Illegal Construction, Government’s Volte-Face Ahead of Elections

In the next weeks, the Rama government is expected to approve a law that allows for the legalization of illegal buildings or additions to buildings. A draft law to that effect has been prepared by the Ministry of Urban Development (MZhU) and sent by Minister Eglantina Gjermeni to the other ministries for comments.

However, it seems this law goes against both existing legal frameworks and the promises of the government itself.

Objections by the Ministry of Justice

Three days ago, Minister of Justice Ylli Manjani openly opposed the draft law, calling it unacceptable. The official response of the Ministry of Justice emphasizes that the draft law leads to a confusion between the local governments and the Agency for the Legalization, Urbanization, and Integration of Informal Zones/Buildings (ALUIZNI) and that in several cases the burden of paying the duties for legalization has shifted from the builder to the owner.

The law on Territorial Planning and Development

In the summer of 2014, MZhU proposed a new law on territorial planning and development, which stood at the basis of the territorial reform implemented by the Rama government.

This law, influenced by Rama’s own strict stance on illegal constructions, included several strict administrative sanctions as regards the perpetrators of such illegal construction work. Article 52 states that those who construct illegal building will receive a fine as high as the construction costs but at least 500,000 lekë, and that the building in question will be destroyed. The same holds for illegal additions to already existing constructions.

Changes in the Penal Code

In December of the same year, the Rama government proposed additional changes in the Penal Code, punishing those involved illegal constructions with prison sentences from one up to eight years. Defending the changes in Parliament, Rama stated on December 18, 2014:

We have to stop the terrible hemorrhage in which Albania has been drowning for year. It is undisputed that if we don’t sanction with clear punishments, the phenomenon will persist.

One of the more well-known results of these changes in the Penal Code was an accident in May 2016, when two children died on the way to visit their father in the prison of Rrogozhina, a 54-year-old man from Kavaja who had been arrested in February because of continuing construction work on an illegal building.

Rama’s volte-face

Apart from the objections of the Ministry of Justice and the contradictions between the aim of the draft law and the existing legal framework regarding illegal constructions, it appears that the MZhU’s draft law contradicts the promises and declarations of Prime Minister Edi Rama himself about fighting informality and destroying illegal buildings.

During the election campaign of 2013 the leader of the Socialist Party promised that he would destroy illegal buildings and free public space. After winning the elections, he even opened the website, where citizens could denounce illegal buildings and additions. The website no longer exists.

Thise position of Prime Minister Rama didn’t change until very recently. In May 2016, convinced that he should continue the fight against informality, declared:

It is allowed to build a balcony, annex, or floor without permit, otherwise the entire building is without permit. Cut it out, the state has to find sophisticated ways to destroy the additional floor.

It is still unknown why he suddenly changed his opinion in December 2016, just before the 2017 elections. MZhU still hasn’t released any studies or given a concrete reasoning for the necessity of this draft law. But most probably such a study or reason does not exist.

This is simply one of the many decisions made by the government at the “right” moment in order to secure the votes of the Albanian citizens at the threshold of the elections, by giving out legalizations and alleviating the financial burden on the shoulders of the construction companies close to the government, which through the new law will avoid many of the fines for their illegal activities.