Prime Minister Rama at meeting with mayors

Prime Minister Edi Rama’s remarks at meeting with mayors:

 

Honourable and dear Socialist mayors,

I called this meeting – and I would like to thank you all for taking the trouble to come here – for a cause and two essential reasons concerning your work. The arrest of Lushnja mayor, alongside several other municipal officials for suspected abuse of office related to public tenders, is the reason why the meeting scheduled for the end of July is taking place today. Of course, the mayor and others arrested alongside him have the right to be presumed innocent until trial completes. It is neither my duty nor the Socialist Party’s duty to demand that they are not guilty. This is what the suspects’ lawyers are tasked with. However, this is the case to tell you and everyone else, who have earned or will gain trust of our ruling majority elected by Albanian citizens for a third consecutive term in office that SP is not a legal studio to defend suspects who are accused, but it is the political party voted by Albanian citizens to serve Albania and its citizens, and not the defendants, nor the accused within its ranks.

Corruption and bribery have no political colour, but they are the darkness and sludge we have to deal with by refusing any kind of protection for anyone who fall prey to them so that we go on with reforming Albania, building rule of law, and govern our nation to reach the new heights we are seeking to take Albania to through the power of example and not trough example of power.

Lushnja mayor will be dismissed from his post and he will be expelled from the Socialist Party. The decision could be reviewed only if he is absolved of the charges and found not guilty by the court. These decisions are not being made by presumably considering he is guilty. I can’t state that and it is not up to us to decide whether he is guilty or not. We are making these decisions to send a clear message to all of those who are tasked with handling the Albanian taxpayers’ money at any level and tell everyone that whoever opts to play with the Albanian taxpayers’ money, whoever seeks to embezzle the taxpayers’ money, whoever violates the citizens’ rights to enjoy equal competition opportunities and deliver decent services is simply on his or her own and his or her personal lawyer when facing justice.

Meanwhile, the first essential reason why I called this meeting with you is that each and every one of you, without any exception, bluntly, should think through to best realize that during our third term in office we need to treble of our efforts and commitment to the citizens, treble seriousness about the privilege to serve this people, treble our awareness over the indispensability to treble the governance performance of our municipalities, our government, the agencies and directorates at an executive level.

It attracted my attention the fact that following my yesterday’s meeting with the State Police officials many said it was too late for me to call for a faster new phase in the State Police to protect the territory from illegal constructions and the corruption practices that haunt State Police in that criminal activity, as well as the fight against the police misconduct with certain police officers demanding bribes from road users as some police officers are recently renewing the disgusting abuse practices and misconduct and actions against drivers.

This is not absolutely true.

It is never too late. Things are also not all the same or the way they were when the State Police reinvention started to pull the police out of the rubble they were under at the very start of our transforming efforts. Significant progress has been made by the police, if we are to look back, both in terms of ensuring public order and lawfulness across the territory, but in terms of the peak we want to take the country, this progress is absolutely insufficient.

By concluding this parenthesis, I would return to the first main reason, the public procurement.

I would call for your full attention and I wish you immediately and continuously reflect to the end of the term in office to ensure justice, quality, transparency and speed in public procurement processes.

I would not go over facts and figures today as they clearly show how much the system and quality of public procurement have been improved over the past few years. However, this is not this meeting’s focus, but, given that I have always refused to be self-complacent since day one of my public life and this would be the case until the last day – and this will be the constant of my daily life with you, the government and all institutions of this state – I have demanded that the public procurement system further reform. A new legal package on public procurement was adopted and has already entered into force following a two-year work between Albanian and international experts. The new package significantly improves he regulatory framework on public procurement in Albania and it provides optimum premises to increase the system’s efficiency, significantly align national legislation with the EU legislation, as well as by taking into consideration the findings and recommendations from the international bodies in this respect, the requirements for the legal changes from various national institutions, ultimately addressing issues that have been encountered during the procurement processes.

The new package aims to increase integrity and accountability of all parties involved as economic operators in this process, and it supports strengthening of monitoring and punitive mechanisms for any violations.

I would invite you all to carefully examine the new public procurement bill and order your relevant local government structures tasked with public procurement processes to do the same.

Most importantly, I would very kindly suggest that you don’t involve in the public procurement processes. Don’t use your influence to favour anyone and don’t play with fire that is becoming increasingly scorching as the new justice bodies will enjoy my and the SP full support against anyone seeking to play with fire.

I will unveil some of the main problems concerning public procurement procedures in the municipalities you head for the fiscal period 2020-2021.

Since January 2020 through April 2021, the Public Procurement Agency at the Prime Minister’s office has assisted a total of 1275 public procurement procedures published by the municipal institutions.

Public Procurement Agency provides technical assistance to help every contracting authority with ears to hear and eyes to read and understand.

It turns out that 88.5 % of the procedures have been problematic in terms of drafting the criteria and that’s why precise recommendations have been forwarded to the municipal authorities.

52.5 % of the municipalities haven’t responded at all and haven’t reflected regarding the technical recommendations from the Public Procurement Agency.

It is a universally known fact that setting special criteria for qualification of companies, or bluntly speaking, arranging the tender procedures fit for a certain company or operator, directly affects the participation level and, of course, fairness of competition among economic operators in public procurement procedures. This is a predatory, heinous and excluding technique!

The data analysis over the number of bids under the procedures published by the municipalities that have been assisted by the Public Procurement Agency during the period between January through April 2021 period and throughout 2020, it turns out that the average number of the qualified bids under these procedures is only 2.1.

On the other hand, based on the examination of all procedures conducted by the municipalities via the online public procurement system, it turns out that that only one economic operator has taken part in tenders launched by 47 out of 61 municipalities, or in more than 50% of the municipalities. And this has happened despite the fact that the procurement procedures are theoretically open.

Likewise, the administrative investigations into procurement procedures conducted by the public procurement agency, acting on its own initiative or on the reports sent by the Supreme State Audit during period from January 2020 through April 2021, the municipalities have violated legal requirements for public procurement procedures, mainly being tailored for specific companies to win the bids and declaring companies and economic operators that fail to meet the qualification criteria as winners. As a result, fines have been imposed on 156 municipal employees, while 602 employees face disciplinary actions.

I would like to inform you that we in this very building will unhesitatingly transit from imposing fines to referring lawsuits to SPAK anytime the alleged violations constitute a suspicion over a corrupt tender and it will be any of you – though I hope you won’t –   but any of you, but not me, nor the Socialist Party, will go before the SPAK investigators or the special anti-corruption court to give explanations.

The main issues concerning public procurement need to be addressed through the new legal package and they should be addressed without hesitation and not tolerance, just like the procedures will be monitored and a zero-tolerance policy will be applied by the central government to any alleged violation by the municipal and local government authorities. The main issues to be addressed include: immediate and stable increase of competition in the public procurement procedures; the economic operators’ participation in the procurement procedures should increase from relatively low to relatively high;

Increasing accountability and integrity of contracting authorities in planning, organizing and conducting the public procurement procedures;

Timely and quality planning to eliminate the negotiated procedure without prior announcement, “a malignant growth” we have already removed at the central government level for several years now, while it keeps swallowing the taxpayers’ money at the local government level through negotiation without procedure.

Any clearly abusive use of this technique will be openly seen as illegal and SPAK will take over to conduct a criminal scanning. All negotiated procedures without announcement in advance will be subject to administrative investigation;

Setting tailored criteria that violate the legislation and forcibly limit competition should be avoided categorically.

For this and everything I said until now, you will enjoy full and around-the-clock technical assistance from the Public Procurement Agency. However, local government authorities and the relevant municipal bodies should react to the recommendations set forth by the Public Procurement Agency. Failure to react or failure to argument – because there are cases when the contracting authorities definitely have their arguments why they set a specific criterion, about which the Agency has actually recommended to be removed, not only will they be reported systematically, but they will also become subject to administrative investigations and will be eventually referred to the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecution Office, SPAK.

The contracting authorities you represent should also supervise the conduct of economic operators, their withdrawal from the tender, or contract signing process, or the false bids and they should take measures accordingly. This is what the new legal package, not me, stipulates about referring cases containing concrete names and family names of all businesses involved in such a heinous circus in all institutions tasked with conducting administrative investigations.

The contracting authorities represented by you should also increase accountability regarding the contracts implementation. Once the procurement procedure is complete and the contract is signed, if its implementation goes wrong or the contract is poorly implemented, the whole procurement procedure becomes worthless, no matter how good it is and no matter how competitive it has been.

With the new legal package – read it, “the heads of contracting authorities, i.e. the mayors in this case, are directly responsible for the good management or mismanagement of public funds through procurement procedures. Your work as heads will be measured through tangible results in procurement procedures.

I would again clearly repeat the four main procurement procedures;

1-number of participants in each procedure;

2-the saved value in the municipality coffer;

3-drastic limitation or even complete elimination of the unsolicited negotiated procedures;

4- execution of contracts according to the terms in which the procurement procedure was conducted and other ensuing procedures.

Having all these said, I would insist that before it is too late for everyone here, you all examine and learn the new legal provisions both in theory and practice, and you all become aware about the consequences that may ensue in case of failure to abide by the new legal provisions. The role you need to take in the efforts to alter the public perception over a systematic corruption in the procurement system is both fundamental and also non-negotiable with the Socialist Party, the government or me personally. You are my friends and comrades, but the dividing line between friendship and our party, on the one hand, and the abusive actions by high level officials taking advantage of the position each of us has taken over by the citizens at the central and local government level will keep becoming more and more red during the Socialist Party’s third term in office.

The second major reason, no less important, is that you must immediately change governing practice regarding the registration of agricultural land.

The Socialist Party’s central government and I personally will assume no responsibility and public cost of whatsoever if this priority process is further delayed. You have had our understanding and we have accepted all the excuses and the arguments you have rightly provided, but it is unacceptable that the agricultural land registration process is further delayed. This is because everything has been already done in legislative and organizational terms to make sure that a fresh impetus is given to this process and make sure that registration of the agricultural land completes within third term.

Registering agricultural land is a historic challenge we are all prepared for, since we have worked hard on this issue during the two previous terms in office. It is time for the process to be finalized now. The new legislation, which is part of this efforts, significantly simplifies procedures, while records, archival documents and land ownership documents have been all concentrated in one single office, the State Cadastre. It would be impossible for the process to start massively if all these documents, registers and maps are not handed over to the State Cadastre offices. Municipalities can play a very important role in this process.

The State Cadastre has called twice for your commitment through a formal letter on October 2020 and March 2021. What is the result this letter?

Only 10% of the municipalities have responded by implementing or partly implementing this mission. Namely, nine municipalities only have already handed over the required documentation, whereas 52 other municipalities, not only haven’t they submitted the documentation, but they haven’t even shown any readable sign that they working on this process. I would like to recall the fact that under the new administrative reform in 2016, local government authorities vowed to collect all inherited archival records of the former communes. They have yet to do it. We should ultimately finalize the agricultural land registration process for a huge number of people who make a living from agriculture and an economy which cannot develop with its all potential just because of the lack of land ownership titles that hinder sale and purchase transactions.

The arguments you invent are as bizarre as they are no longer acceptable: “We possess no documentation from the former land division commissions, the main archival documents on land division plans since’91 and on. The forms have degraded and it is impossible to photocopy them and we need human and financial resources to complete this process.”

We have delivered on administrative reforms and a number of municipalities have a larger population than they had when some 300 communes were operational. However, the number of employees taking up municipal jobs is increasing, with the local government authorities making no efficiency and financial calculations. You have sufficient human resources and means. But of course you would run short of money and funds when launching tenders to drench the canals, although the government has already supplied the needed vehicles to do so. And as a result you end up in prison.

Nothing can excuse such neglect. Can one claim that farmers do not want the agricultural land?

Neither lack of human resources and means, nor the old forms or other excuses are the problem. The real problem is primarily here (in the head) with most of you having the alarm sound switched off to oversee this process around-the-clock.

The document is preserved in the archive and it can’t be elsewhere and we are not talking about the Turkish-era documents. We are talking about documents compiled until 2000 and have been used until one or two years ago.

These all don’t take science or money to be done. These all take just iron will to develop Albania.

On the one hand, the public procurement system should undergo quality transformation, and on the other hand around 90 percent of the territory you govern, namely the rural areas, should be included in the state as they are currently not part of the state. It is like the state is nonexistent as long as farmers are not issued the ownership certificate over the agricultural land they own. This is non-negotiable.

I would also like to inform you that no funding will be allocated if you fail to perform. The municipalities that will perform will be entitled to funding, while the local government authorities who fail to perform should be held accountable in front of the people. It is impossible for us to repeat the same things constantly. We have done what we have done, while we will do what we have failed to do to date.

The truth is that we have definitely delivered on many areas. The truth is that the municipalities governed by the Socialist mayors have performed best. The truth is that things have significantly changed in the municipalities lead by Socialist mayors, but it is also true that a lot more things need to be changed. People tend not to ask what has happened, but what is going to happen. You have been enjoying the government support, but responsibilities and duties should be clearly separated. It is impossible for us to move forward and take the country where we are seeking to take it if we don’t speak out bluntly. And we should do so publicly and not behind the closed doors, as I have continuously done.

The third term won’t resemble the first two terms, because if it is going to resemble the first two terms, we would then be doing as much as we have done in the first two ones, but it won’t be enough. This is why we have been voted for. If it were to be enough, then citizens wouldn’t have taken the trouble to vote for us and we wouldn’t have been calling on them to elect us.

Thank you very much and I very much hope we will witness results sooner rather than later, for your own good, for our own good and, most importantly, to the benefit of the citizens in this country!

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