledge they will do everything.

They don’t mind doing so, because they control nothing and they will never do. He who controls nothing, he pledges to tackle everything. The thing is to tackle problems when you have the power to do so. And it is in the peoples power to unmistakably to delegate power to the elected individuals and the parties people elect to govern.

Like it or not, regardless whether the National Front likes it or not, no matter whether the monarchy, Sali, Monika and Ilir like it or not, there is only one political party to do that and you can do nothing about it. Not only that, but I think you should carefully think about this and probably you create a bridge, because Mithat himself would have probably created an alliance with me. Abaz Kupi too, as well as all other true patriots, no matter what they did or did not. This is not the case with you because your anti-communist dinghy on which you sail in those pools of yours is towed behind Sali’s ship, who was a former Communist Party secretary. Do you realize that a party secretary, the worst of his kind, keeps pushing you around over the past 30 years?

All these together cannot change a fact, no matter whether they like it or not, no matter whether they unite together or run separately, there is only one force, there is no other and that force is the Socialist Party of Albania!

Ordinary DP supporters know this quite well, as does the chairman of the Democratic Party in Farka, where members of 4 families lived under one roof and took part in protests – better joining protests than staying at home, because they couldn’t stay together at the same time at home because there were four families. They now have 4 new houses, one for each of the 4 families.

He will vote the Democratic Party again, but he still knows, just like every other ordinary people know that if you want to build a ridiculous state then vote for DP, but if you want hard working people then it is us, the Socialist Party.

You would again make allegations over stolen elections on April 25, but don’t forget that we do not abandon people. We won’t let anybody alone.