In what is now rapidly become a frequent sight, 800 workers from the refinery in Ballsh are again protesting today in front of the ARMO refinery, demanding serious investments in their factory, as well as a pay raise and timely payment.
According to the declarations of the refinery workers, the current directors of the refinery, who for months on end didn’t pay their wages, have absconded:
We agreed with the deputy minister to accelerate the procedure for restarting the work in the factory, and to find powerful businessmen. Three businessmen have been approached, and now it is in the hands of the government and the bank [Credins Bank] that own this through a court order. The owner has definitively left, he gave up. The one who comes next will take over the duties.
In December, the refinery workers marched to Tirana demand their wages for November, which had not been paid. A deal was struck with the current renter of the ARMO refinery, Ionian Refining and Trading Company (IRTC), which took out a loan to pay the workers.
In September 2016 IRTC and its main investor Harry Sargeant III were hailed by the government as the saviors of the refinery in Ballsh. After the protests in December, however, Sargeant released a statement in which he revealed that he had sold all his interests in IRTC to his local Albanian partners, while also indirectly blaming them for mismanaging the company:
As of May 2017, with the cooperation of the Ministry of Energy and Industry and Bankers Petroleum, Mr. Sargeant and Mr. Abu Naba‘a had the refinery running at full capacity and virtually all crude oil produced in Albania was being processed at the Ballsh refinery. Since that time, and with the signing of the binding MOU to sell their interest, Mr. Sargeant and Mr. Abu Naba‘a have not been involved in any IRTC management or board decisions, and day to day control has always been with their Albanian partner.
The workers had claimed that the Ballsh refinery was running at a low capacity, as IRTC, managed by Mitat Sulaj, the brother of oligarch and government supporter Besnik Sulaj, had no money to buy crude oil on the Albanian market. If Sargeant’s statement is to be believed, this situation has the result of his withdrawal from the company as its main investor.