Even though the international experts of the International Monitoring Operation (ONM) have arrived in Tirana and the vetting of judges and prosecutors can start “any moment” now, the actual building were the vetting organs – the Independent Qualification Commission (KPK), the Appeals College (KA), the Public Commissioners – and their staff are supposed to do their work is far from being finished.
The seat of the former communist League of Writers, a cultural monument that until a few years ago housed the Ministry of Culture before it was exiled to irrelevance in Kinostudio, is currently being transformed into the “Vetting Building.”
On June 23, 2017, the Council of Ministers issued decision 478, allocating 103,000,000 lekë (~€770,000) to the renovation of the former Ministry of Culture. According to the decree, the renovation of the building will be paid from the budget allocated to the “Arts and Culture” program of the Ministry of Culture. Please take a moment to savor the bitter irony of money meant for cultural projects being spent on renovating a building to house judicial reform staff. Maybe this will allow us to think of vetting as yet another “artistic masterpiece” of our doodler-in-chief.
Note also that the decision of the Council of Ministers falls on the same date as the start of the construction work at the former Ministry of Culture. No planning, no public consultation, no public procurement. Instead, government money meant for cultural projects was most probably given away in an “emergency procedure” widely used by the government, called “negotiation without announcement.” That meant quick cash in the pocket for whomever had dibs on this government contract.
So whom do we find as the beneficiaries of this emergency 6-month renovation project? A design by the Ministry of Defense, one of the ministries that at that point were still in the hands of the Socialist Party, which is otherwise completely unknown for its capacities to design complex renovation works. The execution of these “defense plans” is in the hands of K.A.E.Xh shpk. The last time this company won a public contract was in 2013, with the Water Supply of Rrëshen. In other words, a completely capable company to undertake the renovation of a cultural monument.
The supervisor of the works is, unsurprisingly, Atelier 4, the pet company of Prime Minister Edi Rama. Exit has reported many times on how this architecture firm is involved in nearly all lucrative public reconstruction projects of the Rama government, from the general local plans to the National Stadium, Tirana International Hotel to the Theater of Opera and Ballet, Lake Park Playground to the destructive Gjirokastra Bypass, the Pazar i Ri, and so on. In many cases the tender procedures were, to say the least, of a dubious nature, while the projects involving Atelier 4 have been characterized by breaches of contractual conditions, destruction of cultural heritage, and lack of transparency.
So what better company to oversee the new Vetting Building? What better company to make sure that this new palace of justice, this cornerstone of the new Albanian judicial order, will exude the appropriate spirit and stature? What better company to show the wide world that the main source of corruption in society is the judicial order, rather than the network of clients and oligarchs that Prime Minister Rama has built around him?