Online press conference by Prime Minister Edi Rama

Hello everyone and thank you for providing this opportunity and allow me express respect for the work you have done amid this not an easy at all situation, especially for you.

I believe it is high time for a conversation and we can begin it with your questions. You can ask about anything you want, but I would suggest that each speaks in turn so that everyone is provided the opportunity to make questions, while I try to answer everyone.

I am available.

Syri TV: Mr. Prime Minister, over the past years of your term in office, as well as during the Covid-19 pandemic, you have been often accused by the opposition of links to the so-called top businessmen, calling them oligarchs. How do you feel when such similar critics are made by Ditmir Bushati, the man you had trusted the office of the Foreign Minister for five years, who also reminded you the pledge to cancel the previous concession contracts? Thank you!

PM Edi Rama: To be honest, I feel nothing special. There is a free space of discussions, approaches, attitudes and I stick to what I have said and this is not just because I have said it, but I still believe it today, just like I have believed since day one. There are no oligarchs in Albania. It would suffice referring to the term for us to draw conclusions. Oligarchs are not rich entrepreneurs. Oligarchs are not individuals who amass wealth and earn revenues more than others through successful business activities. Oligarchs are those who directly influence the government or the parliament’s decisions and impose certain political agendas that serve their own interests. I have not happened to come across any persons who would have such an influence in Albania and we have never made a single decision that hasn’t been dictated by our beliefs and, of course, our approach vis-à-vis the country’s interests. It is definitely a wrongly, constantly and repeatedly-used and term just to create a wrong idea about a certain number of individuals, who didn’t became rich from scratch after we took over the government, but they have amassed their wealth over the years and once we assumed power they pay more taxes to the Albanian state. Mr. Prime Minister, how do you consider the statement issued by the Delegation of the European Union, with Ambassador Soreca saying few moments after your speech that the Delegation has not been involved in the process of drafting the bill on legalizing cannabis in Albania? Do you see it as the Delegation’s distancing, or a failure of your initiative?

PM Edi Rama: The Delegation has said the truth. We haven’t consulted with the EU Delegation to draft the bill. Nobody said it, neither I. I just answered to a question made at that press conference, where journalists had just forwarded their names and questions and where I was invited as a guest to the Europe’s House. I have no special comments to make regarding this case, because the truth is that no consultations have been held with the EU Delegation about this draft law. We have had and we are holding consultations with experts from countries where experiences of legalizing and introducing cultivation and processing of medical cannabis in the country’s economy and business activity.

Deutsche Welle: Mr. Rama, what is happening with the allocation of the reconstruction funds [… inaudible]. So far, various reports suggest allocation of funds has yet to begin. To be more explicit, [inaudible]… has the communication with donors and banks already started? What is happening with this fund? Is this about pure loans or donors are seeking to come and monitor their funds and the transparency of their use themselves? Thank you!

PM Edi Rama: If you were to carefully taking notice of the latest information over the past few days then you would have saved the last bullet with this question, because we are in a constant process with all donors, and the work with the European Commission has specifically progressed to enter an advanced stage. Not only that, we have also clearly announced the projects on which the EU financial assistance will be channeled. There is no deadlock or a special situation regarding the reconstruction funds. We are in the process. We have faced objective delays triggered by the pandemic and not by us, but just because of the necessary interactions with the others. As far as I know, the Albanian Development Fund will finalize the competition on construction of the individual homes this week and work to construct them will begin. The competition on construction of new school buildings is currently at an advanced stage. The first phase has already completed and the selection process of the second phase to construct school buildings will begin soon. In the meantime, we have constantly unveiled the reconstruction plans for the new residential neighborhoods. A series of development plans have been approved, which are currently undergoing the required detailing process before moving forward with their implementation phase. No problem of whatsoever has been encountered when it comes to the reconstruction funds and not a single penny from the reconstruction funds has been used, even though the pandemic has forced us to review certain parts of the state budget. I am very optimistic that the initial construction sites will open very soon.

Panorama Newspaper: Mr. Prime Minister, the Covid-19 pandemic is seemingly a sort of a catalyst […inaudible] to be in the same line and in a single voice [… inaudible] is there a cooperation or a potential coalition ahead of the next general elections? Thank you!

PM Edi Rama: Never say never in politics. However, I see no prospect of a possible return to the coalition with the President’s party, because, given the today’s context, the continued degradation of that political party and our program obligations, as well as our conviction that our work speaks for itself and thanks to our work and an close alliance with the citizens make this topic of discussion about the prospect of a potential coalition not interesting at all. Yes, I rule it out.

Media group “Fjala”: The integration issue requires sacrifices and one of these sacrifices is holding freest and fairest possible elections, namely the next parliamentary elections. Are you ready to sacrifice by cooperating and agreeing on the opposition’s demands, including for example creation of a caretaker government ahead of the general elections?

PM Edi Rama: Holding free and fair elections is not a sacrifice, but a must. Albania has held a series of rounds of free and fair elections. Of course, their quality has been improving and needs to further improve. This is not about accepting the opposition’s proposals, but it is about agreeing on the OSCE-ODHIR recommendations. I don’t know whether there is an OSCE-ODIHR recommendation compatible with what you said. I know that the recommendations are clear and the work is heading towards that direction. I also know that two issues regarding the recommendations are non-negotiable.

Me poshte vijon pjesa e dyte e konferences per shtyp te KM Rama:

First, depoliticizing the electoral administration. It is a long-standing story seen as the main source of the election-related problems in Albania, which have been always marred by the extreme politicization of the electoral administration and something, about which ODIHR has repeatedly highlighted on its reports and has recommended for the electoral administration to be free of political influence. We are ready and determined to finally address this recommendation and make sure that the electoral administration belongs to the citizens and not political parties, it belongs to the law and not the political vested interest, while the responsibility of the electoral administrators be both a civic and legal responsibility of any individual who would involve in the administration to serve the country and fulfil a civic duty.

Second, inclusion of vetted judges in the Electoral College. This is another proposal – unless I am not mistaken, because it may have been rejected recently and I am not informed about it as it is the co-chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on the Electoral Reform who follows the process and informs the chairman of the Parliamentary Group constantly – but I reiterate that we will allow no judges, who haven’t successfully passed the vetting process, to join the electoral colleges. These are the two main points, in our view, namely a depoliticized electoral administration and a clean electoral court. That’s it! As for other issues, they are all part of the recommendations and everything that is part of the recommendations is certainly also part of the discussions. Of course, we expect ODIHR to give its contribution as it has and will always do, so that we can come up with a draft that would take the process forward precisely in the direction of more transparency, more guarantees and higher quality.

TVSH: Over the past six months, Albania has coped with two events, an earthquake and the pandemic. Will your government explore the opportunity to draft a strategic plan to support economy? If yes, which sectors do you think need more financial assistance?

PM Edi Rama: First of all, this is not a matter of exploring an opportunity. This is indeed the topic we discuss every day. We are really encouraged by the fact that we have successfully overcome the first phase of the war with this invisible enemy. Albania is a success story in this respect, no matter whether this is liked or not by those who question this fact and it sounds indeed weird that they cast doubt about this success, when everyone should actually feel relieved by this fact, because, after all, this is not about the success of a certain political party, but it is about the success of a country, which is our homeland.

I am really worried about the second phase of this war, because reopening comes with a series risks. Virus has not left. The virus is here among us and it will be with us for a long time, as it is being found and acknowledged all over the world and we need to show utmost care. God forbid it, but we should be prepared for a potential second wave of new infections! We are working with our health system structures to strengthen entire protection mechanism.

On the other hand, we are seeing the progress of the support packages. The first package is already underway and disbursement of the second tranche of the wartime salary for around 63,000 people is taking place, while there are still a few others left to be helped and we are trying to help them and we are assisting them to complete aspects of the documentation with banks, so that they can benefit the payment. The extended support package is also doing well. Earlier today I received the latest information over the first sovereign guarantee instrument and an amount of around 22 million euros has been allocated to businesses under the sovereign guarantee. There is a large a number of applications currently being reviewed by banks and we are confident that business will take advantage of this whole instrument, which is a very good sign and we are ready to increase the guarantee fund in line with the assessment we will make and the needs. The second guarantee instrument has also been set in motion. We will specifically support entire manufacturing business. We will support tourism, garment industry and we are confident this instrument too will turn successful, as it is clearly the case with the first one.

Having said all this, we are well aware that a strong impetus to the economy is needed and that’s why we are working night and day on an overall recovery plan, whose basis is actually the plan we had projected alongside the national reconstruction program, yet it requires a thorough review as the circumstances have already changed dramatically due to the COVID pandemic. So, the Recovery Masterplan will be ready very soon and we are confident we will overcome the Covid-19-related crisis faster than anyone could imagine. I am confident that we will start seeing concrete results in this respect by 2021. We are also confident the majority of the job losses will be recovered in the next few months.

Fax News – Mr. Rama, what will happen to the National Theatre building? Will the ruling majority press ahead with plans to demolish the building given that the president Ilir Meta has hinted he will file another indictment with the Constitutional Court, should the majority doesn’t reflect?

PM Edi Rama: This is a process I have already made it clear over the years and I am the last person one should ask to take a step backward, because I am the first one to state back in 1998 or ’99 that the building should be razed down and that Albania should have a decent National Theatre building, which would live up by its name. So, as far as I am concerned these arguments have been exhausted many years ago and I am looking forward to seeing the new National Theatre being built. Yet, of course, anyone has the right to express their opinions, everyone has the right to voice objection, but it is the majority to eventually decide. This is the fundamental principle of the system we have chosen; it is the majority to have the final say. We are the majority and we have made our decision and I don’t see how certain minorities, by resorting to any form of pressure, can impose their will on a decision that is related to the direct competences of the government elected by the people.

Klan TV: A majority representative, namely lawmaker Adnor Shameti, hinted a day ago that reviewing the Justice Reform would not be a taboo within the ruling majority. Is there a real possibility that such a reform can be reviewed following the harsh criticism levelled by the opposition and President Meta, already known as a firebrand defender of the Constitution? Is there any real possibility to review again the reform and would be also this an opportunity for a consensus with the opposition?

PM  Edi Rama: We live in a free country and nothing is a taboo, frankly speaking. All topics are up for discussion and Socialist Party and its parliamentary group are the very mirror of the free country we live in, a country with its own problems, unquestionably, yet where the freedom of speech is as such, in my view, could even go beyond the limits of freedom in more democratically developed nations. You already know my opinion that Albania is the country where one can make slanderous statements easier than almost that in any other country around the world. I don’t know them all, but the democracies we know at least, nobody enjoys such a freedom to slander like here in Albania, which means that freedom of speech is in its fullest. In the Socialist Party’s parliamentary group there are not taboos and every topic is up for discussion. So, by saying this, I would like to remind everyone the fact that the Justice System Reform is not an exclusive work by the Albanian politics, but it is a work in process co-authored with our international partners, namely the United States of America, the European Union and, as of today, I haven’t heard none of them saying that there could be room to review the Justice Reform for now. Nothing is irremediable in this world. Perfection does not exist, so life is a constant endeavour in search of perfection, and, as Salvador Dali says, “Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” But in these circumstances, the Justice Reform must be implemented in reality, while the terms “firebrand or bitter defender” are not in the essence of your interest. Hence, my answer is, no, there is no room for a us to rethink the Justice reform, for now, when we should simply implement it; first, and second, if there will be room to rethink it, this is something we should discuss with the reform co-authors,

Vizion Plus TV: Mr. Prime Minister, the opposition is for days now accusing the Minister of Health about several alleged secret tenders for the purchase of the medical equipment and materials during the pandemic. Democratic Party even has suggested that a part of the documents have been destroyed. Which is the truth about this issue?

PM Edi Rama: I would let you find out the truth, my statements won’t probably carry the needed weight, because I represent a party. You should discover the truth. If you are to find something more than what we have consistently stated, then you are invited to do so. I don’t want to go on and deal with the opposition. I think what the opposition has consistently done throughout all this period by raising extreme accusations is simply shameful. Our position is clear. Secret tenders merely don’t exist. Actually, everyone knows what is deemed secret and how a secret procedure is handled in the Republic of Albania. There are no such secret tenders. How could a tender be possibly a secret one when it takes place with the participation of a large number of bidders, and when even the bids are opened in the presence of many operators? This is what they do know, but I don’t want to deal with them. I would invite you to investigate and if you discover something else, then let us know.

News 24: [inaudible]

PM Rama: I don’t think I have said that it will be adopted in the parliament within May, because the deadlines simply don’t match. However, I have said it will be forwarded to parliament within May. We are in a process of discussions to improve the legislation and the draft will be sent to parliament very soon. Nothing has changed. We are just engaged in some improving discussions and we will certainly stick to what we have stated. It is indispensable for us to approve a general fiscal and penal pardon, which should be clear and supportive of everyone, and exclusionary to the categories we have already announced anytime we have been talking about this topic. Certainly it takes a little patience to define the categories and leave no room for any possible deviations, or for possible manipulations of the good will to formalize a considerable amount of work-generated income and not illegally-generated income or proceeds of crime and corruption. So we are in the process, nothing has changed, the parliament will receive the draft law, hopefully within May but, nevertheless, we are working intensively to do this job as well as possible.

EuroNews Albania: I would like to go back to two issues that were tackled earlier. First has to do with the reconstruction program. Has the deadline for completion of the individual homes changed? The second question has to do with the tenders that have been named as secret ones by the opposition. Why the relevant contracts of these tenders are not published on the official gazette, just like the decision on cancelling a tender is published?

PM Rama: I will start with the second question. Publication of the tenders on the official gazette is not a procedure stipulated by law.

Meanwhile, as to the first question, no delays or postponements are happening. Our ambition has been and our ambition remains that we provide housing the overwhelming majority of the quake-affected families within this year. I have believed that before we were hampered by this situation, for example, we were forced to postpone the competitions for individual houses – this is an international competition – precisely because the interaction with the companies became impossible, just like we were forced to postpone the process for Vlora Airport and so on and so forth. So, I was confident we would be able to complete construction of the new homes for over 90% of the affected families. I can’t say how many of them will have their houses built now; because we should first see the competition end and work to construct the new houses begin. However, my ambition is that we will be able to provide housing for the majority of the families currently housed in tents ahead of the New Year. This is our ambition.

ABC News: Allow me to back to the issue of the legalization of the medical cannabis. Could you tell us why now, why at this moment, you are invested in a feasibility study project and was the idea yours or something suggested by third parties? Thank you!

PM Rama: I have stated it clearly when asked about this issue earlier, that time is not ripe to talk about this issue, because the time was actually high to put cultivation and illicit trafficking of cannabis under control. The situation is now fully under control, now even in a consolidated way. It is not the first, but third or fourth year of consolidation and, on the other hand, we have been working on this project for a year now, because we had to conduct a lot of research work, carry out assessments and business trips to closely look how it works in other countries. And indeed, time is now ripe, it is as simple as that. As to the question where the ideas come from, I would say I am not of the ones fighting for the copyright, and this is not an invention. The medical cannabis cultivation is now a world trend, so I am not interested in the copyright thing. I this is the moment we need to take this process forward and we will do so and our ambition is to adopt the legislation within this parliament’s session.

TV ORA: I would like to go back to the opposition’s demand for a provisional government. It is true this is not a request by ODIHR, but an opposition demand that has kept the country’s political life hostage for more than a year. Do you think it is possible to sacrifice three months of power to demonstrate that you are ready to build the state, or do you think this is an unfounded request that fails to bring anything new?

PM Rama: The state is not done by sacrificing basic principles and tearing up the contract with the citizens who vote. It is as simple as that. The opposition can ask for it, they asked for it in completely vulgar manners, preparing to set everything in fire and they burned themselves. If they continue looking for it, it is in their right, but it will not happen. British government has called on its citizens to just forget summer vacations abroad. This is a difficult situation for Albania, given the country’s long coastline. Which are your expectations for this tourism season and do you have any appeal to Albanians in all Albanian territories regarding the summer season?

PM Rama: This was the toughest of questions and my and our everyday greatest of dilemmas. It is extremely difficult decision to be made and it is somehow a double-edged sword, because danger is serious and imminent. On the other hand, the lockdown beyond the prospect of a ratio between the protection of health and protection of the people from the economic calamity is a must. That’s why we are still mulling over a decision. We had a long discussion on the matter a day ago. We are carefully looking at what other countries are doing in this respect. Frankly speaking, no country has actually made a definitive decision since day one of the pandemic. Every country is moving with sleepwalker-like steps, with their eyes closed and hands stretched forward, if we may make such a comparison. The decision is being discussed and it will be announced in the next few days. Meanwhile, the lockdown measures have been significantly eased and will keep easing and we want to reopen land borders within this month, although I can’t exactly say when. I hope this will be possible. The mandatory quarantine at a hotel has been lifted and whoever is repatriated should observe self-quarantine in their homes. Schengen Area will probably remain shut until June 15, which means that the flights are very limited. We are doing utmost efforts to conduct as many flights as possible with the national carrier Air Albania, but the number of demands exceeds our opportunities, especially as the summer season is nearing. Just few hours ago I was communicating with someone, who had sent an e-mail about the fact that he had booked to fly back along with his family from a European country in June so that he could spend summer holidays in the country. I am sure many are seeking to do the same. So, it is an incredible dilemma, whereas the chances for a second wave of infections are high. Should the number of infections start rising beyond the reasonable expectations that could threaten the country’s health system, we will be forced to reinstate the total lockdown again, which would be something very hard for everyone. That’s why it is important that every citizen should do their utmost, each of us should do everything to protect ourselves and others by observing a set of simple, yet not nice rules. Everyone should abide by these rules, because we could go back and plunge into more difficult situations like the one we overcame, because we would find ourselves seriously exposed.

I know I didn’t provide the answer everyone would have wished for, yet the sincere answer is that this is really a huge dilemma. It is not simply about whether tourism will open or not, but how? I see various countries proposing a five-meter distance among tents and sun loungers, because they could be a source of infections. So, various countries are improvising, but indeed no one knows for sure how and what to do. The European colleagues I communicate constantly with are merely moving forward with their eyes closed and hands stretched forward, hoping they won’t bang on the wall.

Associated Press: Recognizing that we somehow received an answer about tourism, I would like to ask now about Europe. At the last summit, it looked like Europe has again postponed a date for the formal start of the intergovernmental meeting. At what stage is Albania’s relationship with Europe? What should Albania do, or what does it expect?

PM Rama: The Zagreb Summit didn’t convene to set a date on opening the accession negotiations. This is not the attribute of this meeting format. The date is set by the European Council based on a proposal by the European Commission. Meanwhile, we are closely working with the Commission every day. We have already set up the negotiating team, we have named the chief negotiator, and it is clear to us what we need to do. It is exactly the same things we have already done we will continue doing even after the date is set. So the process is already underway in the right direction, so I am not worried about the date. The date will be set at the moment when the Commission’s report and the Council’s opportunity match with each other. But most importantly, work is intensively underway and it will continue intensively.

TCH: Hello Mr. Prime Minister! Last week, the government made a decision to provide an amount of 55,000 lek as a reward to the personnel serving in the public residential healthcare service. Is the government considering an opportunity to provide similar reward to the State Police workforce, or the Military Police members, who – and I think we share same opinion – have played a decisive role in enforcing the quarantine rules over these months?

PM Rama: Step by step. We should see things look at things together, not separately. The staff you referred has already made an extraordinary sacrifice, locked inside the nursing homes together with the elderly and we have had an extraordinary result with the nursing homes, which has not happened in highly developed countries, where these homes have practically turned into hotbeds of deaths. Therefore, I think that they fully deserved this attention, and of course it is about a small number of people that causes no troubles to the state budget. I am very aware of what the State Police have done, even about what you have seen and broadcast as a media community, but also for those who have not been in the spotlight and in the public eyes. They have done an extraordinary job.

Suffice it to say that the Power of Law Operation has continued intensely and as of today as many as 81 practices have been forwarded to be enforced in compliance with the Article 19 of the Normative Act, six other practices are being enforced in compliance with the Article 18. A series of sequestration operations have been conducted and the cases have been sent to the Special Prosecution Office. In the meantime, a number of other cases are in the process, including 81 immediate sequestration practices concerning sequestration of cars and real property estates. It is just an element, but if we were to refer to the police performance in reacting immediately to the criminal situation it has been excellent, when the perpetrators were all identified and apprehended in a record time. I think the police are in an extraordinary and strengthening process and deserve full attention for the overtime work, the sacrifices the police officers have made during this period by assisting people and protecting them from the invisible enemy.

Is the government identifying commercial banks that refuse to provide business loans to the private companies so that they can pay the salaries of their employees and require guarantors to pay a borrower’s debt, despite the government’s sovereign guarantee fund, thus causing delays to the process that could cause devastating effects on businesses, which need to recover in the aftermath of the pandemic crisis. How the process is being monitored? 

Me poshte vijon pjesa e trete dhe e fundit e konferences per shtyp te KM Rama:

PM Edi Rama: Frankly speaking, the process is going very well and no concerns have been raised to date. We are talking about bank loans and not privileges granted at the bank window services. The fact that around 22 million euros, or around 30 million dollars have been allocated in such a short time frame under the first sovereign fund instrument, if I’m not mistaken, is quite significant. In the meantime, hundreds of other applications are being reviewed and we are confident this instrument will be totally exhausted within June and a new financial capacity could be needed to make sure that as many as possible applicants benefit. There are certain entrepreneurs complaining about the process and I do understand them, but the instrument is actually addressing our expectations.

Before we conclude this nice conversation, I would like to bring a series of issues to your attention.

First, I would like to highlight the fact that we will continue to further ease the restrictive measures. Yet, the situation in Tirana is still fragile and lifting further lockdown measures seems impossible this week. We have also discussed ways to reopen public and private kindergartens and nurseries on June 1, which coincides with the Children Day. Should the infection numbers remain stable, we may reopen kindergartens and nurseries and this post-lockdown period should be used to provide the necessary conditions and safety rules, just like it was the case in creating the conditions for the high school graduates who will return to their schools on May 18, observing completely different rules from the previous ones, to attend a three-week learning process prior to the state matura exams.

On the other hand, we will further ease travel restrictions and extend the time slot allowing people to leave their homes in the areas outside the so-called red zones. I want to take advantage of this opportunity to reply to all of those who say they are unable to understand the time slot when people are allowed to leave their homes. Indeed, the extension of the time slot beyond a certain time when the workday is over has to do with the people’s temptation to gather in crowds and open bars and cafes and stuff like this. That’s why all these are taking place in a balanced manner. A number of countries have taken faster steps. Serbia, for example, has taken a very fast step also because of the electoral process due in the country. We will carefully look how things will go there regarding the epidemic, because we are trying to see and learn from all situations.

Likewise, I would like to reiterate that all shops and quick service units should take all measures, because shops, transport and tourism are three main dangerous hotspots. Shops and service units will be closely monitored and I wish we will never be forced to penalize anyone. That’s why very strict measures should be in place. Shops, service units and their owners should feel obliged to protect not only their own health, but also their personnel and customers, because if a chain of infections starts the situation could become very serious. South Korea was forced to move backward just because of a new infections chain triggered exactly by shops and service units. Jordan was also forced to move backward due to the new infections because of the public transport. So, it is well-known why and how.

We have already launched work on a transport adoption strategy, which we will unveil in early June. The strategy will determine how transport will be like, in terms of not only when we need to protect ourselves from the virus, which will be with us for a long time, at least until the vaccine is developed, but still what people do is crucial.

A2 /CNN: Few months ago, you said that the repatriation of the Albanian nationals from Syrian camps was a very complex operation. What has happened with these persons, who are still in Syria?

PM Edi Rama: We have done what we have done and we continue doing so. As you said, it is quite a complex situation. We are looking forward to seeing results, but I can’t tell you more, because it is about very complex and sensitive operations. I am all aware of the situation and we practically posses complete register of the Albanian nationals finding themselves in such a situation and we are working on this issue. We hope positive results are yielded soon.

Thank you and I wish you success in your further work!

Wash your hands, open your windows, keep physical distance and we will do everything possible to cope with the situation.

Thank you!