From: Artan Rama
While Another Nature Reserve Is Illegally Developed, Government Remains Silent

On a December day in 2016, the president of Balfin Group, and its only shareholder, deposited €500,000 to increase the capital of BFI Invest shpk, one of the many companies that are part of this powerful Albanian financial investment firm. From the looks of it, the relatively young company had started its engines. Beside its capital injection also its main objective was changed. “Farm products” were replaced by “real estate investments.”

Before the winter was over, a team of environmental specialists had left for the field. Location: the Narta Lagoon. Mission: evaluation of the possibility of a future tourist project.

The reader will have no difficulties understanding that survey was requested by BFI Invest, in its new role as investor seeking to realize a extensive tourist complex in one of the protected landscapes and natural zones of Albania, the Narta Lagoon. In fact, right in the middle of it.

Finally, after a period of about three months, the project was publicly presented last Monday. The presentation, with the “blessing” of the Ministry of Environment who made the public announcement, was held in one of the luxurious rooms of ABA Business Center. BFI Invest explained its development concept under the “ecological” title of Blu Coast Albania.

The project includes the construction of a hotel, dozens of wood cabins, a festival stage, two camping grounds, a car park, and several other services necessary and sufficient for the operation of a genuine resort.

Together with a group of environmentalists, recruited to support its realization, this public hearing was also joined by several inhabitants of the municipality of Novosela, claiming to be the owners of the area that had been studied. The different parties encouraged each other to remind us once again that the appropriation and transformation of legally protected zones into development zones at the profit of project developers was fully agreed upon by the community that owned the lands.

And so, a bit more than two months before the end of its mandate, the government allows the beginning of procedures (those for the Karavasta Lagoon started some weeks ago) to give away the two most important lagoons of the country, protected by a complex network of laws, development plan, management strategies, and international conventions.

But in the room there were also those, albeit few, who opposed the project. Their position was clear.

“The lagoon is a protected zone and does not allow for development. We have to guarantee the security of several hundreds of bird species who reside there,” Taulant Bino said, an environmental specialist and professor at the Faculty of Natural Sciences.

VKM 680, dated October 22, 2004, has secured a strict protection of the area where BFI Invest seeks to invest. The landscape belongs to the central area of the lagoon and is marked as “Zone A,” which has the highest level of protection.

“At least you have to undo it, make another law, and then we’ll discuss from the beginning!,” economist, civil society activist, and Sfide founder Gjergj Bojaxhiu interrupts.

The representatives of the Ministry of Environment and the investors in room remain silent. But is that the only point they have in common? In fact, more than a shared position, this looks like a tactic before the Ministry expresses itself publicly. But even if we look at this from a distance, these actions don’t escape a certain bias.

Was the investor informed that it was developing a project in such a strictly protected zone?! Of course it did. It is difficult to think that a company that is part of a powerful investment group doesn’t have information about the legal basis on which this project needs to be founded. But thanks to the decision making process so far, these legal hurdles are easily taken by the investors. These barriers have also been lowered due to the contribution of several “environmentalists.”

For example, dr. Sulejman Sulçe, contracted by BFI Invest to verify the legality of the project declares: “We are for protection, but also for development. I cannot be against every development in zones that have a protected status.” Sulçe is the same specialist involved in the evaluation of the Karavasta lagoon project of Mabatex.

“How is possible that propositions are made for tourist projects in protected zone, when Albania has still so much unexplored parts of the coast, especially the unprotected ones?,” Bojaxhiu asks.

The representative of the government in the room continue to be silent. A silence that has often spoken against these nature reserves.