This is a collaborative investigation between Exit.al and Citizens Channel
The Municipality of Tirana and the Institute of Construction have failed to respond to freedom of information requests filed by Exit and Citizens Channel, both in terms of answering the questions partially or in full, and in relation to the time limit prescribed by law.
Last month, Citizens Channel revealed that the Municipality was planning to demolish the ex-Albanian Telegraphic Agency (ATSH) building, known as the 7-story building. It was designed by renowned architect Maks Velo in 1976 and is a Category II National Monument.
Located on the New Boulevard in Tirana, the Municipality has received approval from the Institute of Construction to proceed with the demolition of the historic building. They claim it’s damaged from the November 2019 earthquake, yet the engineer who worked on its construction says it is in a good condition. It was also reported that foreign experts who inspected it following the earthquake, said it was safe.
Documents show that the building is part of a tender of 30 million euros, and is included in the list of 14 educational facilities that will be built in Tirana within the reconstruction program. The problem is that the building will not be used as an educational facility.
According to the design plan, a facility for public administration offices will be built.
Following analysis of documents related to the demolition of the building, Exit sent a number of questions to the Municipality and to the Institute of Construction.
The Municipality was not only late to send their response, but they only answered one of the 12 questions. The Institute of Construction did not reply. Neither institution asked for an extension on the time it would take them to compile their response.
Questions included information on the decision to demolish the building, plans for the new project, its value, and who will be funding it. Exit also questioned why the Municipality had invested in restoring the facade of one of the adjoined buildings, currently rented by Destil, but not one on the other side, currently owned by a private citizen.
Local residents fear that the demolition of the Velo building will also include a building on its left, to make way for a 30-story building in its place. In fact, it’s believed the project in question will cover a plot of up to 2000 square meters, but the ATSH project covers just 225 square meters, increasing fears that other nearby properties will also be demolished.
Exit also queried how the City Council decision to demolish the building was dated November 2020, yet the procurement documents for the new project are dated March and August 2019, a full twenty months before the earthquake that has supposedly rendered the building unsafe.
Another question posed to the Municipality was related to the EUR 7000 fee paid for analysis, design, and planning. Experts in the sector stated that this seems a very low fee for a project of this kind.
They also failed to clarify or provide details of safety assessments to ascertain the impact of demolition on the buildings on either side of the ATSH building.
The question that the Municipality answered was in relation to an employee called Alma Ristani. One of the procurement documents from March 2019 bears her name, yet according to the FoI response, Ristani was not employed by the Municipality until 1 April 2020. Prior to this role, she was a “specialist in the Secretariat of Telecommunication Energy in Directorate of Public Works.”
It’s not clear how her name appeared on a Municipality document from a period prior to her being employed there.
In two separate FoI’s, Citizens Channel sent questions to both the Municipality and the Institute of Construction. These questions included copies of the report conducted following the earthquake by international experts and a list of cultural monument buildings that have been declared as damaged following the earthquake.
The Municipality failed to respond during the legally defined time frame and did not ask for an extension.
The Institute for Construction responded by diverting responsibility back to the Municipality and other departments, stating that they were not in possession of the documents, despite the fact they fall under their remit.