On 26 November 2019, Albania was hit by a large earthquake that caused 51 casualties and left thousands homeless. The damage caused was estimated by the government at around EUR 1 billion.
The Rama government, after securing over EUR 1 billion from the budget and donors for the reconstruction process announced that its priority was the start and completion of reconstruction work as soon as possible.
One year later and progress is slow with many still in tents or temporary accommodation. Furthermore, the government appears to be using the reconstruction process and money as an election card. They have also decided to expedite some legal processes including procedures, rules, laws, human rights, and are making arbitrary decisions to rebuild as quickly as possible.
Prime Minister Edi Rama mobilised all the construction capacities of the country in the service of reconstruction. For the first time in its leadership history, the government is implementing a construction democracy; it’s giving planning, design, construction, and oversight to everyone. The reason for this is clear. Rama wants every shovel, excavator, worker, and construction worker the country has, put to work.
If he chose just three or four companies to do the work, they would take a long time to build the volume that Rama needs in time for the elections. By giving many companies work to do, it speeds the process up.
This has been easy to do due to the limited and expedited tendering procedure it is using for reconstruction; the government decides who to invite to bid on any construction work.
But this tactic has another benefit; it will keep construction workers happy and link the fate of their payments to the fate of the government come to the election.
The general elections are five months away and the campaign has already started. Unfortunately, the Socialist Party’s campaign is taking place in the shadow of reconstructions from the earthquake.
As Minister of Reconstruction Arben Ahmetaj has often emphasized, reconstruction is not just a social programme to help people, it’s a political process with a clear purpose; to show that the Socialist Party and Edi Rama keep their word.
To this end, the reconstruction process is being planned and propagated to influence people to vote for the PS and Rama in the upcoming elections. No matter how cynical it may sound, the earthquake has been a golden political opportunity for the government and happened at exactly the right time for them to benefit from it. They are and will use reconstruction as their main political card for the upcoming elections.
The first challenge of the government was to secure funds for reconstruction. The government benefited from foreign aid and received hundreds of millions in free support and loans. Rama also took advantage of political solidarity to borrow indefinitely.
As Exit has pointed out before, in 2019, the government has already borrowed around EUR 1 billion- an amount that could not usually be borrowed in regular circumstances. Half of the debt from the state budget- around EUR 500,000 is earmarked for reconstruction in 2020 and 2021. Another half a billion is for reconstruction which will be managed outside of the state budget.
The Opposition has accused the government of deliberately postponing the reconstruction of homes and schools, impacting more than 11,000 families, as a ploy to get more votes. They added that hundreds if not thousands are still living in unsafe, unsanitary and unacceptable conditions.