Adriatic coastline with newly independent Kosovo

The Rreshen-Kalimash Highway

The Rreshen-Kalimash Highway

Albania will seek a new  €250 million commercial loan to finance the construction of a highway connecting its Adriatic coastline with newly independent Kosovo, the Ministry of Finance said on Tuesday . The170-kilometre highway, which will link the port of Durres with Albanian-majority Kosovo, is the country’s biggest public works project in decades. Albania has spent €328 million already this year on the road, some 89 percent of its capital expenditure budget.

“The Albanian Government represented by the Ministry of Finance is requesting an offer for financing of various capital expenditure needs for the year 2009,”  the ministry said in a statement. “Proceeds… will be used in accordance with the priorities defined in the National Strategy for Development and Integration.”

Albania had originally sought to finance the road with revenues from the privatization of public companies, but negotiations for the sale of Albanian Power utility, valued at around €102 million, have stalled. Almost 200 million of the cost has been raised as syndicated commercial loans at high interest rates, attracting criticism from international financial bodies concerned about the country’s monetary stability.

There is no clear estimate of the total cost of the road, which opponents have slammed as a white elephant that will fail to return on the huge investment. Experts think Albania will need to invest another €250 million to complete the project, due to be finalised in the summer of 2009.

The project has already been tainted by a corruption scandal involving former Foreign Minister Lulzim Basha, who is charged with abuse of power and breaking tender rules relating to the project. The charges filed against Basha indicate that one particular 60-kilometer section of the highway will cost Albania over €1 billion.

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Albania Scandal

A controversy tied to a massive road project deals a blow to Prime Minister Berisha’s promise to rid Albania of endemic corruption

The road linking Albania and Kosovo stretches 234 kilometers, a mountainous, pot-holed coil connecting two of Europe’s poorest countries.

The drive normally takes about seven hours, with the speedometer rarely topping 40.

“During the winter the road is a tough cookie to crack,” says Gjergj Erebara, a Tirana-based editor and political commentator. “Parts of it are often icy, which makes it pretty dangerous considering that you are taking curves 800 meters up in the mountains.”

That is all expected to changed by the end of 2009, when a new four-lane highway from Durres on the Adriatic coast into Kosovo is slated for completion.

Albania’s largest public-works project in decades, the new road is expected to strengthen already deep ties (more than 90 percent of Kosovo’s population of 2 million is of Albanian descent) and ease travel for the hundreds of thousands of Kosovars who cross the border on summer holidays.

Analysts have dubbed it the “patriotic highway” owing to the widely perceived political motive for the project, pointing to the lack of a feasibility study into whether it will return the money invested. It was expected to be the crown jewel among electoral assets for Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha’s right-wing coalition heading into next year’s parliamentary balloting. Instead it has turned into the government’s biggest headache.

In late November, following a 17-month investigation, Prosecutor General Ina Rama indicted Foreign Minister Lulzim Basha on charges that he abused his office in connection with the tender for the highway. Prosecutors say the deal with American-Turkish consortium Bechtel-Enka to build the most challenging portion of the road, 61 kilometers from Rreshen to Kalimash, has cost the country hundreds of millions of euros.

Albania’s Supreme Court accepted the case, rejecting arguments by Basha’s lawyers and the government that the prosecution is unconstitutional.

Rama was voted in by the current parliamentary majority after her predecessor was fired for a poor showing against organized crime, but her corruption probes into senior officials have put off many of her onetime backers, including Berisha. The government has lashed back with a campaign many of its critics, including some U.S. and European Union officials, call unconstitutional.

Albania’s Transparency International ranking as the most corrupt state in the Balkans notwithstanding, the country’s highest officials have up till now remained formally unscathed. Basha is the first sitting minister to be indicted since Albania emerged from communist rule in 1991.

The charges stem from his tenure as transport minister from 2005 to 2007. Prosecutors maintain that Basha and his then-chief legal aide, Andi Toma, illegally favored Bechtel-Enka. They allege the minister allowed construction to begin before there was a finished blueprint for the work and, in breach of Albanian law and regulations for public tenders, accepted a much higher price per work unit than was charged for similar projects.

The price tag for the Bechtel-Enka work, which covers a little more than a third of the highway’s full length, has leaped from 416 million euros in the initial contract to more than 1 billion euros, according to prosecution filings. Prosecution experts and the state supreme auditing office say the Transport Ministry’s actions cost Albanian taxpayers 114 million euros—232 million euros if the costs are calculated in comparison with sections of the road being built by other companies.

In 2006 and 2007 Bechtel-Enka registered a profit of more than 44 percent on the project, netting 67 million euros on work orders of 151 million euros.

Basha and Toma have denied any wrongdoing. Basha contends the charges against him were fabricated by opposition Socialist leader Edi Rama (no relation to the chief prosecutor) and opponents of the highway out to sabotage the project. In a recent press conference he accused opposition members of working on Serbia’s behalf to scuttle the road link with Kosovo.

Edi Rama and his mercenaries have sabotaged the road for eight years,” Basha said, calling the opposition leader the political heir of Koci Xoxe, a communist-era minister executed as a Serbian spy in 1949.

The Socialists dismiss Basha’s charges and have called on him to resign.

“This indicted minister is trying politicize the charges against him, doing terrible damage to Albania’s and Kosovo’s image,” Socialist parliamentarian Arta Dade said. “An indicted minister cannot represent Albanian diplomacy.”

Ina Rama was named prosecutor general in November 2007, the first woman to hold the post. The 36-year-old was previously a judge on the Appeals Court of Serious Crimes.

Her appointment came after President Bamir Topi, a former deputy in Berisha’s Democratic Party, dismissed former Chief Prosecutor Theodhori Sollaku at the urging of a parliamentary commission, which took Sollaku to task for failing to crack down on organized crime. A month before his ouster Sollaku had filed a request with parliament to lift Basha’s immunity from prosecution.

A promise to rid Albania of endemic corruption was a centerpiece of ex-President Berisha’s “Clean Hands” platform when he returned to power in 2005, but opponents claim the problem has only worsened—a view seemingly shared by the public. In a March 2008 survey by the Institute for Development and Research Alternatives, 92 percent of Albanians said corruption was widespread among public officials, an 8-point jump from the previous year.

The Basha prosecution is not the only case fueling such views. Former Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu is under investigation in connection with the March explosion at an army depot outside Tirana that killed 26 people, wounded more than 300, and left some 3,000 homeless. He has also been linked to a suspect arms deal with a Miami-based company to supply the Afghan military.

Another senior official, tax office chief Arben Sefgjini, is on trial for murder in connection with the torture and killing of a Macedonian businessman in 1995, when Sefgjini headed the Tirana office of Albania’s secret service.

Berisha, while voicing support for the fight against corruption, is also backing a new law to more strictly regulate the office of the prosecutor general. The measure would strip prosecutors of their protection against a police arrest without a formal indictment and limit their independence by allowing the Justice Ministry to probe their investigations.

The bill has come in for criticism from interest groups, the opposition, and the United States for limiting the prosecutor general’s independence, which is guaranteed by the Albanian Constitution. Rama has found a strong ally in U.S. Ambassador John Withers, who has repeatedly condemned Berisha’s moves against her office.

“Her responsibilities are not only to investigate some of the most difficult and controversial cases that Albania has known, but in a larger and more profound sense, to make a profound contribution to the building of Albanian democracy through defending the independence of her institution and of the judiciary in general against political pressure,” Withers said in October. “When the history of Albanian democracy is written, there will be a special chapter in it for people like Ina Rama.”

Albania’s NATO ambitions have received strong backing from Washington, with President George Bush voicing his support on an historic visit in June. U.S. lobbying was critical in ensuring Albania received an invitation to NATO’s April summit in Bucharest.

Withers has explicitly linked actions targeting the prosecutor to Albania’s democratic credibility.

“I frankly see no legitimate reason for the government or the parliament to make these moves,” he said. “My advice, and that of my government, is to let the prosecutors do their job as the independent actors that they are.”

EU ambassadors in Tirana also condemned the government’s moves, saying in a joint statement that they “are troubled by recent developments concerning the judicial system in Albania.”

Rama has assured her office she will stand firm. “We will resist with determination any kind of pressure,” she said. “Our only protection is the law.”

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Albania passed a law that envisages dismissal of former secret agents

Tirana. Albania passed a law that envisages dismissal of former secret agents from public and high-ranking posts, media report. The new act was approved with 72 votes. 63 of Albanian MPs voted against it, while only one abstained.
According to Prime Minister Sali Berisa, Albania must “take the shame out of the communism”.
The new act affects all former members and collaborators to the secret police which was active from November 1944 till December 1990.
The opposition boycotted the vote, declaring the act will be used by Berisa in the combat against the political rivals.

Albania bans former secret police from public service

TIRANA, Dec. 22 (Xinhua) — The Albanian parliament adopted on Monday a law banning from public service the people who served in the country’s secret police before 1990.

Lawmakers in the country’s 140-seat assembly voted with 74 for it, 2 against. One abstained and the rest 63 boycotted the vote.

The law bans from public service all people linked to the former secret police, Sigurimi, from November 1944 to December 1990, when the overhauled its social system and changed from communism to capitalism.

The opposition Socialists and other smaller parties boycotted the vote, saying they feared the law might be used against them.

The United States and Britain had expressed concerns about the legislation, and had asked for postponement.

Albania passes new law on former secret police

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania on Monday passed a law removing from public posts people linked with the feared former Communist secret police, despite criticism from opposition parties and concerns within the international community.

Lawmakers voted 74-2 for the law, while one abstained. The remaining 63 deputies in the 140-seat Parliament boycotted the vote.

Prime Minister Sali Berisha said Albania needed “to cleanse itself from the communist calamity.”

The law applies to all former members and associates of the Sigurimi secret police, from November 1944 when Albania was liberated from Nazi occupiers until the collapse of Communism in December 1990.

The opposition Socialists and other smaller parties boycotted, saying they feared the law would be exploited by Berisha’s Democrats to hit at political opponents.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe urged a postponement of the debate.

“The law has serious constitutional and political implications, and postponing the vote to allow for wider consultation and public debate would be welcome,” the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said in a statement.

The United States and Britain also urged postponement.

For more than four decades, Albania was a xenophobic Communist dictatorship in which the secret services wielded vast power.


ALBANIA’S parliament voted on Monday to open secret communist-era files to screen candidates for office, but the opposition and judges saw it as a manoeuvre to sideline rivals rather than cleanse society of guilt.

The law was approved only with votes of the Democratic Party of Prime Minister Sali Berisha and its allies after they ignored appeals from the United States, among others, to postpone the vote to allow time for broad consultation.

“We consider this law a measure of respect for all those who went through the most savage calvary of class struggle, those that had their bones broken, were executed without trial and had their properties taken,” Mr Berisha said.

Under late Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha’s 40-year rule, 5037 men and 450 women were executed and up to 34,135 people were jailed, including 1000 who died and 308 who went mad.

The law denies access to public office to ex-members of the bodies that ordered and used violence under the Stalinist regime and informed for the notorious Sigurimi secret service.

A five-member commission will work until 2014 to screen candidates, confirming suitability after it checks documents.

The main opposition Socialist Party saw the second such law since Albania toppled communism 18 years ago as an attempt by Mr Berisha to sack prosecutors investigating corruption.

Two dozen prosecutors and judges, including those investigating a blast at an army base that killed 26 people and possible government corruption in the building of a key road, would have to quit their jobs once the law takes effect.

Opposition Socialist Party leader Edi Rama regretted that the law was not up to European standards.

“It is disappointing that 18 years after the fall of the communist dictatorship, the Prime Minister of Albania and the government forces want to open the files of the communist dictatorship to close the files of corruption,” Mr Rama said.,25197,24836718-12335,00.html

Kejsi Tola talks to public

Right after winning the 47th edition of Festivali I Kenges thus being named as the 2009 Albanian representative in the Eurovision Song Contest, sixteen year old Kejsi Tola spoke to Shekulli about herself, her song and her plans for Moscow.

Me merr ne enderr, the 2009 Albanian entry in the Eurovision Song Contest will be performed in English, according to Kejsi Tola. It is a love song about the longing between two people who are in love but can’t be close to each other, so they meet in their dreams. The English lyrics have not been penned yet.

Kejsi is just sixteen years old and started singing at the age of 10. She has won many awards in prestigious festivals in Albania such as the Voices of the youths, Tirana Festival and Festival of children. She is also the winner of Friday night fever, the Albanian edition of Idol, the same as Anzeja Sahini and Luiz Ellis who also went on to win FiK and represent Albania in the Eurovision Song Contest. The young Albanian artist has been trained as an opera singer: “I study Canto, in fact classical music, and I’m in a great dilemma as to what to do; should I continue studying classical music or pop? But what I can say is that I will always remain with music, I couldn’t imagine my life without it.” But when it comes to the genre closer to her heart, it is undoubtedly pop: “I think that pop music is the genre that suits me best. Besides that I can also sing rock and many other genres, but I find myself coming back to pop.” she confesses.

After she won Festivali I Kenges, Kejsi received criticism for “not moving much on stage: “It’s true, but that was mostly because of my emotions and the responsibility of performing in such a large spectacle. It was the final night after all.”, the young singer admits.

Besides being very young and consequently inexperienced, Kejsi is said to be shy by nature so she would like to be accompanied by more people on the Eurovision stage: “Of course I’d like to have some sort of performance, because my song is a rhythmic one and one that is strong all around. I think it would be nice to have something besides just me on the stage; it would be a great plus. A performance will help especially as people think that I’m shy by nature, but I don’t know, that’s just how I am.” she says.

Currently, Kejsi Tola is working on her entry. The song has to be cut down to three minutes to conform with the rules of the Eurovision Song Contest and a new radio version is being prepared. An album is not included in her immediate plans, although she has been promised one by Top Channel: “If I’m given the opportunity to record an album at the moment I believe that I’ll wait some time, because I don’t want my songs to be recorded in a hurry, but would rather wait and make an album of songs from various festivals I’ve been competing in. Besides, I’m still young, and I know I will have plenty of time for albums in the future.” says Kejsi.

A very special thanks to Liridon Mustafa for the translation and Altin Hazizaj, president of OGAE Albania, for the inspiration.
Kejsi Tola – Më merr në ëndërr

Unë jam e jotja çdo ditë që kalon
Unë jam me ty kur larg të kam
Edhe një çast nëse ti më mungon
Unë mbyll dy sytë të ndjej pranë

Asgjë më shumë jo, nga ty nuk kerkoj
Asgjë më shumë se sa një çast
Kur ti je larg vetëm ty të mendoj
Unë mbyll dy sytë
Mbyll dy sytë të ndjej pranë
Të ndjej

Sa herë ti, ti më fton
Sa herë më merr ti në ëndërr
Jo, jo, ti mos më zgjo
Nga kjo magji e dashurisë

Sa herë ti, ti më fton
Sa herë më merr ti në ëndërr
Jo, jo, ti mos më zgjo
Nga kjo magji e dashurisë

Më kërko në pafundësi
Më kërko unë do vij

Kejsi Tola – Take me in your dreams (Translation by Liridon Mustafa)

I am yours with every day that goes by,
And I’m with you, when you are far
And if for a moment you’re not with me,
I close my eyes and feel you near
I don’t ask anything more from you,
Nothing more than just this moment
When you are far I can only think of you,
I close my eyes
I close my eyes and feel you, feel you near
Every time you invite me,
Every time you take me into your dreams
No, no, don’t wake me up,
From this magic of love
Search for me in endlessness,
Search for me and I’ll come

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