New development projects in Vlora district, economic and employment growth

Prime Minister Edi Rama’s speech during presentation of development projects in Vlora district:

 

Greetings!

Thank you for attending this event on a day you could have well taken off! I am really grateful!

I am very pleased at seeing increasingly encouraging signs of economic and employment growth. Before coming to this meeting, we visited the regional Job Fair which put a diverse range of 1016 jobs on offer in main sectors of local economy in Vlora, certainly starting with tourism.

Likewise, I am also pleased to share with you a very significant comparative figure based not on labour surveys, neither on projections made according to statistical results produced in distance, but on the National Social Insurance Register.

According to the National Social Insurance Register, some 445 157 people were employed in Albania’s non-agricultural sector in May 2013. In last May, over 640266 people, or 200000 more, were working in the non-agricultural sector. Meanwhile, around 673640 people have been registered with the National Social Insurance Register since last May. So, exactly 33374 people have been employed in the non-agricultural sector year-on-year. Of course, formalization of the economy, which is designed to lift people out of slavery of informal work, is a constant influencing element on this entire radical transformation in the employment numbers.

The employment service offices alone have employed more than 10 000 people in three months from March through May this year. I am talking about employees included in the National Social Insurance Register. I am not talking about individuals who are employed in the agricultural sector we count at random; I am not talking about suppositions and surveys of different nature. I am just speaking about the register on which all employees are listed name by name and of course they are all contributors to the pension scheme and regularly pay the social and health insurance fee.

Undoubtedly, the employment challenge is the most complex of all and when we talk about a steady employment growth, we are aware that we face a number of challenges within the challenge in the process, from the indispensability to grow and diversify the economy further and raise the lower salaries to the challenge of real wage registration, because 41% of employees in big companies, which declare a salary of 300 thousand lek. This is a lie! This is not true. There are no economists, accountants, engineers, and other specialists in this category working in large companies that would receive 300,000 lek in monthly salary. The truth is that companies declare a 300,000 lek wage in order to avoid income tax since no income tax is levied on salaries up to 300 thousand lek and the rest is provided in informal cash payments. This is the main cause of a current lower level of wages in Albania than the average pay in the private sector.

At this stage, this is a battle to force companies to declare the real wages of employees and provide insurance to the employees in order to get a higher pension tomorrow, because by thinking on the spurt of the moment with everyone believing that by receiving half of the pay in informal cash payment they will avoid paying a certain tax, but, in fact, what they do is is that they are not collecting months for months and year to year the amount they will need for the pension payment in a near future, because social and health insurance are contributions to your owns selves and are not contributions that go to the state coffers.

We are also working hard to address the challenge of increasing the skilled labour force. This is a serious inherited problem due to a huge gap of over the past 20 years, when the vocational education was destroyed and everyone was told “enter university and become a lawyer!”  Data show that vocational degrees are best route to highly skilled jobs. Around 80% of vocational education graduates across the country are more likely to end up in well-paid, skilled jobs even before they finish the school, because students can establish contacts with employers and private companies thanks to a system we have already developed and which combines paid work and vocational training.

Tourism development, which is and will remain the main engine of economic growth and employment in Albania, needs more skilled workers at all its levels. An incredible growing demand has been recorded most recently as big investors and leading international tourism firms are seeking to invest in construction of four and five-star hotels, taking advantage of the tax incentives we offer and seeing that Albania is increasingly becoming a top tourist destination. Our challenge is to meet this high demand for skilled workers in the entire tourism service chain.

You know quite well that all political parties have constantly made campaign pledges to build an airport here and such a promise became a traditional joke during the electoral campaigns. But we pledged we will build the airport and the construction works are set to kick off in next few months. The airport itself needs a workforce of over 1,000 employees in a whole range of crafts and qualifications. As the head of the Civil Aviation said the airport will offer high paying jobs compared to the average salary we are used to due to a whole series of activities and management of the airport activities which require a wide variety of skills. The airport will be a large employment site.

New Vlora airport will be the second international airport in Albania and it will directly compete with the Rinas airport. The airport will set extremely high quality standards in terms of the terminal’s size and it will be favourable to domestic and foreign passengers in terms of ticket prices. We have sought and are about to conclude the negotiations, which are being conducted by the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Ministry of Finance, in order to ensure that the new Vlora airport applies lowest lowest tariffs in the region.

This was our demand, as we are seeking on the one hand to create optimal conditions for all airport users. One should remember that as many as 1,600 people travel daily by bus from the south of Albania to Athens and just imagine how much faster and how cheaper it will be to fly from and to Athens via the Vlora airport. We call it Vlora airport but it will be the airport of a much wider territory than Vlora and on the other hand, we want an airport to process goods, not just travellers. These are our demands: building an airport that offers much more favourable ticket prices, compete with Rinas airport, one of the world’s most expensive airports, due to a concession granted years ago, when it was enthusiastically thought: “Let’s transform it Rinas kiosk into an international airport.” But everyone who travels by plane to Albania pays today far more expensive tickets than to fly elsewhere in the region, due to the airport’s high cost and due to these concessional concession fees.

On the other hand, we will continue the reconstruction of many parts in urgent need for reconstruction today. The project on renovation of Vlora’s historic centre was revealed at this meeting. It is important to keep on developing projects that would further enhance the city’s attractiveness and strengthen the city’s identity, turning identity into a stronger magnet that will create more economy.

I would like to point out the ongoing works on construction of the Vlora River Road. We are about to sign the contracts for the construction of three other section of the road and construction works are likely to kick off by fall and continue until project fully completes. On the other hand, we have unlocked the terrible process created as a result of miserable contracts on the Vlora and Fier bypass projects and work will begin in both projects by September. The two projects are set to complete ahead of the next tourist season.

Likewise, I think it is very important to continue the construction of the other part of Vlora waterfront promenade, or Lungomare, since project extends beyond sports fields to the Vlora tunnel. We are preparing the project on segment stretching from Vlora tunnel to Radhima. It is important for the Radhima area to be part of this new transformation vision in order to exploit its fantastic natural and tourism potential.

We will also start work on full reconstruction up to the highest standards of the Orikum – Llogara road, stretching from the yacht port to the entrance of Llogara. The project for the Llogara tunnel has begun and it will create a much faster connection and will virtually turn Llogara National Park into a separate destination rather than a transit route for tourist season traffic.

You already know work is underway for reconstruction of Vlora Boulevard, a completely different project which will practically be an extension of the Waterfront Promenade. I am pleased at finding no complaints are filed via Facebook over the ongoing works in Vlora. It seems they have learned the lesson from constantly complaining over the Waterfront Lungomare project and apparently now everybody sees that all patience and efforts are paying off. The new boulevard will complete ahead of the next year’s tourism season and it will be another more reason and attraction to visit Vlora.

Apart from the Vlora coast road, construction of a series of tourist roads is underway, including the road segment leading to Kanina castle, whereas Vlora Municipality will implement green infrastructure projects and green spaces along the entire road axis.

Rehabilitation of the sewer and drainage systems is certainly of utmost importance. The infrastructure minister is personally committed to developing the sewer and drainage system which will put an end to the discharge of sewage into the sea. You know quite well the Lungomare area faces a serious inherited problem due to the lack of drainage system there. We are working to ensure that the area becomes not only an extraordinary economic and tourist hub, but also turn it into one of the most beautiful beaches along Albania coast.

Work is also underway on construction of three cruise ship terminals in the ports of Durres, Vlora and Saranda. Vlora is increasingly emerging as an under-the-radar destination for the growing industry of cruise tourism. A modern cruise ship terminal will be built in Vlora, while investments are being planned in marina projects for tourist boats and yachts, both in Vlora and Saranda, as a very lucrative industry that generates significant income within a short time.

The today’s tourism industry provides a significant contribution to the country’s economy, but it still is failing to generate the target revenue as this industry has yet to improve the quality due to the lack of four and five-star structures and the lack of marina. We are working in this regard and I am confident that construction of the cruiser ship terminal will complete within this term in office and it will be a nice similar parable, but of course smaller in size, with the new Vlora airport. The terminal will be the stopover for a category of tourists who can’t visit the country today since Vlora currently lacks a proper terminal for the big cruise and sailing ships to berth at. We also hope to launch investment in building the Vlora marina, adjacent to the cruise ships terminal, as part of a port expansion project.

Few days ago, Tirana’s Skanderbeg square claimed the prestigious European Prize for the Best Urban Public Space built in 2017 awarded by Barcelona’s Centre of Contemporary Culture. The Himara Waterfront and Vlora Seafront Promenade also made it to the 25 final shortlisted city projects finalists from all over Europe. It means the Urban Renaissance Program investment not only generate economy and create great employment opportunities considering the number of bars, restaurants and other services currently operating along the Lungomare, the number of their employees and their turnover. This was a result of this project, which in turn is part of a program we are now extending to the countryside and rural areas and a program which has been widely criticized as being merely a façade. But the truth is quite different. This program is translated into growing economy, is translated into improved image of the country.

Certainly a lot remains to be done. Of course there are still sewerage, water supply problems, poor road infrastructure, electricity supply problems, waste management problems in each city and new municipality across the country. Certainly all of these are true, but it is also true that, by doing what we have already done, we have given ourselves more power to grow the economy, collect more revenue and invest more. The government has allocated over $ 130 million in funding to support various projects in the Vlora over the past four years.

This was totally unimaginable just four years ago. The government will provide funding for as many as 57 various projects during 2018-2020 period, without taking into account the projects due to be funded from other sources, such as the Vlora River road project which is being funded by the Kuwait Development Fund.

The government will provide funding for construction and reconstruction of at least 300 healthcare centres over the next three years, with 80 of them due to be constructed within this year. The regional hospitals in Vlora and Saranda will be equipped with cutting-edge equipment. Whoever will choose to spend their holidays on Dhermi and Jala beaches will find a completely different world compared to what they were just a year ago.  Just like we built the Lungomare, just like we did with the Dhermi and Jala beaches, two gems of Albanian tourism, we will construct the waterfront promenade in Orikum, an area with huge development and tourism potential. Meanwhile, a series of big private investment will soon kick off along this entire area to build hotel structures, similar to those already built in Macedonia, Croatia and all over the Mediterranean. As many as five million tourists visited Albania last year, a significant number considering our country’s economy, but still a very low figure in terms of the economy we are seeking to build over the next five years. Our challenge is to ensure that 10 million tourists visit Albania each year over the next five years and such a goal can be achieved if we are to combine all these investments together.

There is also an entire program for rebuilding schools across the country. to conclude, I would like to dwell on our new agritourism program and urge all immigrants, who have left their village homes to go to Greece, Italy and elsewhere else, to explore investing their savings in their private village homes, especially in those areas where there is no opportunity for intensive agricultural development, in areas with livestock breeding and farming tradition and wonderful nature and where it is difficult to think that you can build a farming or livestock and reach international market or the local market if you want. However, these areas have huge agritourism development potential and local residents should think ways to attract people there. Agritourism turns the logic completely. Instead of producing and seeking to reach the market let the market reach you. Let tourists reach you. They are visitors coming to you and why do they come? They come to enjoy the natural attractions where your guesthouse is located; they come to enjoy the food locally grown in and around your village; the come to visit cultural heritage sites located in and around that area; they come to spend a night or a week together with their kids and to see for themselves the village and farm life.

This is not imagination, it is not pure fantasy. This is what has been successfully done in other countries and what some Albanian farmers across the country have already started sporadically doing in their own homes. We are seeking to turn agritourism into a development and growth opportunity and therefore the government will provide direct cash support for investment projects on construction of guesthouses, or rural boutique hotels with 30 beds, with a farm nearby and well-defined conditions for the agritourism typology in order to receive the due certificate.

The agritourism program will be supported by the government funding as well as under a EUR 90 million program funded by the European Union, with around EUR 11 million being allocated for the households, individuals and small entrepreneurs to invest in such structures. Such structures will definitely lift the local population out of poverty. Such structures will generate for every immigrant more income that he or she would earn during a whole year of work either in Greece, Italy or elsewhere. This is a new way to strengthen the country’s tourist offer, because even the beachgoers would have more reasons to visit Albania as they will have the opportunity to visit remote territories and rural areas to enjoy tradition, hospitality, food and rustic atmosphere.

Having said all of these, I would like now to appreciate each and every one of you for the patience watching me every day on TV and ensure you all that we will do a lot more for Vlora over the next three and half years than we did during the past four years.

Thank you!