First meeting of new government

Prime Minister Edi Rama’s remarks at first meeting of the new cabinet:

 

We sharing with the public this formal start of our common work, primarily as a need to openly communicate and spotlight a set of Ethics Code norms of the Council of Ministers, as well as the content of the decisions we will make at this inaugural meeting of the new cabinet.

Every cabinet member should publicly pledge to faithfully adhere to the spirit and letter of the Code of Ethics, assuming personal responsibility for its implementation before the public.

The wording of the Ethics Code and conduct has been approved through a government decision back in 2013, as a document of principles defining the line of conduct of the cabinet members. The Code is still in force and I would like to spotlight several key points, explicitly expressed or not on the adopted document.

The words you will be hearing are a result also of the experience accumulated over the past years and the need that not only performance, but also the public conduct of the cabinet members abides as much possible by the citizens’ expectations from us, given that they entrusted us with high service of governing the country.

For example, the Code doesn’t stipulate that the cabinet members are not allowed to fly business class at government expense when traveling on official government business to Europe, and the cabinet members also cannot spend vacations abroad. The Code also doesn’t stipulate that the government members cannot go to bars or restaurants during the work days, except the family events, about they should notify the Prime Minister’s cabinet in advance or only when the lunch or dinner is being attended for working and previously announced reasons. Of course, I don’t mean by this the cases when the ministers are on a working visit outside Tirana, but for the work days in Tirana.

The first two, namely the trips and vacations, have been generally enforced and this marks a significant change in ethical terms compared to the past, when the cabinet members used to travel as if they were businessmen and sunbathed on beaches around the world. But these elements need to be included and detailed in an appendix of the Code, stipulating all the exceptional cases or explicitly worded that the cabinet members, their spouses or children cannot accept flying tickets sponsored by private companies. In the meantime, the Code of Ethics should also stipulate that the spouses and children of the cabinet members cannot use the airport’s VIP hall, if not travelling with the relevant minister.

The same applies when the ministers are using the cars provided by government and they should strictly comply to traffic rules just like any other driver using the road, except in cases of unavoidable emergencies. The use of government cars by the family members is also banned.

Third, the ban on frequenting bars and restaurants during the workdays, except the abovementioned cases, although I have drawn attention repeatedly, unfortunately, has not been enforced. This was also the reason that in addition to expressing the need for a detailed appendix of the Code, I would like to publicly state today, so that all the citizens find about it, the government operates under a Code of Ethics and, secondly, the Code of Ethics is not just a framework of general norms on paper, but also a way of living due to the public obligation of every cabinet member in respect of the citizens.

Therefore, I would like to publicly announce that if a cabinet member fails to abide by one of these norms and the Ethics Code stipulations should publicly apologize, while if repeated, then the cabinet member should resign. To avoid any equivocal interpretation, this framework equally applies to the Prime Minister and I am glad to acknowledge that I have respected it in the last eight years and I don’t mind respecting it for four more years.

Another aspect the Code needs to tackle is the issue of gifts a government official receives while in office. A museum and a specific warehouse has been opened at the Prime Minister’s office to preserve all the gifts the cabinet members receive while in office, including the medals they exchange with their foreign counterparts and other state officials during bilateral meetings or various arts objects, despite their low or high monetary value.

No protocol gifts were preserved in this building until 2013, as if this building was occupied by invading forces that abandoned the seat without leaving any traces behind. Not only that, but they have also taken away everything they have found here or in the government service facilities, including paintings, lampshades, chairs, armchairs, tables, televisions, computers, plates, spoons, forks, cups, and so on.

The administrative offices are not excluded from this anti-state absurdity. But given that registering the gifts and the existing office objects is not stipulated by law, this part should also be included on the Code, specifying that any gift awarded by the visiting state delegations or individuals and which exceed a certain financial value, watches for example, should registered and inventoried and should either remain part of the decor of your office or be delivered to the Museum of Protocol Gifts inside the Council of Ministers building or ministry building, where building such a space is possible.

These may all sound like petty stuff or many will surely comment on them in all sorts of ways, but in fact, these are rules and norms enforced regularly in all states that deserve to be called such.

The Code will equally be applied to the Deputy Ministers and the Prime Minister’s Secretary General, in addition to drafting the appendixes of the Ethics Code, in collaboration with the secretary generals at the ministries, will also be tasked with devising the draft-decision on the rules of conduct of the heads of high-level institutions of the central government, either at national and regional level, who will be subject to a number of ethical obligations and must assume public, as well as administrative responsibility for their implementation.

It is your duty to oversee the progress in the process of implementing these rules that we will adopt for them as well, fully aware that the citizens should not be subjected to the bragging and self-aggrandizing conduct and public antagonism demonstrated by various senior officials throughout the country’s territory.

An important aspect of our Ethics Code, a norm widely found on the similar documents of many democratic governments around the world, is about respecting the principle of collegiality, not only in terms of the decision-making process, but also in terms of the public communication of not only cabinet members, but also every high-official of central and regional government offices.

I am drawing your attention to this aspect for everyone to keep in mind the indispensability of coordination with the Prime Minister’s office when it comes to the public communication, given that communication is now widely spread on the social media networks too.

Over the past years, we have encountered some disgracing and intolerable cases involving heads of institutions, who in an irresponsible way host parties for the personnel. I am not talking about the Women’s Day events on March 8 or the New Year’s Eve parties, which should in no way be held at the expense of the agencies or the directorates they head or embark on the so-called working visits abroad along with their mollycoddles, with some of them recklessly posting images of joyful tourist moments, making the state official’s figure a disgusting one.

No working trip abroad at the government expense and cost, no delegation, group of collective, no head of institution or directorate will be allowed to travel abroad without your consent and without the approval by the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs will be considered in accordance to this government’s ethics.

The document on the rules of conduct of the high-level state officials should also envisage sanctions and penalties about any potential offence of the norms of ethics defined on this document, which, as I already announced, we will adopt at the third government meeting.

Likewise, the cost of any working visit by a minister, a delegation or a group from any state institution will not be paid by the State Treasury unless a full report on the visit is submitted to the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs.

Fortunately, this has somehow improved in the last few years and the fact that it took time for the cabinet members themselves to accustom with this basic elementary practice speaks for itself about the traditional lack of the awareness of the state we inherited in this respect too.

Such a practice should be expanded to all levels of the state administration and the central government, because it is unjustifiable and intolerable that no trace of a considerable number of visits and state contacts with international officials are to be found, just like it is the case with a serious state. This is called state memory and coming and leaving a job position in the government and the state without leaving any trace means that state affairs remain only for the individual memory of the bosses who leave or come, while the institutional memory of foreign relations remains tabula rasa.

This is the moment to redesign and reorganize the state protocol activity at the Prime Minister’s office and the ministries in order to fully address the essential state need to set in motion all the mechanisms of this memory that was blown up and rotted under the ruins since 1991 and it is just now being revived, yet it is still far from being a mechanism of a serious state.

Another important element included in the Code of Ethics is the minister’s relationship with his or her administration and employees, and I ask you to assume special responsibility in all aspects. First, in the moral and professional motivation of the administration, close structured and systematic cooperation with the Department of Public Administration and the School of Public Administration.

Second, in defending the constant promotion of merit in the administration by establishing your authority as an insurmountable barrier from any political interference or influence for government jobs.

Third, guaranteeing the open door policy to every talented, well-educated and experienced Albanian citizen, locally or abroad, with your personal commitment to the process, with the applicants to the Ready for Albania initiative, or the progress in organizing the administration both physically or online.

The pandemic has actually told us a lot of valuable things and beyond the fact that in the dynamic of fighting the virus mutations, we may be forced to resume the combined work from office or remotely online, we need to go beyond the pandemic through this idea.

We will hold cabinet meetings to specifically address these issues and problems concerning the public administration in general and that’s why I am not going to comment further on this issue and instead I will focus on the ethics of the relation with the parliament.

The existing Code of Ethics envisages this relation very briefly and additional amendments are needed, as it focuses only on the obligation of a cabinet member to notify the relevant lawmakers, when heading out on a working visit to the territory, which actually has not been properly enforced as a norm in the work routine.

The minister’s ethics regarding this relation is inextricably linked to the necessity and embodiment in them of the simple fact that the government originates from the parliament and the parliament does not originate from the government. Therefore, I beg you all that your presence in the parliamentary committees on government draft laws should not be questioned, except in extreme cases when you are unable to attend and when you notify the chairman of the parliamentary group in advance.

All cabinet members should also definitely attend the opening of the parliament’s plenary sessions. Likewise, the time when they can leave the session should be agreed in advance with the Minister of State for the Relations with Parliament so that one third of cabinet members are always present at the parliament’s sessions.

This is actually simply the minimum of ethics in the government-parliament relations, because this government should establish a whole proactive relation of communication with the parliamentary committees, not only by systematically interacting with the Socialist lawmakers in our parliamentary group in the relevant committee, but also by notifying the opposition representatives in the committees about sensitive issues or valuable information about the work.

Another ethical violation observed during the last term has been the inconceivable departure in some cases of ministers from the spirit of collegial decision-making in government, with individual letters sent to the parliament committees, or by voicing individual attitudes in the committee for not agreeing on issues that we jointly have already endorsed before final approval by parliamentary committees.

I want to ensure you that under the Ethics Code of every democratic government we have looked into, such act constitutes a serious breach of the government’s conduct line. Everything may change in the process of discussions at parliament, but it would be absurd that the relevant minister is not there to defend the government decision through arguments and facts, but should not oppose it, because it allegedly affects his or her sector and favours another sector.

The sectors are not ministerial feuds and there is only one sector for which the whole government works. This sector is Albania. Albania has only one budget and this is the budget of the Republic of Albania. As I already stated during my speech to present the government program, we will no longer respond in the old format to wall-posters of the opposition press conferences.

It is a format that has tried the patience of the people with accusations and counter-accusations, with politics for politics, which leaves anyone with a sense of loathing, when politics was not meant to be an exclusive bone of contention between politicians, instead politics was born out of the necessity to bring human beings together for the good of society, which is unlikely to be achieved alone.

In the next four years, we should deliver on everything about which Albanian citizens made a majority to support us for third consecutive term like never before.

Therefore, we cannot afford and should not waste a single day by dealing and involving in useless debates with the opposition.

The new government will make available a new website that will feature a special dedicated section to inform the public over any allegations, charges or claims of public interest. The section will contain responses and answers that each and every one of you will word under personal and institutional responsibility regarding the veracity of the information you provide. Whoever – I am confident this won’t happen – whoever fails to tell the truth, he or she will personally assume the moral, political, institutional and even legal responsibility regarding the accusations, allegations and claims.

At every first meeting of the new cabinet, I use to send an unchangeable message. A cabinet member is not self-appointed, but he or she is appointed by the Prime Minister, but every minister should then deserve the post. This applies to the individual work performance and the institutional moral responsibility and the floor you put the foot to. The government’s floor is the law, and just rotten planks are to be found outside its perimeter. Whoever is found guilty of wrongdoing will have to deal with the law-enforcement agencies, and not with me, the government of the Socialist Party. This is what I would advise you and I want to assure you can count on me in the effort of each and every one of you to deliver on the common objectives. I will publicly defend in the face of any aggression or adversary of the progress we all want to bring together. I will cover your back to defend you from any wind against you because of your position within our shared home, but, again, none of you would enjoy neither mine nor the Socialist Party’s support if any of you dares to take a step and break the law.

My family has nothing to do with the government affairs. I would ask you all to keep your families away from the doors of the government affairs, the public funds and the demands from the third parties, be them either relatives, in-laws or friends, for favours however small. You won’t be spared of speculations and allegations even if you isolate yourselves and stay at home doing nothing, but sleeping, but the truth, the right and hard work are all what remain and worth it. Everything else tends to be forgotten. That’s why I would urge you all to focus on your work, work hard. Do not be distracted by unworthy aggression, unjust attacks, unfounded speculations. Get used to the idea that the more you try the more you will be attacked. You cannot change this, if you believe in what you do and are ready to do what you believe.

Last but not least important is the ethics and conduct regarding the relation with the citizens, with those who did us the greatest favour by granting us the exceptional privilege to lead our homeland. Of course, I have nothing to comment on the ethics of each and every one of you when it comes to your relation with the citizens. It would sound as an exaggerated instruction and I don’t want to even think about it, let alone doubt that you don’t know the correctness that has to characterize you all. I am talking about the institutional ethics of the ministries and the subordinate institutions when it comes to the relation with the citizens. I can honestly say I am interested in no reform, program, investment project, expenditure, and roads construction and I will not accept any excuse when it comes to the quality of this government’s relation with every citizen of this republic, every ordinary citizen, be them either Socialist or Democratic Party supporter, elderly men in Albania or abroad knocking on our door to present their plight, solve a problem and complain about something they are entitled and eligible by law and the government, everyone else here and the government’s executive chain are obliged by law to handle.

This door is the co-governance platform, shqipëriaqeduam.al, (Albania we want) which will also be the government decision at the today’s meeting and forward it to parliament and sign the draft into law for everyone. The draft-law is designed to address the whole accumulated experience and lessons we have learned from the platform’s functioning during our second term in office.

The institutions’ relations with the public in this state can’t be optional, neither an issue depending on non-mandatory personal will, with a certain minister caring about such relations, and another one ignoring them. If the head of a public relation office is willing to listen to the plight of the citizens, but another officials is not willing to do so, then the citizens’ problems are not tackled. If the head of a certain institution is willing to act and treat the citizens accordingly, another senior official in that very institution is not willing to do so, then the citizens are mishandled. This should be a mandatory, punctual relation, both morally and legally. Just like you abandon everything to go to parliament when a group of lawmakers demands and interpellation, you should set aside everything else when no reply has been provided to a citizen, no solution has been found to his or her plight just because of the chain of offices under your authority, and you should move heaven and earth, acting just like that citizen was your own father, mother, your brother and sister or your own son.

We here around this table are unable to fix it, but those already experienced in this area know pretty well that there is no magic wand for the things to work in the blink of an eye in every institution tasked with providing and issuing documents, address issues and problems caused because of the state’s fault, because this will take time, since we couldn’t do everything to heal the wounds and the black hole in the public service delivery system we inherited when we took office.

I want each and every one of you read whole new law on co-governance and consider it the alpha and omega of our services to the public, for all of those under your authority, asking them not only officially, but also amicably not to leave you alone in this effort you are definitely tasked with as cabinet members, but you should also feel and accomplish primarily as a human mission. There could be no biggest sin in the world then refusing to address someone’s plight when have the power and are tasked with doing so, just like there could be no bigger blessing than someone’s smile when being relieved from a problem you already solved thanks to the power you enjoy. Do it so that you gain as much blessings and avoid the curses pronounced against you, because of the misconduct of the irresponsible employees at the cadastre and the legalization offices, the offices tasked with issuing licences, permits, authorizations and all sorts of other documents, and punish any of these individuals for failing to deliver public services properly. Punishing such individuals is a must until we complete the cycle of the online public service delivery by making any official document available at everyone’s smart phone or personal computer. The new draft-law on the co-governance envisages administrative and financial sanctions to be imposed on the officials, who fail to provide timely replies to the citizens and the law should be fully enforced by everyone, starting with me, so that we are not disgraced by the chronic non-enforcement of the law. You should all be the example of the law enforcement will of co-government with the ordinary people in this country.

The government’s new public information structure, which we will approve today too, should immediately commit so that the public information campaign becomes operational as soon as the co-governance is signed into law by the Assembly of Albania. Don’t forget it for a single day. We govern alone, but it is the citizens who voted us in and we should co-govern with the citizens, as they make us undefeated in elections and it is only the alliance with them that would allow us to discipline the officials tasked with the delivery of public services.

Concluding, I would like to also share with you a new national project to strengthen the spirit, the content of the co-governance with this country’s ordinary citizens. The co-governance is not just about people to file their complaints and us acting to tackle them through bureaucratic procedures, but it is also about sharing opinions on decisions of special importance and I want this government invite citizens, regardless of their political affiliation, to join and participate in national consultations so that we make decisions that require not only courage, but also the citizens’ moral support, cultivation of a sense of community for Albania, beyond the left-wing or right-wing parties, beyond trenches of political fight, beyond divisions and speculations. If you still remember, we floated this idea at the last congress of the Socialist Party, but while reflecting on this idea I came to believe this is not a matter of Socialists and democrats, left-wing or right-wing voters, a matter of young or old people, activists or indifferent.

We will gather in the next few days to launch work on the first national consultation and start this year initially testing this new form of co-governance by presenting the public with various alternatives for certain decisions, seeking your approval nominally and your personal commitment to materialize this vital content of the role of the member of the government of the Republic of Albania. I would like to sincerely thank you all for being here and share together various issues and challenges concerning the future of our homeland, but also with the dignity that we have the obligation to give to the trust of the citizens who have put us in this extraordinary privilege to be here around this table of the highest decision-making in our country.

Thank you very much!