The Albanian government has been accused of manipulating figures relating to the aid it gave during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Dozens of families told BIRN that they had not received supplies, or received enough for two weeks despite lockdown lasting for more than two months. Others said that packages lacked essential ingredients such as flour.
On 19 March, Prime Minister Edi Rama said: “we will not leave a door unknocked.” He also said that 400,000 individuals and families had benefitted from government aid, yet the Ministry of Defence said it was nearer 200,000.
An investigation by BIRN found that it was even less than the Ministry of Defence’s figures. Approximately 173,000 received food packages, most of which were funded by private or charity donations.
The COVID-19 pandemic came at a time when many Albanians were still suffering the fall out of the 26 November earthquake. Rama said that those who lost their homes, people on welfare, disabled individuals, pensioners, and homeless would receive aid packages to offset the impact of the lockdown.
But when the figures Rama published were compared with data from the Defence Ministry and local Municipalities, they didn’t add up.
The Ministry claimed that Rama had included the assistance of charities, NGOs and private donations in his final figures, not just state data.
BIRN found that aid funded by the state accounted for just 12% of total aid distribution reported by the Ministry, and just 11% of that reported by Municipalities. Donations accounted for far more.
Rama failed to make the distinction between what was distributed by charities and private donations, and the small sliver of aid provided by the state.
But even stranger was the fact that the day the government approved the assistance programme, the Ministry of Defence issued an emergency tender worth almost a million euros. But there was no need as warehouses holding state reserves of food were at capacity, containing 400 tonnes of flour, 80 tonnes of rice, 70 tonnes of pasta, 50 tonnes of oil, 50 tonnes of beans, 20 tonnes of tinned mean, 5 tones of salt, 30 tonnes of detergent, and 30,000 bars of soap.
The company that won the tender, delivered 30,000 food packages but these were stored in the state warehouse and the state reserves were delivered instead.
The tender is currently being investigated by the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecution Court.
There were also discrepancies with what the parcels contained. The official package is supposed to be worth EUR 34, and contain 3.5kg of pasta, 3l of oil, 3kg of rice, 2kg of sugar, 2kg of beans, 1kg of salt, 1.2kg of canned foods, 2.5l of detergent and 5 bars of soap. No flour was included despite being promised and Albanians got 2kg of dates donated by Saudi Arabia.
According to a confidential report, some 1,280 bags of flour were distributed, making it “the lowest figure in the history of Civil Emergencies.”