Package of measures against phenomena affecting family and youth

Prime Minister Edi Rama at meeting with girls and women in Lushnje to discuss consequences of gambling-related problems and law on the closure of slot machine parlours, betting shops and all other forms of sports wagering including via online sites, as well as other issues of citizens’ interest:

Thank you very much!

I am very pleased to be with you here today. Unfortunately, due to an unexpected work-related issue, I couldn’t attend another fantastic meeting that took place with girls, women, mothers and grandmothers in Elbasan to take stock of a crucially important initiative, still worth of discussing for a number of reasons although the initiative has been already signed into law now.

We succeeded in accomplishing a mission we actually failed to achieve few years ago due to an extreme pressure exerted by the gambling industry on the members of the parliament and back then we failed to secure the required number of votes to pass the law on banning the electronic casinos. At that time the initiative did not include the sports and other forms of betting. However, a compromise was reached, although not an ideal one, to close down the electronic casinos across the territory of the Republic by December 31 of that year, but a lot of time has passed since then and we have already explored the two sides of a medal for which we waged a battle.

On one side we have significantly formalized this sector. The tax collections from the gambling industry have almost doubled, while the number of companies operating in this sector has been almost halved. The budget revenues from taxes on gambling industry are significant, but the social wounds from gambling addiction are graver.

Informality has prevailed in this sector despite the speculations that the number of sports betting shops and slot machine parlours has allegedly increased. The truth is that the betting shops were formalized and their number is much lower that it was when we launched a nation-wide crackdown on the informality through the ‘End of Madness” operation. Their number didn’t increase, but a significant part of the gambling industry was formalized to a considerable extent. What matters, however, is that the industry has given unjustified space to a category of individuals directly related to organized crime, and a considerable part of the owners of these companies are people with criminal records involved in kidnappings, extortion, exploitation of prostitution and so on.

This time we decided to draft a broader law by including the betting and any form of sports betting, such as dogs racing, horse and rooster racing, and any sports wagering via online sites. So, we will ban everything, including bingo, so that no room is left for people to transform these activities into other possible illegal operations.

What has impressed us all during this period has been the great support from women and girls in particular. As it rarely happens in Albania, where the politics and whole society are divided into two camps, the initiative has gained support from over 70% of citizens, with over 90% of them being women and girls. This is very significant indicator showing how badly gambling affects the family and what people can do to cope with a family member’s gambling addiction.

Specific to Albania’s situation is that around of active gamblers have engaged in some form of gambling by the age of 10 to 15. This is horrible!

According to the findings of various surveys, over 70% of active gamblers experience stress and the gambling problems affect the functioning of family and intimate relationships.

A debate is already underway over the employment opportunities for the people who will lose their job because of the closure of gambling activities in general. Of course, it won’t be easy at all, but we will do our best to help them qualify through the training program. We are doing a new training program for all unemployed jobseekers because what we encounter is often the inability to get into work due to lack of qualifications. This program will include those who get unemployed from this story. A new program is being developed and next year will mark an important transformation in terms of job seeking in a bid to adequately address the ever increasing need and demand for skilled labour force. The program will include the individuals who will lose their job in the gambling industry. But you should bear in mind that this industry generates nearly $ 700 million and all this amount will now remain in the family coffers and will be part of the healthy household consumption.

Several mayors of smaller towns or cities have already told me that a considerable number of men and boys from families under social welfare benefit scheme are mostly the regular costumers of the betting shops in towns across the country.

The commitment of every Socialist Party MP, and the chairman of the Committee on Economy and Finance Erjon Braçe, played a crucial role in this process.

But many keep on issuing slanders and defamatory remarks even after the Parliament voted the law on banning electronic casinos and sports betting. They keep on telling same story and fabricating defamations. However, they have chosen the path towards self-destruction and in the upcoming election they will likely figure out they are completely abandoned and are going further on the self-destruction path because they are totally unable to see the reality and understand the situation they are in and stand no chance to win over us because of 1001 reasons that are related to the ordinary citizens. And if they want to win, they should start examine and analyse their own selves and stop blaming other people.

They have chosen the path of self-destruction, while we refer and sue them for libel. They stand countless trials on defamation charges and will pay to the last penny for every defamation statement they issue. In every libel case when failing to bring evidence to support their claims, they will pay penalties and the money collected from these processes, after punishing them as slanders, will be used to create the education fund at the Socialist Party and the funding will be then used to help schoolchildren and kindergarten children.

We are now also ready to wage another battle, that of banning alcohol sales to minors, to all girls and boys under age 18. The Government is drafting a decision that will be forwarded to all retail shops across the country, clarifying that if caught selling alcohol beverages to young boys and girls under age 18 they will face grave consequences. Retailers caught providing or selling alcohol to minors will face a range of penalties. They should expect to lose their licence temporarily when caught for first time giving a minor alcohol and lose their licence permanently if caught for a second time. At the same time, underage boys and girls will be prohibited from entering bars during school time. No schoolchildren will be allowed to enter bars, restaurants or discos during class hours. We will clearly define what we mean by class hours, since we know quite well that several schools work in a two-shift system. This rule will be relaxed in cases of birthday parties, but schoolchildren will be always accompanied by teachers. It is intolerable that schoolchildren fill the bars during the class hours, while their parents work hard, make sacrifices and invest in their children’s education.

An extra funding has been included in the new state budget for deployment of some 150 security officers in every high school across the country. These security officers are not policemen, but individuals graduated from the Security Academy or the Sociology and Psychology faculty. They will be trained for this job and they will serve as a key linking element among teachers and parents and a kind of educators for the schoolchildren. They will attend entire teaching process and communicate with the police whenever necessary, communicate with the school’s directorate and the parents.

The project is being initially piloted in 15 schools in Tirana. The initial results are very encouraging. Parents are satisfied at this novelty. The project will now extend to all high schools in order to improve security.

At the same time, we have also adopted a decision that bans cell phone use in school. The ban is currently being implemented as an educational process, but starting from November, the students will either have to leave their phones at home or keep them turned off during the school day, or they will be sequestered. Whoever comes to school with a smart phone, he or she should expect to lose the phone forever. Fortunately, we are not alone in this decision. France has also banned the smartphone use in school this year. Teachers will lose their phones if they use them during the school day, because there are teachers who spend long time using phone and engage in conversation, while telling students to write down the thesis. Neither students, nor teachers will be allowed to use the smartphone during the school day. Teachers will have to hand over the phone upon entering the classroom and collect it at the end of school day, whereas children should in no case take it with them. This is something that parents should bear in mind. We have conducted a survey with parents and the initiative enjoys broad support from them, because it is the parents who figure out first how horrible a smartphone is for children.

The last is related to another measure I am very proud of the fact that we can accomplish it. This decision will have a very positive impact on the young couples and the families that choose to have more kids. Young mothers are attending this meeting and they all know that a baby bonus is still in force since when I introduced a 50 000-lek baby cash gift while serving as Tirana Mayor. And the baby cash gift hasn’t changed since then. That was a symbolic welcome cash gift to every newborn but it has remained unchanged since then. The new cash bonuses will increase to $400 for the first child, double to $800 for the second and treble to $1200 for the third or more children. Since I have been repeatedly asked how the baby bonus will be provided should a woman is to give birth to twins, or triplets? In every case, the twins will be both considered as a second child and not as the first and therefore will receive $800 each in cash gift. The triplets will benefit the baby cash gift as third child, so $1200.

I have a personal experience to share. A year ago, I was diagnosed with a kind of tumour and I needed a sort of medication called Avastin. It was a serious problem become seriously depressed. Not only me, but my entire family was experiencing emotional distress or depression. With the help of my friends, I found the Health Minister’s phone number. I texted her and she replied promptly. I would like to express my appreciation to her because thanks to her I now receive this medication regularly. But I have another request. We undergo regular tumour cell tests, but I can’t afford such tests because I am a retired woman and such tests are conducted at private hospitals. I am calling for your help in order to ensure that such tests are carried out in public hospitals that currently face shortages of reagents.

PM Edi Rama: I will avail myself of this opportunity to emphasize three things; first – I won’t cease repeating – if you face a problem with the state institutions tasked with public service delivery, if you have a problem with ministries, please stop trying to find a cabinet member’s phone number, or meet in person a MP, the Mayor or any other high-level official. Instead, just forward a message to the online platform “www.shqiperiaqeduam.al.” Whoever owns a smartphone can easily download and access the platform. Whoever lacks a smartphone, they can then address to the local administrative unit, the local post office, or the co-governance offices we have already opened at the local and regional Socialist Party’s offices to ask for help and access the platform. It takes just three minutes and your complaints are then forwarded to the relevant cabinet member. It is not necessary at all for the cabinet member to know or meet you in person. He should absolutely provide a reply to you within a 10-day deadline. The co-governance platform has already solved some 16 000 cases since the platform became operational a year ago. We could have addressed a lot more cases if many more citizens access the platform. Accessing the platform is the easiest thing to do. Trust me, it works! If you don’t trust me, then just test us out. Just write a complaint over the property registration office, electricity overbilling, the pension payment calculation, the lack of medications, and any problem you face with state offices tasked with providing public services. Just write your complaints and file it with the platform and as soon as you do that you will receive a reply confirming that your complaint has been received and a response will be provided in ten days only. Within a 10-day deadline you will receive a phone call, telling you to report at the property registration office or the agency for legalization of the informal buildings, or any other institution to collect the required document. If you are not entitled to benefit the required service, then you will be told that.

As far as the medicines are concerned – that’s a big surprise here, because, unfortunately, the TV channels, the press, the online portals and every other media outlet keep on reporting and providing extensive coverage of only incidents, crime and violence, but when it comes to the country’s and the government’s accomplishments which are worth reporting, not for propaganda, none provides a report. The state budget funding for medicines, including 600 thousand uninsured people – who are not insured because they lack insurance coverage as the live in the countryside, to over $105 million. Do you know how much was the medicine reimbursement funding when we took office? It was just over a half of the aforesaid amount. We increased it to $105 million that is taken out of the state coffers to reimburse medicines for citizens.

Several months earlier, the issue of Herceptin treatment was raised at a public hearing. Herceptin is an extremely expensive, but it is a vital drug for the breast cancer patients. What happened in the past? This drug was provided in very small dosages and patients had to pay or find a middleman to find it. Other breast cancer patients were deprived of it.

What did we do?

The Minister of Health negotiated a lower price with the foreign drug company explaining all the reasons why these women and girls diagnosed with breast cancer could not afford buying it at a normal price. The medicine should be provided in full dosage to all patients. You know quite well that this medicine was provided in non-effective small dosages. It was a complete farce. We provided this costly medicine. Today, every women being treated for breast cancer across the territory of the republic receive Herceptin for free. It is the most effective medicine for now although it’s not 100 percent certain it will definitely cure this kind of disease.

The same goes for the medication called Avastin as I have received text messages about that. We usually reply to people when they text us and what I want to reiterate is please access the online platform www.shqiperiaqeduam.al. It is just a click away and you will directly contact the relevant cabinet member. It doesn’t matter who you are and where are you writing from. Many Albanian citizens living in US or even Australia have address the platform to solve their property issues or collect the legalization permits for their homes. And they have received the due documents without having to travel back to Albania.

Although the TV channels and the media in general are not interested at all in these issues, we are making preparations to show how much money we have delivered back to the household coffers, starting with the fair progressive tax that replaced the 10% flat madness with the sanitation worker having to pay a higher tax than the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister’s driver having to pay more than the Prime Minister, or the bakery having to pay higher taxes than a hotel in Tirana, and even higher than the casinos.

The preventive check-up programme is working well and the visits to the check-up centres have increased significantly. Fortunately, today we have the testimony of over 1.2 million people who have undergone the primary health check-up once, twice and even thrice. A general health examination that provides everyone the opportunity to find out and detect whatever going wrong with their body. AN early detection of a health condition lowers the financial cost. The basic preventive check-up is all paid by the state and is provided to individuals for free. Considering the way how these slanderous people describe the programme, it looks like we have taken the state money to give it away to the private company. Indeed, you all know the cost of primary health examination and tests for over 1.2 million people during the previous government? The estimated cost of a single test was $81 and none appeared to undergo the check-up. Because it is not part of our culture to immediately see the doctor and undergo medical tests should we feel no pain in our body. The estimated cost was $81. Today we pay many times less and people get it for free. These are costly procedures and health tests, but people get the service for free and state pays instead. This is provided for free. I would like to encourage each of you to undergo the check-up. It takes a short time, but it provides you with a full clear picture of your body’s condition. The check-up has yielded important results for the people for them to understand what they should further do in order to prevent a disease.

Behind every successful man there stands a woman. I am from Kosovo and I live and work as cardiologist here for three months now. I want to call upon you Mr. Prime Minister to reject the Kosovo partition. This is a request for the Kosovo government too. But I want to address you as an Albanian, intellectual and statesman; please don’t accept Kosovo’s partition.

PM Edi Rama: Thank you very much for your appeal. I fully agree that behind every successful man there stands a strong woman. There would have been no Azem Galica without Shota. This is unquestionable. Kosovo men may rise and say: “No, this is not…” But this is what I think. Just like I am convinced that only women can save Albanism, because men have already shown they can’t.

As for what you said, I personally state that we should think about uniting and not how to divide this or that, but how to unite with one another. That is, both of them are related to one another. If we see them separated, then we are wrong. If we see them united, we then understand the path we are heading to. But at the end of the day, this is primarily up to those in Kosovo, because you said none has done what I did. Indeed, those in Kosovo have fought the war, I did not fight. So, I believe they have done a lot more for Kosovo than I did in Serbia and I don’t want to sound modest by saying this, but that is the truth. So, thank you very much.

I would like to express appreciation for the decision to close the sports betting shops. I face a serious problem as my two daughters are sick. I transport them in wheelchairs, but given my financial situation I can’t afford transporting them to school. I was forced to quit the therapy, because we can’t afford it. What can we do? I have addressed to the local government authorities, but I am not pretty sure whether the Mayor has been informed about my case. The municipal officials told us that my older girl is not eligible and that they don’t care whether she goes or she doesn’t go to school.

PM Edi Rama: I think it is quite easy in terms of receiving an official reply over your complaint. Please, write an explanatory message to the platform www.shqiperiaqeduam.al and provide concrete names of those responsible and your problem will be tackled in ten days. You will receive a response from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health and Social Protection.

Thank you very much!