We have overcome expectations, the budget was voted with growth

Speech of Prime Minister Edi Rama given at today’s Parliamentary session:

I believe that this is one of the most important moments of the year for most of our government because today, Parliament is called to vote on the budget revision, which after being marked by decrease for five years in this period of the year, today is marked by growth. There are initially 32 million dollars, 3.2 billion leke which are neither more nor less, but beyond the ambitious target set along with the International Monetary Fund, that since this year give us the opportunity to finance the deficit and reduce public debt, even though the target, set jointly with the International Monetary Fund was to reduce the deficit and debt starting from next year.

Of course, this is only the beginning of a systematic effort that we will do in the coming years to reduce deficit and debt, but it is a very significant beginning, because it comes as a result of going beyond expectations which, I repeat, was in itself quite ambitious.

On the other hand there are 4.3 billion lekë or 43 million dollars that thanks to this review marked by growth will be allocated for the social strata in need, persons with disabilities, the paraplegic and tetraplegic, all the disabled to whom, thanks to this review and through the “Alliance for European Albania” the state today pays eventually all debts accumulated over the years. All those debts that had become a rope around the throats of the weakest and that lugged for several years, disabled, paraplegic, tetraplegic, all persons with disabilities, because the previous government would divert the money that belonged to them to fund propaganda drums, today are finally settled. We are in the initial position of looking forward without having to pay the debts accumulated for the poor, thus ending the injustice that has been done to the social system through the chain of these debts.

Thirdly, there are 15.2 billion leke or 152 million dollars allocated directly for investments, primarily investments in roads in order to keep filling all holes from Valbona to Kardhiq that were created from the politics of electoral ribbons and of starting investments without having money in the pockets, and then invoicing the debt to companies. The consequences of all this was that, on the one hand roads and companies were abandoned, while our entire financial system became an unprecedented mess face to  relations between the government and third parties.

This applies also to all those who are rightly impatient and, when they see that we open sites in various cities, immediately ask for this to happen also in their city. Starting from today’s vote of the Parliament, funding for all abandoned roads will begin and will be completed: the Valbona touristic road, Kukës-Krumë-Has road, the Lushnje-Berat road which is very strategic for an entire agricultural and touristic area that, together with the investment we are making in the city of Berat and in the access road to the city of Lushnje, creates an entirely new situation to promote tourist flows towards Berat and to facilitate transport flows of all agricultural products, including the agricultural rings around Divjaka area. In addition, we will continue with the famous road Plepa-Rrogozhinë which was also abandoned, and then with the road Korçë-Erseke and so on. Neither more nor less, but 51 projects which enter their final phase, while 100 another hopeless and abandoned projects across Albania, that are like opened sites just for TV shows, will receive a new funding in order to go further, but of course without being able to be completed within this year.

This is for road infrastructure.

But what this normative act and the budget review bring does not finish here, because we will continue with health infrastructure, which is in dire straits and where after many years will be invested very seriously in order to have a decent emergency service. We will invest in first aid equipment such as first aid helicopter. We saw during the tourist season how much the lack of this first aid means was felt, so we don’t have to wait for spectacular accidents or natural disasters to happen in order to be reminded of the need of this tool. We will invest for approximately 20 other ambulances that will practically serve to extend the emergency network beyond central areas of Tirana or other city centers. We will have also two necessary dialysis equipment, one for the north and one for the southern area; in addition, we will finish the reconstruction work of the Sanatorium.

Now, let’s talk about educational infrastructure. We must remember that when we promised that we would replace books by digital tablets, many taunted us, others saw us as if we were talking an incomprehensible language, but practically today we are voting the first significant funding in order to switch from books to digital tablets. But most importantly, to move from a system of inequality – since we have seen through many TV chronicles on the beginning of the school year that many families cannot pay for books for their children, especially in remote areas – to a system of full equality where every child will have a digital tablet by the end of this term; learning through digital tablets will make information standards be the same from the city center to the most distant periphery of the country. If for developed countries new technology has advantages that we all know, for our country new technology has the great and irreplaceable advantage for putting an end to a persistent, chronic inequality created by the inability of many poor families to buy books; on the other hand, it puts an end to the rhetoric and demagoguery of many years with which each party has tried to attract votes by saying: we will give everybody free books, which is practically impossible.

On the other hand we have a deal with Google for a free platform on which the entire system of our new technology will be set up, primarily for schools. Meanwhile, it is essential to mention the fact that the introduction of digital tablets does not simply mean teaching students, but it also implies interaction between schools and parents, because apart from the tablet for each student, the new technology will give us the opportunity to install online electronic register in every school so parents will be informed on real-time on the score of their children or on their presence or absence in classes; additionally, as we have promised, they will receive monthly information, which today they receive in the traditional way, by post.

Through this normative act we will invest also in order infrastructure which, as health or road infrastructure, in terms of police vehicles is in a situation like never before. This is what we have inherited, and it is not us who say this, but a report made ​​public only a few months ago by international expertise engaged in identifying problems and needs of order infrastructure. Of course, the fund allocated to the Ministry of Interior for police vehicle infrastructure does not solve all problems, but undoubtedly it provides a significant improvement, especially where lack of equipment is most alarming.

Albania has not renewed for many years the so called ortophoto, or the digital photography of the territory, which makes really difficult both the overall control of the territory and the legalization process, the administration process of properties and so on. Being impossible to practically calculate within a unique system all parts of the digital system that have been built for many years in various institutions, somehow like those constructions without planning, through the funding of the Normative Act for the ortophoto on the territory of Albania, we are given the opportunity to have an extraordinary tool for the unification of the whole geospatial information of the Republic of Albania, and to input in the digital system all data, from the underground up to what lays in the surface, thanks to this extraordinarily efficient tool for the daily control over the territory, but useful also for the entire administration process of public or private property.

On the other hand, the Normative Act gives us the opportunity to make two important steps in order to further promote welfare of religious communities and to support them, as obligation of the government, both the Muslim community to eventually build the new Mosque and the Bektashi community to finalize the construction of the Great Tekke. Both these very important acts give us the possibility on the one hand to create to the Bektashi community the conditions, after so many years of efforts and contributions given for the construction of the Great Tekke, to finally have it within a short time and use it, and on the other hand to give the Muslim community the opportunity to build the new Mosque without being forced to submit to a monstrous plan to have the mosque as an extension of a palace or of a big supermarket in the very center of Tirana; thus damaging not only the religious rituals, but also the entire area adjacent to the Parliament. So, as we promised, we will have a mosque without a palace and not a palace with a mosque. This is the change brought also by the fund allocation for expropriation for public interest, while without the slightest doubt this will give the opportunity to finally start working on the new mosque.

It is also very important to tell those who say that legalizations are not for free, that thanks to this normative act, if the process of legalizations was not free, we would need to take neither more nor less but 1 billion lekë or 10 million dollars from the legalization process in order to compensate owners. Actually, we didn’t do this. If today we did not pass this Normative Act and if we didn’t have a positive trend both from customs and taxes and also from the fight against informality, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to allocate 1 billion lekë, replace these 1 billion lekë which otherwise would have been taken from legalizations, from the budget. But what happened this year? This year things are very different form the past years when the big party of properties together with the small party of owners that were in a coalition for 8 years, would think of owners and former political prisoners only on election time and would allocate 1.25 billion lekë, or 12.5 million dollars, according to the appetite of the Minister of Finance or of the Government. For the first time in the history of the Government there are no political preferences, there is no corruption both in giving back the money owed to companies and in reimbursing the VAT, which finally is a problem solved for companies and outside the corruption system.

Not less important is the amount of money we are allocating for funding urban greenery. We promised that in the 4 coming years we will plant more than in the last 20 years together. Just look at the balance sheet which has been preliminarily revised for the first year to be totally convinced that it will happen. Practically, we will start with greenery in residential areas and will extend it to national roads which are totally bare as if we were a North African country, and not a Mediterranean one.

Last, but very important to mention is that the outcome of a reform to which we committed and which we will carry forward, to free small traders from the dual tax system, the taxes of the Government and taxes of the Municipality and by setting up a unique tax institution for businesses, which is the Tax Institution of the Republic, we have collected a significant additional amount from annual income which we will allocate to the local power.

So, we have practically attacked two major problems: the major problem of stress, pressure and corruption in the relationship between business and tax collectors at local level does not exist anymore, because tax collectors at local level do not collect revenues anymore. The other problem of collecting more revenues by the central institution, as it happens in many decentralized countries, we as government, with respect to decentralization, have the opportunity to have more money to return to the local power. None of that additional money collected from the local power will go to another pocket, but it will be returned to the local power.

Of course, all of these are reasons to be optimistic for the continuation of the work, but they are not reasons to say that our work is done. Rather, this is just the beginning of a work that shows us how to make more reforms and the deeper the reforms, the bigger the profit that will go directly to citizens, communities, local government and of course, to enhance the quality of services.

There is no doubt that the period of reforms has just started and this Normative Act that we are voting today gives us the opportunity to simply receive the first fruit which, without even the slightest doubt, is not enough to say that we have done something great, if we do not want to compare ourselves with those who left, but compare with what we have promised and with the Albania we want to have by the end of this term. I am convinced that the product of this normative act will be felt directly by communities and companies, and it will be felt directly by the financial system and, without any doubt, it will be felt directly in state revenues.

With many thanks for all the contributions given so far also by the Parliamentary Committees and for the preliminarily vote to this normative act, I assure you that based on this first foundation stone that we laid during this year, next year’s budget will be more than sufficient to deepen reforms and to be back here in Parliament next year with a growing budget review. It will be a budget that will give us the opportunity to look deeper and with much more consistency in order to increase the quality of services, which remains our weak point.