From: Alice Taylor
While 150 Rrogozhine Families are Homeless, the Government Wants to Spend Millions on Demolishing and Rebuilding its Cultural Centre

The Rrogozhine Cultural Centre, constructed in the Socialist Realism style in the early 1970s is under threat of demolition by the Albanian government.

As Exit previously revealed, following the November 2019 earthquake, the Institute of Construction visited the building. There, without conducting any in-depth forensic examinations of the building, they concluded in less than half a page that the site was dangerous, damaged beyond repair, and should be demolished. 

The two ‘experts’ that signed off on it – Olsi Nunaj and Elbarina Kola- are the same two that have been accused of corruption and abuse of office for signing a similar document about Tirana’s National Theatre. The Alliance for the Protection of the National Theatre filed a complaint with the prosecution, alleging that they had not even visited the site and proposed demolition without making any real findings.

Two independent experts and the man who oversaw the construction of the original building have confirmed that the building is structurally sound and is safe. They stated that there was no damage from the earthquake that posed a threat to safety.

Despite the building being condemned, a Socialist Party gathering was held in the venue two weeks ago.

The cost of demolishing the existing building has been estimated at EUR 180,000. Then, the cost to build a new theatre or centre in its place, could easily be expected to run into the millions. Experts that spoke to Exit have estimated the cost of refurbishing the existing building at EUR 300,000.

Rrogozhine is still suffering the consequences of the earthquake. At least 150 families are living in tents or homes that are dangerous and at risk of collapse. Locals on the ground in the area told Exit that so far, there has been no effort from the state to provide housing or repairs. While the government has handed out some food supplies, the majority of assistance has come from civil society and NGOs.

With several hundred people essentially homeless, it seems odd that rebuilding a cultural centre is a priority.

In February 2020, the Socialist Party Mayor of Rrogozhine died of a heart attack. According to those he worked with, Haxhi Memolla was “barely literate” and was struggling under the weight of his workload. Several people that Exit spoke to said that they believed that it was the deputy of the area Arben Ahmetaj who was really in charge.

Ahmetaj is the former Minister of Finance and following the earthquake, he was appointed as the Minister of Reconstruction. According to Prime Minister Edi Rama, Ahmetaj will be “exclusively in charge of coordinating all local and international institutions related to the program” and would be supervising the implementation of reconstruction at all levels.

During his time as Finance Minister, Ahmetaj oversaw the signing of dozens of controversial and highly-criticized Public-Private Partnerships. Many of these PPPs have been denounced as corrupt, including the Milot-Ballre highway, the Dukat-Orikum road, and the Thumane-Kashar highway.

As well as his role as Minister of Reconstruction, Ahmetaj remains the deputy of Rrogozine and is now in charge.

The Rrogozhine Cultural Centre is considered as a “state-of-the-art” example of the Socialist Realism style. Laim Halili, who oversaw its initial construction said it was built solidly and will all appropriate checks and measures. He reiterated that it was designed to withstand the test of time.

Exit has sent questions to Ahmetaj’s office with regards to demolition date, details of the tender for the new building, and clarification on where the money to pay for it will be coming from.