Rama Invites Foreign Investors, But Advises against Reading the News

Yesterday morning Prime Minister Edi Rama opened the “Tirana Business Matching 2017” event in International Hotel Tirana, organized by the Chamber of Commerce of Tirana. The official aim of the event was to facilitate business meetings between foreign investors and Albanian entrepreneurs, and thus attract the direct foreign investments that have significantly decreased. But perhaps the main reason was to show the Albanian public that many foreign investors are “interested” in investing in Albania.

Although these types of events are usually free of charge, “Tirana Business Matching 2017” was organized by the Chamber of Commerce in a public–private partnership with private consultants. There was therefore an entrance fee, apparently to cover the organizational costs and the no doubt expensive advice from the consultants, who helped to attract foreign investors to join the event.

In fact, the event had initially been planned in May, was then postponed to the beginning of September, and finally only materialized in late October, because of the low number of reservations. This was perhaps due to the high registration fees: €1,500 for foreign companies and €300 for Albanian ones, until the former tariff was dropped to €900.

One way or the other, the room was filled with dozens of foreign entrepreneurs and consultants, most of whom had their entrance fee covered by public money or an Albanian company, or by one of the many government officials or businesses that are member of the Chamber of Commerce.

The opening conference was attended by the senior ministers of the government and the Prime Minister. Prime Minister Rama, always elegant and aware of the mores of economic diplomacy, took the opportunity to continue his attack on the Albanian press, by suggesting to those in attendance:

Don’t meet journalists and don’t read newspapers, because it will upset your digestive system.

According to the Prime Minister, foreign investors should thus only rely on government information, and not on the press, when deciding whether to invest in Albania.

To give a concrete example of what the Prime Minister has in mind, Minister of Finance and Economy Arben Ahmetaj declared that the government predicts that the economic growth at the end of the government’s second mandate will be between 5.5% and 6% – more than double the rates predicted by the IMF and World Bank, which have been reported broadly in the Albanian press.

Moreover, these reports warn for a decrease in direct foreign investments, now that the TAP and Devoll Hydropower projects are close to the finish line. In comes Minister of Infrastructure and Energy, Damian Gjiknuri, who once again announced the 1 Billion Euro Plan, through which the government plans to implement important and necessary infrastructural upgrades through public–private partnerships. The IMF has repeatedly warned against these constructions, which in fact hide long-term debt against unfavorable rates.

To illustrate the true success of this strategy in attracting foreign investments, the comment of a possible Italian investor, attending the event is telling. Upon discovering that Albanian companies only had to one third of what foreign companies had to pay he said:

I understood what system this is: we pay and they don’t, we invest our money and they want to take it. Who do they think we are?

It seems Rama’s tricks are no longer working.