On the first day of school year, September 16, Prime Minister Edi Rama and Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj inaugurated the reconstructed “Servete Maçi” school building in Tirana.
During the event, Mayor Veliaj made a false statement about the reconstruction project being designed by new graduates. Exit.al found that the four project designers had graduated in 2012, and that two of them were Municipality of Tirana employees before and after the call for bids, thus demonstrating a possible conflict of interest.
On the inauguration day, Mayor Veliaj stated the following while praising the project:
“There has been an Edi [Rama] idea that has always excited me; [Rama] said ‘get out of the box’, and ‘it’s now necessary because we have the same architects make the same schools that look like prisons, like hospitals.’
So we did an experiment. This school was designed by architecture students who just graduated.
Part of our Pact with Students and University was embodied in this experiment. We let them [new graduates] do something completely out of the normal, out of the old schemes of the education infrastructure.”
In fact, the project was designed by StudioArch4, which is owned in part by former Municipality of Tirana employees that graduated in 2012.
The tender for the school reconstruction project design
The Municipality of Tirana launched a call for bids for the reconstruction project on 5 May 2016, with a maximum value of €49,560.
Four companies submitted offers:
- Infratech & Vler Invest & Arkimade
- A&E Engineering
Arkonstudio won the tender with an offer of €44,500 euro.
Possible conflict of interest
Arkonstudio never published the project on its website. Exit tried to reach out at them but their phone number 042-123456 was not reachable. Meanwhile, Arkonstudio has published other seemingly smaller project designs on their website.
However, we found that another architecture studio – StudioArch4 – had published the project on their own website. They told Exit.al that they were subcontracted by Arkonstudio to design the project for the “Servete Maçi” school building reconstruction.
StudioArch4 did not agree to reveal either the time when they signed the contract with Arkonstudio, nor its terms and the project authors, saying the contract was private.
The public data on the National Business Center show that the four shareholders of StudioArch4 are: Gjergji Dushniku, Klaudjo Cari, Lorin Çekrezi and Rezart Struga. They all graduated in 2012.
Gjergj Dushniku is the former head of Architecture and Urban Projects Division at the Municipality of Tirana. In his LinkedIn profile, Dushniku writes that he worked at the municipality from April 2016 – i.e. before the launch of the call for bids in May 2016 – until November 2018.
A second StudioArch4 stakeholder, Klaudjo Cari also states in his LinkedIn profile that he worked for about a year (2017-2018) at the Municipality of Tirana, in the same department with Mr Dushniku. They both worked as architects for StudioArch4 from 2013 until they started work at the municipality led by Erion Veliaj.
Whilst it’s not clear what sort of ties these two former StudioArch4 employees kept with their company while they were working as a civil servant under Veliaj, the certain thing is that after quitting their jobs at the municipality, in January 2019 they became shareholders of 50 percent of StudioArch4 shares.
The school renovation project appears on the Future-Architecture as a StudioArch4 design, authored by the four shareholders, including the names of the former Municipality of Tirana employees, Gjergji Dushniku and Klaudjo Cari.
Mayor Veliaj also stated that awarding the project design to “new architecture graduates” was done in the framework of the “Pact with Students and University.” The so-called “Pact with Students” was a list of government promises put forward by Prime Minister Edi Rama in early 2019, following student protests. However, at the time of the said ‘pact’, not only was the project design completed, but the reconstruction works for the “Servete Maçi” school building were also almost completed.