By Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei
Rama’s Second First Act

Prime Minister Edi Rama announced on Twitter that the first act of his new government will be declaring 2018 “Skënderbeg Year.” The year 2018 will mark the 550th anniversary of the Albanian national hero’s death.

Screenshot from 2017-08-30 11-54-11

It is not yet known what this “Skënderbeg Year” will mean in terms of actual policy, except for an excuse to run another dozen or so clientelist tenders through the Ministry of Culture, but its symbolic value stands in stark contrast with the first three acts of Rama’s first government in 2013.

After winning the elections with the LSI, Rama announced three symbolic acts: replacing the portrait of the President of the Republic with a photograph of “father of the nation” Ismail Qemali, abolishing the waste management law, and introducing an Ethical Code for the Council of Ministers. Let us have a look at how these three initiatives fared after the initial celebrations calmed down:

Removing the photograph of then President Bujar Nishani was nothing but an act of spite against the Democratic Party, which had elected Nishani without the consensus of the PS. In the meantime, Nishani has been replaced by Rama’s former coalition partner, Ilir Meta, but so far Ismail Qemali is sticking around in government buildings.

In 2016, the PS reintroduced a waste management law that was practically indistinguishable from the law abolished in 2013. Former President Bujar Nishani refused to sign the law, after which Parliament violated every single constitutional deadline to discuss President Nishani’s decree. Meanwhile, Rama publicly claimed that Albania was being forced to allow waste imports by the EU, a statement that the EU denied. Meanwhile, the Rama government handed out three concessions for the construction of waste incinerators in Fier, Elbasan, and Tirana, all to a single company, through dubious tender procedures, and without public consultation. It is unknown how these incinerators will be able to fulfill their capacities without waste imports.

The fate of the Ethical Code is perhaps even more ironic. It is now buried somewhere in the netherworld of the Prime Ministry’s website, but reading the Preamble is a painful business:

Government officials are every day confronted with decisions, which, except their legal aspect, have also ethical and moral implications, as well as deal with questions that have a high public interest. The public seeks a government with legal decisions, quality service, and that is open, accessible, and led as it is supposed to be. The past has shown a great threat to the relationship of trust between government officials and citizens. To reestablish trust in our political system, through the return of the public trust in the integrity of the government, the Ethical Code is drafted.

Over the last four years, many questions of a “high public interest,” including the drafting of the general local plan, concessions in hydropower plants and the healthcare sector, waste management, educational infrastructure, urban renewal, etc., etc., etc. have all been decided without any significant input from citizens or civil society, with high official even denying the right of the public to be consulted. The government has been anything but “open” and “accessible,” only interacting with preselected groups of party members and friendly journalists in tightly controlled environments. Freedom of information requests are often simply ignored, and trust – trust in this government and its successor, is as low as ever. Meanwhile, the arrogance shown by those in power is skyrocketing.

The actual articles of the Ethical Code have been violated so many times by the Prime Ministers and his cabinet that it would be ridiculous to actually enumerate them, but looking back, we can already discern the autocratic characteristics of Rama that have now become visibly amplified:

Art. 15.1 stipulates that all interviews by ministers should be signed off on by the Communication Office of the Council of Ministers, led by Rama’s communications advisor Endri Fuga. This led to repeated protests of LSI ministers, who felt that they were censored. Art. 18 explicitly prohibits ministers from producing autobiographical work during and even after finishing their time in function. Meanwhile the Prime Minister travels to foreign countries promoting his own autobiographical work.

Looking at how the good intentions of Rama 1 all ended in failure and broken promises, let’s hope that Skënderbeg will be spared a similar fate.