Prime Minister Edi Rama has once again managed to shift public attention from the highly controversial Rruga e Kombit highway toll to the meeting of the Socialist parliamentary group where a millionaire MP is “held accountable” for stolen lands or meetings with police officers that have done nothing more than their duty, yet are used by ERTV’s propaganda as extras in a script meant to make you think you are living in Scandinavia.
Add to that the news about the former Prosecutor General and the expulsion of two Russian diplomats, and it becomes clear that the matter of the €5-per-trip Rruga e Kombit highway toll will be followed by silence and forgetting, as usually happens in Albania when it comes to raised taxes.
This is not to say that said taxes do not hurt Albanians’ wallets. However, while every bill mailed to our homes has increased since the Socialist Party came to power, protests or even public reaction has been minimal.
In a sad economic reality bordering on depression, it seems Albanians are more sensitive to tales of oligarchs and a vetting that will save us.
The same thing happened when the water bill increased, the same when the property tax was jacked up. The same thing happens every time we are forced to pay more for services we never receive. The same thing is happening with the Rruga e Kombit highway toll.
Nationalist sensitivities and the large impact that the toll will have on Kosovars traveling to Albania aside, the new toll will likely also affect the inhabitants of the areas surrounding the Durrës–Kukës segment that use the latter as their only way of communicating with each other. On the other hand, some experts have begun calculating and analyzing the profit companies tasked with road maintenance and completion will make.
Others, mainly from Kosova, are pinpointing the “traitors” who are undermining the only bridge that connected us for free.
The Prime Minister, meanwhile, has been silent, sporadically and half-heartedly implying that the highway toll was prescribed by the previous government, and he is only following in the steps of his predecessors in the Ministry of Transport. The predecessors being those former ministers and directors who today, accused by Rama himself, find themselves in police custody.
With the intention of having a quality highway, though with no unusual strategic importance and costing the state millions in maintenance, Rama decided to carry out the €5 highway toll idea that his predecessors had kept shelved for a long time.
Not even the most passionate Socialist militant, whose only reason to get out of bed is to read Rama’s morning tweet, would believe that this decision was made with the intent of improving the state budget or completing the highway’s construction. It is likely that even the €5 price was decided on in some restaurant somewhere, instead of a government meeting, otherwise ERTV would have rushed to livestream it.
A new, by Albanian standards, highway of this size may well need concessionary maintenance service. Perhaps, without going into financial detailed calculations, we need to pay for its maintenance, or at least its completion, as Kosovo did.
Yet this process, even ignoring its lack of transparency, still raises some questions that you one needn’t be an economist to understand.
If Edi Rama can explain why, in these last 6 years, no new roads were built, why the Fier and Tirana–Elbasan bypasses remain unfinished, why the Durrës–Tirana highway has been left to rot, then we, as a people, deserve punishment for not appreciating our visionary leader.
Otherwise, if he manages to convince us that this isn’t his fault, that those who left him with a debt-ridden government are to blame, we must seriously consider that, perhaps, he is precisely the Prime Minister we deserve: wily enough to rob us blind, lie and swindle, and, at the end, give us all a nice Russian spy story as a treat.