During the parliamentary session today, the Socialist majority is expected to pass an “updated” Special Law for the National Theater, after President Ilir Meta returned the law to Parliament and the European Commission criticized its contents as potentially violating the principle of equality before the law.
The original Special Law explicitly included the beneficiary of the redevelopment project for the public land of around the National Theater, Fusha shpk, a company that already has received, usually through dubious contracts, €43 million from the municipality of Tirana alone.
Furthermore, President Meta claimed that the Special Law threatened national cultural heritage, and, most importantly, violated the decentralization enshrined in the Constitution, which gives the Municipal Council of Tirana the authority to decide on its own property (such as the land of the National Theater). As we have pointed out before, the whole point of the Special Law was to circumvent the Tirana Municipal Council, where the Socialists have no majority.
A parliamentary commission led by former Minister of Health Ilir Beqaj, who himself has been implicated in numerous fraudulent tenders, has now proposed as series of the amendments of the law, that would address the criticism of the President and the European Commission.
As the parliamentary commission already states at the beginning, the “updated” version of the law is proposed under “the current conditions when the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Albania is not functional to verify the [President’s] claims, or the solve any constitutional disagreement that the promulgation of this special legal norm could cause.”
The question is therefore whether the “updated” Special Law, which most certainly will be approved by Parliament, actually solves any of the issues pointed out by President Meta.
The first change is that Fusha is no longer explicitly mentioned, but is now called “private side.” The Negotiation Commission that was supposed to negotiate with Fusha on the contract, has now also been transformed into a Evaluation and Negotiation Commission, which will first “evaluate” the “proposal for the development of the project of the development of the National Theater area, including the planning, construction, and delivery of the new National Theater building” after an “open call” with criteria set by the Council of Ministers. Note that the updated law still implies the destruction of the National Theater building as only possible option for “development.”
In an attempt to further muddy the water, the update appears to include specific language that the new theater building must have the same area of land around it as the current building: “‘The Theater Building’ includes the construction of the object […] guaranteeing the current functional surface around the new building.” The keyword here is of course “functional.” For what is the current “functional” space around the National Theater? The plot of land that belongs to it, or the area that is “used” by the Theater?
The major question this “updated” Special Law raises is: Why have this law when the entire procedure now looks like a regular public procurement procedure? Why does this specific project need a special commission and special procedure?
Because, of course, the whole point is that this is not a “regular tender.” The entire procurement process will be controlled directly by Prime Minister Rama, who through the Council of Ministers has the right to set the “specific criteria” for the open call. Any appeal to the procurement procedure will not go through the regular, legally available channels established in Albanian public procurement legislation, but instead go directly to Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj, who therefore basically has a veto over the final company that will execute the project. And that company will be: Fusha shpk.
As in the Special Law, the Municipal Council will have no say in any of this. Public land will be expropriated by the Council of Ministers in collaboration with Mayor Veliaj, and given to an all but nominally preselected private company.
Note how the Special Law has done a good job in “satisfying” the European Commission. The government can now claim that the entire procedure follows the principle of equality before the law. But at the same time, knowing that the Constitutional Court is not functional, it has utterly failed to address any of the Constitutional issues raised by President Meta, as well as civil society.
The Rama government thus profits – openly – from the absence of Albania’s highest court to hand out public property to its friends. And that’s a crime.