Reconstruction and its impact on economy

Joint press conference of Prime Minister Edi Rama and the Minister of State for Reconstruction Arben Ahmetaj focusing on economy:

Prime Minister Edi Rama: Good afternoon everyone! Thank you!

We had actually planned a communication session on health system, but, unfortunately, the Minister of Health lost her father last night and the session on health system will be held next week.

We deemed it appropriate to focus on the reconstruction programme, take a stock of the process that is progressing rapidly. We will also discuss the programme’s impact on the country’s economy and employment. The programme addresses an extremely sensitive problem for thousands of families, providing at the same time the conditions for the mass involvement of all construction companies and a significant number of individuals.

Addressing the last year’s earthquake effects and the ensuing natural disaster, the COVID-19 pandemic that hit the country and our society, are top priorities in the 2021 draft budget.

A total amount of 28 billion lek is planned to support the reconstruction program through the next year’s state budget. In the meantime, an amount of 1.5 billion lek is earmarked to cover the government rental bonus awarded to the quake-affected families until the day they move into their new apartments and houses.

The state budget has already made available a total of 34 billion lek for the reconstruction programme, with 32 billion lek already fully allocated. In the meantime, around $70 million has been disbursed until early October to support construction of single-family homes, with a considerable number of quake-affected families already being handed over the keys to their new homes on daily basis. The rest of this amount is being used to support the ongoing construction of new apartment buildings, schools, community centers, and the underground and aboveground infrastructure of what are set to become the newest residential areas being built from scratch in all quake-affected areas across the country.

Our ultimate goal is to build better, stronger and even, in certain cases, larger houses than the ones where the quake-affected families used to live in prior the natural disaster last year. Considering also the fact that we have decided to pursue and implement a genuine housing policy for all families that lived under the same roof, for which new separate houses will be built and are being built as we speak.

In Shijak, Laç, Durres and Fushe Kruje we already have an obvious picture of an ongoing work that goes beyond a mechanical reconstruction process. It is about a reconstruction based on the conviction that this crisis should provide an opportunity and this crisis is actually being transformed into an opportunity not only for the individual families, but also for entire communities that will now live in completely different conditions that meet optimum standards. Suffice to take a look at the recent developments in Fushe Kruje, Laç, and Thumane or the developments in the areas of Kavaje and Shijake.

The good news about the reconstruction process in Durres is that we finally have concluded the draft agreement with the United Arab Emirates and we are now ready to ink a final version of the agreement, about which we will simply have to wait some more few days, because, in the meantime, we are also closely working with our friends in the United Arab Emirates about a new accord between the two governments on direct investments in our country, especially in the quake-affected areas and other direct investments in aspects other than the reconstruction programme, mainly focusing on development of the tourism industry.

Some 850 individual homes have been built or are being built in the areas of Kruje, Vore, Thumane and Tirana, as well as three new residential neighbourhoods. In the meantime, a new residential neighbourhood or more precisely a considerable bloc of apartment buildings in Kruje, about which intense work is underway to design the project because of the extremely challenging terrain and the need to develop a project that preserves the city’s architecture and becoming at the same time an added value to the museum city.

A total of 270 private homes are being built in Shijak and we expect to complete their construction within December to make sure that all quake-affected families move into their new houses by the New Year’s Eve as we have already promised.

In the meantime, construction of some 215 private houses has partially started in Manze, along with the construction of the first single-family dwellings in Durres. The major infrastructure project for the new residential neighbourhood in the Spitalle area, Durres, is nearing its completion. The new neighbourhood will absolutely meet optimum standards and it will become an added value to the area, where the eco-park is taking shape now, right where the biggest landfill was previously operational in Porto Romano.

Totally, 13 construction sites for single-family houses and six construction sites for new residential neighbourhoods have been already launched and the construction work is slated to complete in the next three months.

Likewise, I believe you have seen for yourselves that construction of the new schools and other educational facilities is also progressing very positively. The reconstruction programme will accommodate around 14 000 schoolchildren and we will open the first educational facilities directly funded through state budget money on November 26.

Reconstruction of a part of the new schools is being funded by the European Commission and the process is now nearing its completion in terms of the contracts and the construction work to build the remaining education facilities will begin very soon.

We expect to complete construction of 37 educational facilities within this year with projects worth over $40 million totally funded by the state budget.

We remain hopeful that construction of more than 2500 single-family homes through state budget-funds in the amount of over $60 million will complete by next March.

As we have already stated since day one, construction of the apartment buildings will take more time. More than 4800 apartments will be built in 16 quake-affected areas through state budget funding in the amount of $160 million. It is an area of around 1.2 square meters that will host infrastructure projects, including construction of roads, sewerage systems, and water and power supply networks. All these projects are expected to complete within first nine months of the next year.

The project on construction of educational facilities and kindergartens has entered an advanced phase, with around 60 percent of construction work already complete. Meanwhile, around 30% of the work to build related civil and urban infrastructure for the new residential neighbourhoods has also completed.

Having all these said, it is of course appropriate to urge the quake-affected families to exercise only a little bit more patience. Everyone should bear in mind the fact and should not forget that the reconstruction process was seriously hampered because of the national lockdown. The reconstruction process involves also another aspect related to the international donors, whose projects have progressed slower than the state-budget funded projects because of their administrative procedures, which we have no choice but respect them. I have consistently reiterated that international donors do not transfer direct funding to the state budget nor do they let the Albanian government manage their funds. This doesn’t happen anywhere in the world and cannot happen here either. Donors manage their funds themselves, while all processes concerning the projects funded by them are carried out by the donors themselves. What we have accomplished and which is very positive and for which I have expressed our gratitude to the international partners several times is that the process is being disciplined by standardizing all projects and by creating synergies among us and all other stakeholders that will take part in the reconstruction process, so that we set a standard from the urban, architectural, qualitative point of view. This basic standard is the optimal standard applied in all European Union countries. As you have already seen for yourselves, the new schools meet the same standards of the educational facilities in every EU member state.

The same goes for the new private homes and apartments. Our challenge is to build apartments that meet highest construction standards in our country so that an apartment being built in Spitalle, Fushe Kruje, Kombinat, Kavaje or elsewhere delivers same quality like the ones in the affluent neighbourhood of the so-called “the Bloc”.

– Mr. Prime Minister, one of the charts displaying data on reconstruction of new schools, the information provided by Tirana municipality shows that a total of 38 schools are being built, including Sami Frasheri high school. Earlier today, the leader of the Socialist Movement for Integration, Monika Kryemadhi claimed that ownership of the school’s land had changed hands. Have you been informed about that?

PM Edi Rama: It is an ongoing battle to prevent facts from evaporating like the presidential brandy fumes. Unfortunately we live in a time, globally, where facts are the victim of social media, victims of the dizzying volume of unverified information, the deliberate massive dissemination of defamations and lies. Unfortunately, Monika, Ilir (President) and Sali (former PM) are absolutely in the right place and the right time, and posses the right tools and devices of the nowadays to pour out a mindboggling rage, like the one we are witnessing every day as part of a campaign designed to confuse people through lies and slanders. Taking notice of the fact that lies have universally proved to be much quicker in reaching out the audience and more effective than the truth in influencing the audience this battle is extremely difficult.

What can possibly one tell Monika?!

The Sami Frasheri high school is being rebuilt and the design is absolutely excellent also thanks to involvement of one of most famed Italian architects, Cucinella and his design studio. Work has already kicked off there. The property ownership documents were again shown to the public by Tirana Mayor, while Monika keeps insisting that the new school will be built in Paskuqan. In other words, this is a campaign of lies and misinformation. She also keeps saying the COVID-19 can be treated in mosques and churches and not in the health system. She also keeps on insisting that LSI doesn’t contract the virus. The rampant ignorance and misinformation being spread in the public opinion through the voice of individuals with representation mandates as party leaders or representatives of a certain community of voters, is a serious problem at a time when we should confront each other through ideas, facts and figures. You face a much tougher job compared to your predecessors, precisely because of the wave of the intensity of lies, defamations, slanders and unfounded allegations and one doesn’t know what to verify first.

Sami Frasheri school is right there. Why don’t you take your cameras and verify for yourselves who is telling the truth and who is lying.

It is really regrettable, because COVID is too serious to keep making facetious comments about it, but, really, when Monika says that LSI doesn’t contract COVID she merely offers another benevolence among a range of benevolences provided by LSI that once used to offer driving licence to individuals under the legal age to obtain such a licence in exchange of votes; or it offered job positions for nurses without due education; or job positions for teachers without the due diploma or graduation and it also offered graduate diplomas. LSI has issued fake diplomas to a considerable number of young people in exchange of their participation in those music shows with saucepans as main instrument after having baked shrimps and where a brilliant future is offered to every boy and girl joining that political party. Not it offers LSI membership in exchange of protection from the COVID infection, implying that COVID fears LSI. The virus itself fears LSI when approaching it. This is the idea, but Lulzim (opposition DP chairman) has yet to figure it out.

–Mr. Prime Minister, I would like to ask a question about the pandemic situation in the country, taking into account the fact that the number of new infections and deaths has increased significantly over the past days. Is the government mulling plans to impose a partial lockdown as part of measures to curb the spread of the infection?

PM Edi Rama: Everything lies well inside the predictions. The surge in the number of fresh infections was predicted. An autumn-winter strategy is in place. Health Minister Manastirliu has constantly renewed the calls about a serious health danger because of the second wave of the coronavirus following the relaxation of the restrictive measures, as we moved into an intermediate stage with the situation seemingly improving and heading to normality, which turned to be untrue and we have repeatedly said that it was not true. What I want to confidently state is that we are doing everything and no other country around the world is doing more than what we do in this respect.

Let me tell you that it is a great misfortune, it is part of the misfortune of which I commented a little earlier, that a party seeking to become a governing majority, as it has done for many years now, and such a claim has turned out to be an exaggeration, including the one that it will govern the country after the April 25 elections, as the DP chairman announced a day ago in his dilemma about the figures and his claims that hospitals are on brink of collapse, repeats the same refrain that no coronavirus tests are being conducted in Albania, keeps suggesting what should be done as if authorized by an expert, is actually very harmful. It is harmful because are far from being collapsing. The new Covid-designated hospital named COVID 3 was opened few days ago and where a number of patients with milder symptoms and in better conditions were transferred. The forth COVID-designated hospital is ready and it will become operational if needed to treat patients who may need hospitalization.

Meanwhile, I would like to inform you that I have had a long and exhausting conversation with the Technical Committee of Experts and everyone should know that we don’t include the number of tests carried out by private laboratories, except the positive cases which are of course included in the updated statistics, but the total number of tests about which the public is informed on daily basis includes the tests conducted by the public labs and institutions only and we don’t have rapid test kits, not because we couldn’t provide them, but because experts are suggesting the PCR tests only. However, the rapid test kits will be included in the process soon, but you should bear in mind that when considering other countries, a large part of the number of declared tests include the rapid tests. This is a matter of experts and this is not an excuse, because I need no excuse of whatsoever. I have constantly repeated that I do what the experts in the Technical Committee suggest and I have absolute confidence in them. I have seen them. I have listened to them and I have find out that their instructions and predictions have turned out to be true.

But if anyone will answer the question since Lulzim Basha has found the formula how to curb the infection, how come that neither Germany, nor France, or other countries have found this formula although they have conducted a large numbers of tests? Why have these countries failed to contain the staggering number of fresh infections?

Why has France failed to curb the staggering number of new infections despite the large number of tests?

Because the number of tests has nothing to with the fresh cases. You, we and everyone else clearly sees that nothing is written when it comes to this war. It was not long ago when some of the most famed and leading international experts used to say that the use of face mask was useless and it was them again who instructed for the mandatory use of face coverings and masks even in open-air  spaces. So the approach of the world’s leading experts also evolves.

But there is a pair of people here in our country, with one of them urging people to go to the mosques and churches to defend themselves from the coronavirus, and the other claiming to “curb the infection” and this is called the united opposition that is seeking to seize power. They are denying facts, refusing to see reality through incapacity and irresponsibility that is taking constantly growing proportions with severe symptoms that make you thinking whether to sue them for defamation or send them to hospital for treatment.

I don’t know how to reach out to these people and I don’t know what that minority of their followers understands and trusts these charlatans, who demonstrate complete lack of respect for the people and an entire society, any norm of conduct.

I really understand their situation, their state of hopeless despair when coming across the results of the public polls. Just like we know what is happening on the ground, they know it too. But how could possibly one go too far? How can possibly one end up with the symptoms already shown by Ilir Meta? It is of course an exaggerated ambition to ask for more from Monika, but you can’t expect it from Ilir Meta, the President of the Republic who is resorting to harsh words and I don’t know what is going to happen with Lulzim as the winter approaches and the April 25 election date nears?

– Mr. Prime Minister, the earthquake in Nov 26 last year, the most powerful one to ever hit Albania, revealed some logistical problems that were not actually obvious in the search and rescue teams from Serbia, Greece or even Kosovo. What has been improved in this aspect almost a year after the disaster?

– Second, if I may, do you favour any of the U.S. Presidential candidates, Joe Biden and Donald Trump?

PM Edi Rama: We have reformed the National Agency for Civil Protection and this reform effort has been actually launched years ago. A completely different Civil Protection Agency is now operational after having been well-supplied and trained and will undergo continued training programs and one of the contributions as part of this process, as the Minister noted, is the contribution provided by the Italian government to render financial assistance and establish long-term and sustainable cooperation with our civil emergency structures. Italy’s Civil Protection agencies are among the best in Europe and they have a fantastic expertise. It is luck and honor that we are closely cooperating with them. As far as preparedness, logistics are concerned, as well as all aspects that make a civil emergency agency a serious agency; I believe they are on par with many other countries in the region.

If you were to ask me about the preference between Lulzim Basha and Monika, I can tell you without any hesitation that I would choose Lulzim Basha. But you are taking me to America and ask me about the preference for two people who are both friends of mine, and this doesn’t simply work. Everyone knows that Lulzim would be my friend if I were to choose between Lulzim and Monika.

Me poshte vijon pjesa e dyte e konf per shtyp te KM Rama dhe Ministrit Ahmetaj:

–Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj, LSI chairwoman Monika Kryemadhi, as well as the President of the Republic Ilir Meta have all appeared without a mask in public and gatherings attended by a considerable number of people. Do you think that penalties should be imposed on this people, who should actually be a role model in abiding by the rules, taking notice that no tolerance is shown towards the citizens?

–A question for Minister Ahmetaj. PM Rama said that 2500 individual houses will complete within next March. How many quake-affected families will have their new houses completed within this year?

PM Edi Rama: I am confident that Tirana Mayor has now mended the mistake, because given that he has already recovered from COVID, he forgot that the use of mask is mandatory, all the more as he is someone who represents an institution. Meanwhile, measures should be taken regarding the other two, but it is not me the one to take such measures, but the institutions that are tasked with implementing such measures. It is scandalous in all aspects. I am speechless whenever hearing them speaking on behalf of the people. A president of the republic predicting the catastrophe, an opposition leader who hangs on to his vague hope that the COVID infection spreads as much as possible and hopes that the COVID would do what the opposition can’t, destroy the government by making people nervous.

Someone else between the president and the opposition chairman as the latter’s ally urges people to go to the mosques and churches, saying she won’t wear a mask and that “the virus doesn’t infect LSI as the virus fears it” and invites people to join her party so that they won’t have to wait for a vaccine to become available. Such an approach is ridiculous and is fit to be staged as a comical or cabaret show, and it is even an exaggeration for a burlesque work.

To think that these people are seeking to take the peoples fate into their hand, pretend to govern this country, pretend to take over the finance. Imagine for a moment Lulzim Bashën as Prime Minister, Monika as Minister of Finance and Ilir Meta as Minister of Interior. Everybody knows that such a government, which fortunately will never assume office, is indeed a cabinet of the presidential couple, with Lulzim merely being the bridegroom, who is introduced by the three others, Sali, Ilir and Monika, urging everyone to marry him as he is a good guy. It is true, he is a good guy, but when you see who is staying behind him, he either should be rescued from the three, or let them swallow him. And they are going to swallow him eventually.

It is regrettable to receive such questions and provide answers like these, but you are not to blame. We are forced to speak about these individuals who have gone off the course and show up every day, claiming they are the alternative. We have no other choice but to deal with it.

Minister Arben Ahmetaj: I would like to provide a clarification about the emergency agency. As the Prime Minister already referred to, upon the request of the two Prime Ministers of Italy and Albania, Italy will practically be the leading donor, because there are several donors to the agency, offering financial assistance and training. Italy will finance through a loan of 30 million euros, plus a grant of 1 million euros, for the temporary building until the Agency has its building headquarters. Israel, other international donors and the United Nations will also help.

Regarding the question you asked about individual houses, 270 individual houses in Shijak alone will complete in November and a total of 400 houses for quake-affected families will complete in December. Construction of a significant number of new houses will also complete in Fushe-Kruje in December. However, I am counting only the houses already being constructed and set to complete within the deadline I am referring to. A total of 357 other houses will complete in Tirana ahead of the December 31. The rest will complete in January, February and March due to the required procedures.

–Mr. Prime Minister, the President’s National Security Advisor, Mr. Bahri Shaqiri visited the Prime Minister’s office a little bit earlier. Was it a meeting focusing on institutional and inter-institutional heightened security measures following the terrorist attacks in Vienna, or about something linking you with Ilir Meta? Would you please explain the reason behind Mr. Shaqiri’s visit to the Prime Minister’s office a little earlier?

PM Edi Rama: I am not a security guard of the Prime Minister’s office? I was on a visit to Peza and I just returned back.

– However, it is not something accidental for the National Security Advisor to visit the Prime Minister’s office, when the relations between you resemble to the brandy fumes you refer to.

PM Edi Rama: It is a visit that has nothing to do with me and my office. He could have visited it for other reasons and of course there are institutional relations taking place at the administration level. I am surprised by this question, which is totally irrelevant.

–I have many questions for Minister Ahmetaj, taking notice of the data he just revealed. The first concerns the international donors’ pledges. You said that a total of 538 million euros will be allocated in grants; loans and 11 agreements are in the process. The total is estimated around 1.15 billion in pledges committed during the International Donors’ Conference last February? Why these pledges are being delayed, since more than half of the pledges have yet to be allocated?

Another question concerns the projects due to be implemented by the Albanian Development Fund, namely the projects S, D, E and F in six municipalities. At what stage are these projects? Are they still in the procurement phase or has construction started in these municipalities?

You already said that three out of a total of 38 educational facilities are under the construction process in Tirana Municipality. Why is this delay in the municipality where the largest concentration of the population is, which can practically translate into the largest concentration of students?

Minister Arben Ahmetaj: I would like the technicians to display again the data on the donors’ pledges. Grants amount 277 million euros and if you are to look at carefully, agreements on a total of 260 million euros have been already approved. As you see, the grants are almost fully approved or are being fully finalized. When it comes to the loans, this part of the process depends on the speed and Albania’s fiscal capacities. If you look at the data, agreements on loans totalling 250 million euros are under process, but don’t interpret this as if this amount will be allocated immediately tomorrow. I would illustrate this through the example of the European Bank of Investments, with which we are cooperating over the past two months and you should be convinced that the loan from this bank will be available for the 2022 state budget. While the grants, the ones that don’t include any costs, are actually a donation to the Albanian people and their allocation has entered the finalization process. I repeat, the loans are never allocated immediately. Compared to the region, if you will, we have received grants in a record time. It was only few years ago when Serbia received around 36% of pledges in grants to cope with the natural disaster that hit the country. We are receiving grants in full only nine months after the disaster. Grants have been allocated, but we withdraw as much as our fiscal capacities allow us. Of example, the loan agreement of 360 million euros due to be provided by the Islamic Bank we are discussing options to fund axis they have earlier agreed to finance in the future. The road segment between Qukes and Qafe Plloçe, a wrongly designed project, requires an extra funding of $107 million and the Islamic Bank and other Arab donors are ready to finance its construction.

As for the individual houses due to be constructed by the Albanian Development Fund, the project packages A and B have already completed. Procurement procedures for the other packages, except Kamza, have completed and winners have been selected and are now working on the ground, except Kamza, which we have to re-launch very soon. While projects due to be implemented in Tirana are already detailed about every administrative units. Construction of 357 houses is already underway and the rest are in process.

As far as construction of the new educational facilities is concerned, the Municipality of Tirana has progressed rapidly with the process. The international donors resorted to procedures other than the ones pursued by the Albanian Development Fund to construct the new schools buildings. They designed the projects and carried out the procedures themselves, whereas the Development Fund picked a faster version often applied to the public investments. However, the construction process of the educational facilities has already entered the final stage as the procurement procedures have completed and the reconstruction sites are being prepared. I would like to elaborate on an information that the Premier pointed out briefly a bit earlier and it concerns construction of five new schools which started two or three days ago by the United Nations.

PM Edi Rama: I don’t know how can one possibly suggest about potential delays in this process, but except Turkey, a country with a great experience with the earthquakes and that has developed ready-made structures to deploy immediately and an absolutely unique legal framework on this respect, I would invite to find a single example of any other country hit by earthquakes in the continent that has proceeded as fast as we have already have done. And I am implying Italy, where bureaucracy is renowned for its long delays, but where other problems concerning world heritage sites need to be addressed first and where reconstruction has been delayed for 10 to 15 years. I would challenge you to find another country.

This process’ speed is absolutely at its maximum and there could be no faster process than this. There could be no faster process for 1001 different reasons, including the suspension of the process because of the national total lockdown. So by no doubts we are moving forward at a maximum speed and you should bear in mind the comparison with donors, with the European Commission. We are finishing the schools’ construction through the state budget funds, while the European Commission has yet to start construction process because of the procedures. A project doesn’t start once you see the excavators on the site. They begin much earlier with the design process first following a set of careful verifications on the site selected to host the construction project, after completion of the geological study and after having addressed the property issues. We were forced to alter the project because of the site’s geological composition. We wouldn’t have been able to implement the construction projects in Thumane if no extra solid layers were built to reinforce the ground. The Turkish company tasked with implementing the construction project in Laç encountered water quantities and had to change the project, adding new elements that were not included in the original project. Underground structural base and piling works had to be carried out in whole area to reinforce the ground in the entire area of Laç. So, I don’t know why they keep commenting on alleged delays.

In the meantime, at the International Donors’ Conference we have achieved another success, most probably never to be repeated again in Brussels, and the pledges you refer to are actually financial availability that extends well beyond our immediate needs and we have made efforts to ensure absorption of all these funds. We are also progressing step by step with the loans process, always taking into account our needs. As for their delay, consider the case of Serbia that was hit by major flooding. A donors’ conference was held and many years have passed since then, but only a percentage of the pledges have been allocated.

As of today, we have achieved an optimum performance and I am proud to state this, because we have carried an exhausting volume of work to bring together all elements and prevent any discordance in this process. We sit at the same table with everyone, the international and national donors, the architects and the assessment teams. It is a colossal volume of work. It would suffice to consider the number of verifications the process has taken because of the complaints by people. As we speak, municipal workers and authorities are trying to contact people via the phone as many of them currently live and work abroad. I am not blaming them, but it is their houses that need to be rebuilt, but they are currently abroad. They haven’t had the opportunity to apply in time and we are now forced to contact a large number of people.

Brand new schools that meet contemporary conditions are being built in the areas where the old buildings didn’t resist the tremor.

The only problem we face is the patience of the quake-affected families that need to move into new apartments. We are not talking about building social housing apartments, like the ones that were built by the previous government. We are building new residential neighbourhoods according to European standards. We are building apartments that will be granted for free to the quake-affected families and apartments with same property value as apartments in downtown Tirana. The new apartments will have a property value twice or thrice higher than the ones they lost because of the earthquake. This is because new qualitative apartments will be built in residential areas where all services are offered like in no other informal area. It takes ten years to complete a public project in Germany, which a superpower, while allegations over long delays are made here as if we were to construct dwellings in an informal area.

– Could you provide data on the number of families still living in tents about a year after the natural disaster on Nov 26 last year?

–Three days ahead of the new academic year, the government and the Technical Committee of Experts made a decision for the universities to start the academic year with only online classes. Did you take into account the fact that many students have already paid the housing rent and the dormitory tariffs when such a decision was made?

–Few days ago, the Netherlands suggested that Albania is not ready to sit in the first inter-governmental conference and has also called for cross-party political dialogue and creation of the Constitutional Court. Taking notice that North Macedonia is expected to get a green light to start EU accession talks; do you keep thinking that the position of the Netherlands has to do with its internal problems and the elections there?

PM Edi Rama: What else then its internal affairs could influence its decision? I can’t accept that the Netherlands pays more attention to standards than Sweden, Finland, Germany, France and other countries. I don’t accept it.

–If its decision was because of the internal affairs, then they would have also blocked North Macedonia and they wouldn’t say that the country deserves the green light.

PM Rama: No, it is somehow more complicated than this, but I can’t comment on this publicly. It’s a little more complicated than that.

– What about the number of residents living in tents?

Minister Arben Ahmetaj: 1324 families. If you can still recall, the number of families living in tents was around 10.000 just few months ago and this number has dropped to 1324. In the meantime, the affected families are being provided the government rental bonus. A total of 13.356 families currently receive rental bonus this year in the amount of $23 million.

PM Edi Rama: Everyone should clearly know that the position of the Netherlands is influenced by the internal situation, in addition to the fact that the Netherlands has been traditionally sceptical to the candidate countries. However, read the Dutch press, since you are journalists and you are interested in the Netherlands. Take a look at the Dutch press to figure out how Albanians have been portrayed as “the monsters” for years. Read the news stories about the alleged Albanian criminal gangs and when you come across the composition of the gang you find out that it included only two Albanian nationals and 12 Dutch, Belgians, Moroccans, and Poles. It is a political and electoral attitude. The Netherlands will hold elections next March, but you should also consider another fact. Take a look at the calendar of the elections in every EU member state and their position regarding the bloc’s further enlargement. You would find out a correlation in the temperature of the body of certain EU members when it comes to enlargement vis-à-vis the national elections in these countries. But all these said, I think we have still to wait and we should not fall prey to such news stories, which are partial and it is still too early to jump to conclusions. We have a very good cooperation with the Dutch authorities and I have a very good relation with the Prime Minister of the Netherlands. But this is not a matter of the authorities and the Prime Minister, but it is a matter of the internal situation, which, unfortunately, contains a very negative component against Albanians. It is as simple as that. Long time ago, when Bulgarians were to join the bloc, this component was against Bulgarians and against Romanians, when they were also about to join EU. Don’t forget that when Bulgarians wanted to do what we are seeking to do now, there were certain countries in Europe where people used to say “Bulgarians are the ones who wanted to assassinate the Pope,” while Romanians were the ones “who would eat their storks.”

As for the students, this is a war situation, it is not a situation where you can plan in the long run and these measures are not an improvisation. These measures are a result of the daily increase in the number of fresh coronavirus cases and in all the countries around us, classes are taught online today. We haven’t suspended classes, but we have decided for classes to take place in distance, because it is now totally obvious that young people play a very negative role in the infection transmission in this second wave of the pandemic, because the majority of them are asymptomatic and they are completely unaware of the fact that they have contracted the virus and they tend not to rigorously abide by the rules and therefore they can infect other vulnerable members in their families.

We haven’t suspended classes, but we have said they will take place online. Of course, the housing tariffs in the university dormitories will be used for the coming months, if they are to be accommodated in the dormitories, or they will receive their money back if they don’t. We won’t keep their money, because the university dormitories are not private hotels.

However, it is for sure that we are not doing anything special or surprising than what other countries are doing. This is a story with everyone working by taking a step at a time. Nobody can do long-term plans. Look what happened in France. Every possible effort was made to prevent what actually happened. Every effort was made yet it happened. A huge internal debate took place just 24 hours before happening, including the relevant analysis on whether to impose the lockdown or not. Yet the decision was made and it is over now. Look at Germany, a champion in every aspect when it comes to such situations. It is the country that is managing it spectacularly primarily from the point of view of people respect for the science. There is certainly an opposition in that country. A discussion certainly takes place there, but nobody has ever told people to go to mosques and churches in order to solve this problem and again, Germany faced the fact that it had to be closed and the decision was made very quickly.

This is a situation we will definitely cope with successfully, despite the artificial obstacles raised “the serious four.” But most importantly, what I would like to reiterate is that we should make whatever it takes to avoid a second total lockdown. To avoid a total lockdown or a partial lockdown, we have to pay a very low price, which is acceptable and payable. That price is just wearing a face mask. Everyone should wear a mask, maintain physical distance and avoid as much as possible large gatherings, because it looks like you don’t get infected when joining crowds in bars, air conditioned indoor places, and especially in places where music is played and where everyone can contract the virus. You don’t understand that you have contracted it and you go home infecting your parents, your grandparents and siblings, who might suffer from underlying conditions.

It is a very small price we should pay by complying with such minor and easy rules. I repeat, I hate the fact that I have to cover the face as soon as I leave my house, but there is no other way to protect people.

– I followed your visit to Peza earlier today. Tirana Mayor has actually visited the village of Peze many times this year, but the destination remains always the same. You all visit the greenhouses there, as you did today, but if you are to travel two more kilometres, you would find out a scandalous infrastructure there. At least five families currently live in tents there and I have personally contacted them and no verifications have been made about them. Have you been informed about these families and will state institutions verify all the families still living in tents since this is their case since the powerful earthquake that hit the country last September.

PM Edi Rama: Thank you very much for this precious contribution, seriously. Everyone should contribute to this process. There are certainly cases, not only five but a lot more, that are part of the cases already being verified, as the Minister affirmed, and that feature mostly families which have failed to file the applications and submit the required documents.

But to all those who “claim that infrastructure is scandalous just a kilometre further,” that there are a lot more cases except the ones you have seen. I can confirm that I have personally seen a lot more. I have made a simple calculation and I believe I can openly state that in my capacity as Prime Minister I have travelled more kilometres than any other previous Prime Minister since 1912. I have calculated it as I have visited every corner of Albania several times and if we are to take also in consideration my visits while as opposition leader, I can assure everyone that I know Albania more than everyone else. I know every corner of this country and many rural roads are definitely in a terrible state. But don’t directly or indirectly blame me for the situation in the past 50, 100 or 30 years. Don’t forget that when I took office as Prime Minister seven years ago, the first challenge was not to cut salaries and pensions.

If you think that you have discovered a 5 to 1 ratio, then you are completely wrong, because this ratio actually is 5 “No” and 1 “Yes”. The ratios is thousands “Yes” and 50 in this situation.

I certainly thanked you for the contribution and we will certainly address the plight of these families. But such an overturn of the ratio, if not deliberate, is at least harmful to the public, if we want to tell the truth to the public.

If you were to be a correspondent of Syri TV or Fax TV and if I were to take over the task to tell the respective audience the miserable life in Paris, I assure you that it would take just a camera and show people a Paris where they would say “Oh my God, I should leave immediately from Paris.” And by Paris I mean a wonderful capital. If you are to fix a camera and intentionally show the darkest side of everything, you can certainly succeed in doing that. If you were to trust me your job and tell me to fly to London and show  how many people sleep in tents or on the streets, or how many of them die on the street as homeless people, I can confirm that I would have been able to produce long feature stories that would scare all Kukesi residents who dream about migrating to London and make them to forget London. This is not information, but disinformation, because it is a manipulation, if you are to show one side only. If you shod both sides, then this is true information.

Of course there is a different side. Are you saying that the fact that you found five families living in tent will question the entire reconstruction program?

Therefore, I would ask you to stick to what you said, receive our praise and respect for what you have done in identifying this case and we will definitely look into it immediately. I apologize for not watching the respective TV channel. I actually watch no TV channel at all. This is my flaw, not my value indeed.

Thank you!