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Berisha New Leadership May Prove Effective for Albania

Berisha New Leadership May Prove Effective for Albania

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ne: 14-12-2005, 12:25:18

Prime Minister Sali Berisha has had a relatively easy start to his term as prime minister, helped by the fact that his prominence is not being questioned from within the ruling coalition. His paramount challenges are to implement administrative and judicial reform as well as deal with rampant corruption and

organised crime. Prime Minister Berisha was forced to resign the presidency in 1997, after an anti-government uprising had produced early parliamentary elections and a landslide victory for the Socialist Party (PS). The uprising was triggered by

the collapse of several fraudulent pyramid investment schemes, which had left tens of thousands of families without their savings. Under the succeeding Socialist government, Albania's GDP increased by more than 50%, but the public was dissatisfied with the authorities' apparent unwillingness to tackle

corruption. Berisha identified this issue as key to regain power, and has addressed it since his return to government in September.

Anti-corruption drive

The need for action was underlined by the publication in

October of the latest annual corruption perception index by Transparency International, which placed Albania 126th (out of 159), 18 places down from its position a year ago. Although Berisha has been in office for just under three months, his government has already proposed legislation and made symbolic moves to demonstrate its commitment to firm action. It has, among other things: set up an anti-corruption task force, headed by Berisha, to shape government policies;

proposed legislation to lift deputies' parliamentary immunity, so they may be investigated on bribery charges by the prosecuting authorities;

expressed its intention to tighten and enforce the widely flouted law on conflict of interest to break with the practice of PS ministers, who conducted extensive business activities while in office;

set an example by requiring Minister of Culture and Tourism Bujar Leskaj to dispose of his shares in one of Tirana's best-known hotels before taking up his portfolio; and

encouraged the media to investigate corruption more freely by instructing his ministers not to sue journalists for libel but to use facts to rebut allegations publicly.

Tax cuts

A month after the government took office, parliament passed legislation to halve two different taxes for small businesses. The 3.0% tax on business turnover has been reduced to 1.5%. The halving of an annual registration tax, whose rate varies with the nature of a business's activities

and its location, has been more controversial because that revenue is earmarked for the local authorities. The government has offered to compensate them from the central budget. However, local governments, particularly those that are run

by the PS opposition -- as in Tirana -- are concerned that this could undermine their financial independence. Other business-friendly measures, which will take effect from 2006, include cutting corporation profit tax and value-added tax by

3% -- to 20% and 17%, respectively. There are also plans to reduce employers' and employees' social insurance contributions.

Power crisis. The Berisha government has faced its first major challenge with the collapse of electricity supplies, which necessitated the introduction in early November of power cuts of up to 16 hours per day. The power crisis is on a par with the worst on record -- that of 2001. It has been caused by a

combination of several factors: this year's drought, as almost the whole of Albania's generating capacity is based on hydroelectric plants;

lack of maintenance of the power grid; and

rapidly growing consumer demand.

The authorities have blamed the Socialist government for having failed to buy sufficient supplies in advance from abroad. The PS, for its part, has accused the Berisha government of amateurism. The worst of the crisis has been overcome

with additional purchases of supplies from Bulgaria and Romania, and blackout periods have been shortened. To improve future supplies, the government has

announced that it will privatise 80 smaller hydroplants.

New PS leadership

Berisha currently faces relatively little opposition in parliament from the demoralised Socialists. Former PS Chairman Fatos Nano has practically retired from public life and, though still a deputy, has not been attending parliament. Nano's successor is Edi Rama, the dynamic mayor of Tirana, who was elected chairman in an unscheduled vote at the PS congress in October.

Rama is Albania's most popular politician, but he faces an uphill task in reforming the PS and leading an effective opposition:

he is not a member of parliament;

he has relatively little support among the officials and activists of a party that he joined only two years ago; and

he is having to overcome obstructionism from Nano's many followers who, among other things, have voted down his proposal to elect the PS chairman by the entire party membership, not just by congress delegates.

Rama is using his support among the general public -- and especially among young people -- to widen the PS's appeal in the run-up to the autumn 2006 local elections.

EU integration

Forging closer links with the EU is a priority for the Berisha

government. Tirana is preparing to sign a stabilisation and association agreement (SAA) with Brussels after rounds of drawn out negotiations. The conclusion of an SAA -- the first formal step towards eventual EU membership --

has been held up by Tirana's slow progress over the past three years on meeting several of the European Commission's criteria.

The Commission's latest annual report on Albania, published in early November, notes progress in a number of areas. However, it also stresses: the need for greater effort in combating corruption and organised crime;

improving the work of the judiciary; and

boosting the efficiency of the state administration.

Yet, the report is broadly positive, and EU officials say that only one or two more rounds of negotiations are needed before an SAA can be initialled. It will almost certainly be concluded by the middle of next year.

Minorities in Kosovo

Joining the EU and NATO remain Albania's key foreign

policy objectives, but this month's launch of UN-sponsored talks on the long-term status of Kosovo has put this issue at the top of Tirana's agenda.

Over the years, Berisha has generally shown greater assertiveness than PS leaders on the issue of the Albanian minorities abroad -- whether in Kosovo, Macedonia or other neighbouring states. However, he has not stepped out of line

with Western policy. Foreign Minister Besnik Mustafaj has echoed this 'Western' thinking when he said that Albania supported conditional independence -- that is, a form of limited sovereignty -- for Kosovo. Mustafaj's remarks have

irritated both sides:

Serbia complained that Tirana was encouraging separatism and interfering in Belgrade's internal affairs;

the Kosovar Albanians felt that Tirana was undermining their claim to full independence.

Berisha has sought to provide strong leadership without returning to the authoritarian excesses of the 1990s. However, streamlining bureaucracy and reducing corruption remain his ultimate performance tests, and failure to deliver in these two key issue areas would disappoint his electorate and the EU.

This could lead to dissension within the governing coalition and help revive the PS opposition.

SP-SMI debate on specialists

Members from the investigative parliamentary commission for July 3 elections debated on the number of representative experts, despite the original decision for the commission to have six members, three from each side. Socialist Movement for Integration asked for a representative expert, while the Socialist Party did not accept to make any changes on the representation. SMI is the most damaged from the last general elections and that is why the party insists on having an expert from their own, said SMI representative, Ndre Legisi. The same request was made from Paskal Milo, Social Democracy Party chair.

More than 100 thousand people get food

The state is ready to confront emergency situations, said the democratic Minister of Internal Affairs, Sokol Olldashi, speaking in front of the parliamentary commission for national security. Olldashi answered to questions from parliamentary commission on the funds to be used for the emergency case. The food at the disposal for the moment can be used to supply people in need. Olldashi said that transportation is difficult and that three zones in Shkodra, Lezha and Gjirokastra are not able to get energy. This is the first year that the Ministry of Internal Affairs does not have a special reserve fund for emergency needs, said former Minister of Local Power, Ben Blushi.

State to sell ACM shares

Albanian government has decided to sell the holding shares in Albanian Mobile Communication company and other important enterprises, while the approved draft does not include the selling of Albtelecom. Experts say that the value of the company will increase. The objects to turn private companies in 2006 will give 3 billion leke to the state budget. "The state shares in AMC, "Trikotazhi Korca", shoe factory in Korca, "Albturist TO Tirana, Funiture Tirana, Nimex Durres, oil plan in Kucova, textiles in Berat, etc count for more than 1200 billion leke. These enterprises will turn into private businesses.

Karamalis postpones his visit

Greek Prime Minister, Kostas Karamanlis, will not visit Albania in December as announced in the meeting he had with the Albanian Prime Minister, Sali Berisha, in the General Assembly of United Nations, in New York. The Greek Prime Minister has postponed his visit to an undecided later date, said the Greek government spokesperson. Sources from the Greek government said that the visit was not cancelled but postponed as a result of a full agenda that the Greek Prime Minister has for December. Agenda is prepared from the two Prime Ministers'staff and they could not find a free day during December to fix the meeting between the two neighboring Prime Ministers.

Fratini: Too early for free-visa policies in Balkans

Free visa policies for the Balkans is impossible right now but work is being done to create facilities for granting visas for special categories said European Commission deputy president, Franco Fratini. Balkan state are lobbying hard for visa issues and Fratini said that every meeting he has done lately with Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers from the Balkan states he has seen the focus on visa issue.

No deadline for freeing up the houses to owners

Constitutional Court has decided not to apply deadlines for the freeing up of the buildings for former owners. The decision taken by the court refers to article nine of the law on property compensation and restitution. According to the article, the residents of the buildings of former owners should free up the buildings within three years. Tenants continue to pay the decided rent from the Minister of Councils up to two years after the enforcement of the law. The Minister of Councils secures shelter for homeless that is low rent houses. The Constitutional Court said that such a decision is unfair as it defines discriminating conditions against families living in these buildings.

SMI: The introduced budget against society

Socialist Movement for Integration contradicted the fiscal packet introduced by the government as anti social packet, as for the first time there is tax on personal incomes. The fiscal packet that the democratic government has prepared discourages foreign investors and increases unemployment in the country, said Socialist Movement for Integration chair, Ilir Meta. SMI thinks that Berisha lowered reference price for steel imports favoring businesses close to Democratic Party. This brings the homemade products come to an end.

Differences among wages in public administration narrowed down

Albanian Prime Minister, Sali Berisha, said that the project for 2006 budget narrows down the differences among wages in the public administration. Berisha argued that the increase of public administration wages has been done with the advice of the International Monetary Fund and as part of the electoral promises that Democratic Party did. "We managed to fulfill the main objectives of our plans. We accepted the increase defined by IMF and we managed after a detailed study of the budget from the Ministry of Finances and financial experts. We managed to increase with 25 percent low wages, with 10 percent average wages and high wages increased with five percent. We narrowed down the difference among the wages in Albania", said Berisha.

The dismissed from work sign up their names on SP book

Socialist Party chair, Edi Rama, met with the dismissed from the public administration and called them to contribute and support the party he runs. Socialist Party main offices were filled with all the released from work and denounced in SP white book the reasons for their dismissal. SP chair said that this situation shows a great incompetence and stubbornness on the part of the Prime Minister, Sali Berisha.

SP gathers to discuss on the budget

The draft budget for 2006 is a harsh hit against people in need, and the raise for the retired is ridiculous, said Socialist Party chair, Edi Rama. The round table with the retired aimed at informing them on the flows that the new draft budget from the government has. Rama said that Premier Berisha did not consult with groups of interests before preparing the draft budget. Rama criticized the part of the budget dedicated to the retired and said that they are not disbursed when coming to energy expenditures. The new budget scheme for compensation abandons 560 thousand retirees, as well as 136 thousand people in need. The new draft budget has no room for increase of the economic help, taking into no consideration thousand of poor families in need for economic help.

Meta-Majko debate on left vote division

The common celebrations of national feast some weeks ago of the two left parties seem as a "mirage" for a future cooperation of these left forces. The two left parties have exchanged harsh statements against each other after the left parties divided vote in parliament on the High Justice Council bill. Socialist Party parliamentary group chair, Pandeli Majko, reacted against the votes in favor of the bill from the deputies of Socialists Movement for Integration and Social Democracy Party. Majko emphasized that the vote showed to Albanians the real opposition in the country. On their turn, SMI and SDP reacted saying that their vote shows their electorate will and they will not tolerate to get orders from the socialists or the democrats anymore.

SP postpones party conferences in regions

Socialist Party presidency has postponed all the regional conferences for the month of January to leave more time the party structures to prepare for these conferences. At the same time, another reason to postpone the conferences has to do with the Socialist Party engagement in political debates in front of the democratic government at the end of this year. At a time when the legislative is discussing the draft budget, the Socialist Party has preferred to postpone its internal discussion for the beginning of the new year. The socialists will use this period for round tables with groups of interests to attack the new budget before its approval in parliament.

Taulant Balla expelled from parliament

Albanian Assembly Bureau has decided to expel the socialist MP, Taulant Ball, for fifteen days from the parliament sessions. On his part Balla reacted by asking the same measurement against Sali Berisha. Balla called this decision a clear political stand from the Speaker of the Parliament, Jozefina Topalli, and Premier Sali Berisha. The Bureau received the request to expel from parliament Balla and Berisha from the socialists and the democrats after harsh debates were exchanged during a plenary session between the two. "The political bureau of the Albanian Assembly executed the decision of the Democratic Party chair and Kavaja representative, Sali Berisha, to stop the voice of the opposition", said Balla.

Parties agree on changes in Electoral Code

Main parliamentary parties have agreed on changes to the electoral law. During a round table organized by the New Democratic Party, the parties discussed also on the raise of the electoral threshold for a political party to enter in Parliament. At the same time an ad-hoc parliamentary commission will be set to deal with changes in the electoral code.

Albanian given 5 mln leke to Pakistan

The Albanian government decided to give monetary help to Islamic Republic of Pakistan. A fund of 5 million leke will be given to Pakistan to help people suffering from the earthquake devastating many houses in October. The funds for this help will be taken from the Reserves Funds of the Council of Ministers. The Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Finances will take care for this decision.

Casini pledges support for Albanian government

Albanian Prime Minister, Sali Berisha, met Italian President for the House of Represents in the Italian Parliament, Pier Ferdinando Casini. Berisha informed Casini on the work his government has done in the first one hundred days of governance. One of the main aims of the democratic governance is the attraction of foreign investments in Albania, said Berisha asking Casini to support and encourage Italian enterprises to invest in Albania. On his part, Casini hailed the work done by the Albanian government and its engagement. Casini expressed his will to encourage Italian investments in Albania.

A survey on MPs vehicles

Albanian parliamentarians will be asked their opinion on the issue of their cars. The staff dealing with the parliament budget has found a simple solution for the issue. A survey will be prepared for all the parliamentarians and one of the questions will be if the legislators afford their activities with their own private car or they need the car provided by the parliament. In case most of the MPs answer in favor of using the cars provided by the parliament then the working group will prepare a draft budget for the Speaker of Parliament, Jozefina Topalli. The issue of the cars was raised at the beginning of this legislature when the democrats declared cuts in administrative expenditures.

New procedures for qualifications in diplomacy

The Council of Ministers has changed the procedures on diplomatic qualifications. The commission to evaluate Albanian diplomats will gather once a month and will take into consideration all the requests that fulfill the years needed for further qualifications. According to the new changes, the diplomatic ranking system is based on fundamental and specific criteria. A diplomatic request will be taken into consideration once these criteria have been fulfilled. The criteria include a specific time period in service, a good service for at least the last two years of work, and positive results in the granted qualifications.

Topalli: Parliament a consensus place

Albanian President, Alfred Moisiu, met the Albanian Speaker of Parliament, Jozefina Topalli, to discuss on the electoral reforms. Topalli hailed the parties initiative to speed up the reform process. Both high officials agreed to leave no space for phenomena like the Dushk one. Topalli said that the Albanian parliament has a precedent of a two-party commission on electoral changes and that precedent is going to be respected. Parliament is going to be the place of the largest political consensus, concluded Topalli.

Oketa: SP afraid of budget results

The socialists are attacking the draft budget approved by the democratic government because it cuts short the way for abuses with public funds, said Democratic Party spokesperson, Gazmend Oketa. Socialist Party chair, Edi Rama, is worried because this draft budget fulfill all the previous flows that the socialists could not fulfill during their eight years in power, said Oketa. DP spokespersons said that this draft budget is the best financial document introduced to Albanians in the last 15 years of transition. "Berisha's government achievements in only three months, the opening of the signing of Association and Stabilization Agreement, the lowering of taxes for the small business, conflict of interest, the return in EU agenda of Corridor Eight project, the best budget introduction in the last 15 years, have made Rama loose his temper", said Oketa.

Majko meets Grunnet on reform

Socialist Party Secretary General, Pandeli Majko, met with OSCE/ODIHR head in Albania, Jorge Grunnet, to discuss on the electoral reform in the country. Majko presented Grunnet his party stands on the round table that the Albanian President, Alfred Moisiu organized with different political party representatives on electoral reform. On his part Grunnet urged cooperation among Albanian political forces to improve flaws in the electoral system. Grunnet will meet with different political party high officials.

New members to pay for their membership card

Soon new members of the Socialist Party will be provided with new membership cards signed by SP chair, Edi Rama. The quantity and the producing company are yet to be decided, but only new members will benefit from this process. The old cards signed by former SP chair, Fatos Nano, will continue to be valid. In order to get their membership card the new SP members will have to pay six hundred leke and will continue to pay their membership quota once a year.

Klosi asks youth support

Socialist Party Secretary for Human Resources, Bendi Klosi, met with youth and asked them to consider with great concern dismissals in the public administration, as this is bad news for students graduating this year. Klosi thinks that the democratic government is applying contradictions through its policies. On one hand the government pretends for liberalization of universities, and on the other hand cuts positions in the public administration.

Rama part of protests in Librazhd

Socialist Party chair, Edi Rama, lead the protests Kuturman people in Librazhd as a result of the destruction of the linking bridge in this area. Days ago, Librazhd representative in parliament, Taulant Balla, raised this issue resulting into his expulsion for 15 days from the parliament. Rama met also with residents to discuss on energy and the complaints for energy bills. "Your MP got expelled for 15 days as a result of raising this bridge as an issue and by mentioning a popular saying, "this bridge built during Sultan Berisha the First", said Rama to the residents.

Gazeta Metropol

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