Top Ten Scandal Countdown of 2016 (Part 2)

Read part 1 here.

5. The National Stadium

The construction site of the new national Qemal Stafa stadium. Photo © Exit.
The construction site of the new national Qemal Stafa stadium. Photo © Exit.

During the summer, a quick succession of decisions and maneuvers led to the lightning-fast destruction of the Qemal Stafa stadium including its historical and monumental façade. Through a public-private partnership between the Ministry of Culture and the Albanian Football Federation, all public procurement procedures were handsomely avoided.

The architect, Marco Casamonti, has been sentence in Italy to 2.5 years imprisonment for corruption, while another of his “creations,” the 4Ever Green Tower across the orthodox cathedral, languishes in bankruptcy. Other participants in this project, which was only legalized after it had already started, are Sfera Studios of Artan Shkreli, who also happens to be a councillor to the Prime Minister and Atelier 4, which has lined its pockets with money from nearly every large government project.

Thanks to the dust pumped into the air until 2020 and the construction works on Skënderbeg Square and elsewhere in Tirana, the city enjoys higher pollution levels than ever.

4. Fields of Weed

Albania Drugs

This has been the year of massive, wide-spread cannabis production in Albania, making it the no. 1 drug producing country in Europe. Italian anti-mafia prosecutors spoke about the shocking corruption in Albania and links between government and crime, the BBC produced a documentary  calling Albanian the “European capital of drugs,” and the Huffington Post published on Albania’s “deep-rooted drug problem.”

While drug planes literally fell down from the sky, Minister of Interior Affairs Tahiri claimed until the very end that the police had destroyed 99.7% of all marijuana plantations in Albania. Meanwhile, during five summer weeks, the public reports from the Italian police only mentioned the capture of 11.5 ton of marijuana.

3. Masterplan Tirana

Mayor Erion Veliaj and starchitect Stefano Boeri with the TR030 team.

The Tirana 2030 Masterplan has its origins in the territorial reform implemented by the government in 2015. All new regions, including Tirana, were required to produce a new general local plan. A series of public procurement procedures was started, showing a number of anomalies, such as Stefano Boeri Architetti winning in Tirana, and Bolles + Wilson in Korça. they were very lucky; they both won on their first and only bid. Albanian companies, meanwhile, struggled to divide the rest of the loot.

Boeri, a failed “socialist” candidate for the mayorship of Milan, has admitted in private conversation that the tender had been promised to him by Edi Rama, and in the first phase of what is now called TR030 produced an incredibly mediocre presentation of his vision, full of mistakes and last-minute work.

Subsequently, the second and third phases of the masterplanning were held in complete silence and media blackout. With the TR030 Facebook and website producing zero discussion or public engagement. By the end of the December, the TR030 masterplan became suddenly a fait accompli, when the municipality in secret and in haste convened two “public” hearings while banning the media.

The masterplan, which, in violation of the law of public hearings was only published yesterday on the “transparency” website of the municipality – after the public hearings – will most probably passed today in the Municipal Council by only majority votes. The effects of the masterplan, about which still little is known, are expected to be disastrous.

2. Four Healthcare Concessions

Vilma Nushi (with fuchsia scarf) and Prime Minister Edi Rama in the offices of Marketing & Distribution, at the launch of new customs declaration software. Dec. 3, 2014. Source: ATA.
Vilma Nushi (with fuchsia scarf) and Prime Minister Edi Rama in the offices of Marketing & Distribution, at the launch of new customs declaration software. Dec. 3, 2014. Source: ATA.

Technically, these would be four different scandals, but since they are all linked to one and the same person, Minister of Health Ilir Beqaj, and his unhealthy preference for public-private partnerships, let’s take them together as a single €30-million-per-year burden for the next ten years.

First we have the free healthcare check-up tender at a total value of €5.4 million offered to the companies Trimed and Marketing & Distribution. Whereas the latter company has no prior experience in healthcare services, both Trimed (50%) and Marketing & Distribution (100%) are owned by Vilma Nushi, a businesswoman close to the Prime Minister

The sterilization concession was given to another friend of the Prime Minister and Minister of Health, Ilir Rrapaj, again with no prior experience in the field. The tender procedure and point awarding scheme was skewed and favored a consortium of companies owned by Rrapaj. The annual costs for the sterilization concession is €9.1 million per year.

The hemodialysis tender was again awarded through a potentially fraudulent procedure, to a company called Evita with no prior experience in hemodialysis. It later appeared that the American Hospital had partnered with Evita, but this information was only made public after pressure from the press. The tender procedure had proportionally valued Evita’s tender higher because the American Hospital had profited from more hemodialysis contracts from the government than its competitor for the same tender. In July 2016, the entire hemodialysis clinic of the American Hospital burned down, but the hospital threatened to withdraw advertisements if media published the news.

The finally, there is the laboratory tender of €95 million, which remains to be awarded. Any party to wants to appeal the final outcome of the tender procedure (which is a legal right) will have to pay a €200,000 penalty.

1. The Death of Ardit Gjoklaj

Çeta's sticker of Ardit Gjoklaj. Source: Facebook. Photo © Çeta.
Çeta’s sticker of Ardit Gjoklaj. Source: Facebook. Photo © Çeta.

On August 7, Ardit Gjoklaj, a 17-year-old illegal child laborer, died on the landfill in Sharra, Tirana, after being hit by an excavator. The landfill in Sharra was managed through yet another public-private partnership between the municipality of Tirana and an Italian waste management company, which in turn had contracted the company 3R to manage the landfill.

Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj had personally, at two occasions, called upon to people to find work in this “new” recycling plant, where they would receive an official contract and health insurance.

After the death of Ardit was discovered, despite the efforts of the company to hide the body, Edurim Teqja, the owner of the company (who is also head of the Socialist Party in Peqin) fled. He has not been arrested. Contracts regarding the exploitation of the landfill have been hidden by the municipality.

The aftermath of Ardit’s death, for which Veliaj is personally and politically responsible, was characterized by censorship of the media. Journalist Alida Tota was fired after she produced a reportage on the scandal, and the television program Publicús of Artan Rama was pulled from another channel after producing a documentary on the same issue. No one has been convicted for this crime, and no apology was issued by the municipality.

Innocent deaths, widespread drug cultivation, abuse of office, corruption, and censorship of the media – these are Exit’s predictions for 2017. Happy new year!