Published on : 11 September 2017

The interest of next generation at the centre of policy and state building

Prime Minister Edi Rama presents a synthesis of the new government programme to the Assembly: 

Honourable Assembly of Albania,

Your Excellences, Ambassadors,

Invited guests,

First of all, on behalf of the new parliamentary majority and all our voters, I would like to extend my congratulations to the Speaker of the Assembly on his election in this high office.

Honourable Speaker,

I have never been more certain than in the voting of two days ago of the fact that the investment of my vote into an individual would fully turn to a public benefit.

I listened to your inauguration address very carefully and subscribe to its every word.

I am convinced that under your leadership, this governing majority shall not be tolerated in any case and for any reason at all to make use of its strength in numbers to overstep the red lines drawn as such by the book of rules underpinning the coexistence of this Assembly.

I am equally convinced that under your leadership, any partisan agenda or individual chance ventures shall no longer succeed in holding hostage the daily work order of this Assembly.

We will come here every day over the next four years to attend the plenary session and sit in parliamentary committees with the major goals of our governing programme.

We are aware of our mistakes and shortcomings in the course of both the political and parliamentary activity of the last four years, but are as much cognizant of the increased burden of responsibility that has been placed on us in this new mandate, which leaves no time, or reason, or even more so morale for us to continue with the “same old story”.

With these in mind, the goal over the next four years would be for us to be the force of example, not the example of force.

I know, it easier said than done, but we begin this new legislature carrying all the good will to bring about the change Albania is looking for from this Parliament as well, from this hall, starting with this imperative transformation from ourselves.

This year, during which both the conflict and understanding with the opposition reached unprecedented peaks within a very short time span, taught us a very critical lesson. I hope that our opposition colleagues as well have benefited from and understood such lesson.

We have realized that we were wrong in thinking that patience with the actual opposition was unworthy, as, at the end of the day, nothing would change.

We have been misjudging when dismissing every attack from the opposition that fell beyond ethical boundaries, due to its unjustifiably ugliness in form, without analysing, however, the motive behind it.

Personally speaking, I have drawn other important lessons from this year, but I apologize I do not share them with you. One only shows competitors what is on the surface.

There you are, something else that came out quite naturally when writing this address: never enemies, nor adversaries. You are competitors and we are not here to fight you, but your ideas and policies. I hope the same applies to you!

We contend with you in a race that is often heated to win over the hearts and minds of people, each of us fighting with what we have in the belief that ours is the best choice over the other’s for the people and the country.

There is another lesson from this year that is worth mentioning at this point:

June 25th proved once again, this time even more clearly than others, that in Albania do not win those who most feed the flames of discord; those who accuse, insult and defame others the most and who bluff the most with their own hand of cards; neither do those who pretend to worry over people’s issues during the day, just to count at night the personal gains they have made from dismantling the state and exasperating citizens.

One of the days of the opposition protest that preceded for several months the elections, the chair, Basha, took to the streets in a demonstration together with his younger daughter.

That is not an episode I am recalling to comment upon, and even less so to judge. But, at the end of the day, no matter if we are at peace or in a conflict, in the right or in the wrong, everything we do is linked to our children. Thus, in throughout work of ours, that is far more than ours exclusively, we must never forget that everything we do wrong, comes at the expense of children across Albania.

The future of our children is the top priority we have as parents and the focus of our efforts as individuals. But, in this case, we are also leaders or representatives of the parties of all the Albanian people at this Assembly and, as such, our efforts determine many things at the present, and everything for the future of all children in Albania.

They are fed, clothed, they need toys, books, better classrooms, balls and sport fields and their necessities and expectations grow hand in hand with them. If we really intend to do more for them – and there is no doubt that everyone in this rooms wants to do more – let us first not forget what’s most important and does not cost a dime, while our political life unfolds amidst our efforts and contradictions. Let us not forget that none of us in this rooms teaches their children at home the stale habits of the degraded coexistence inside these walls. No one of us, no matter how different and in contradiction we are with each other, would approve of their children inside their houses, if they did what we randomly do here – with some of us more, and some others more – with an unethical language and a behaviour that more times than most is aggressive towards one another, in the eyes of the entire public opinion and our children at that.

Albania is a country rich in natural resources, but are greatest wealth are the people – and most importantly, we have many children, young people who show a positive and ambitious approach to the future. These are young man and women who believe in the future and love Albania greatly.

Many of them have left the country in these last decades, but never replaced it in their hearts and minds. They have left and leave in search of a better life somewhere else, but there are those who return and even more of them who long to be back, to invest their experience and know-how they have gained in countries that are more developed than ours.

Potentially, there are still many things that actually prevent most of them to consider their decision to return.

But let us be completely honest to with them and ourselves.

The biggest obstacle preventing their return, which in turn was the strongest drive to lead them away, is rooted in this hall and kept alive by all of us through the weekly shows this Assembly reserves and the hearsay of the daily life of our village politics that highlights the gap between the political village and the world of children and the ordinary citizens of this country, in a way that kills the dreams of people and youth, in particular.

I wish wholeheartedly and we will do the impossible to make sure that the first winners of these elections are those who did not vote, being underage: The children across the country!

I want this government, the current governing majority to put the interest of the children at the heart of the politics and state-building.

That means for me far more direct efforts that benefit children and a much greater speed and depth of the state-building reforms in the name of children.

I will never forget what a great grandmother told me during a hearing session with pensioners: “Everything you will add to my children, would be the same as if had doubled my pension!”

For every household with three or more children we shall provide free schoolbooks for the third-born or the children after him.

Our intention is to ensure within this mandate that a monthly bonus is granted to all these households with three or more children. This Child Bonus is not simply a financial support for multiple children households, but also a tool that has been proven to foster economic growth and provide a positive demographic stimulus.

Many years ago, while at helm of Tirana Municipality, the New-born Cheque was created. It was a new and clearly timid policy for the very financial resources we had available to support newly born children of young families that later was extended throughout the country. Since then, although it turned into a copy-paste government-endorsed policy, it has not changed in value while its implementation has stalled. It would suffice for me to recollect that in 2013, of the huge pile of inherited arrears, a chunk of USD 6 million was unpaid debt to new-borns, for failure of the government to disburse the cheque.

Well, the truth is that even in the course of our first mandate we have fallen short of meeting such obligation in full and on time. I apologize today to all those children and parents who have not received their cheque on time, if at all.

They will definitely get every dime they are entitled to, while measures will be put in place so that occurrences of such delays and incorrectness unbecoming of a government are no longer the case. Furthermore, we will allocate an annual financial increment of the New-born Cheque, starting from the next year draft budget.

Second, we will dedicate increased focus, energies and financial resources to schools and education. Teachers must become our heroes in the common effort to enhance education quality. Today, I wish all of them, as well as the children and parents, an academic year that is as auspicious, successful and exciting as possible for everyone.

Teachers should feel the support not only of the government, but also of all of us here and of the entire nation.

Teachers’ salaries have progressively increased over the years. This year they jumped significantly and the trend will follow in the course of this mandate. It is of equal importance, however, that they receive a growing moral and public support, as well. We must sustain them against any display of classroom aggression or expression of disrespect – be it among students or of the latter against the teacher. The apposite applies as well where, as the case has been, unworthy teachers tarnish the reputation of all their profession, which, allow me to remind you again, has long been the norm among politicians in this “classroom” of ours.

That why I call on the party chairs and all MPs in this room today – in the interest of all children of Albania and next generations – to mature and become aware all together of the significant harm done to the children, to the girls and boys of this country, by the aggressiveness and expression of disrespect looming large among us.

Let us engage in passionate debates, let us ardently defend our opposite standings, let us contradict one another, even strongly if you will, but please let us not allow, all of us here, that our political co-existence be the womb that bears negative role models and examples for the children of Albania.

In that regard I would urge you to reflect further on the negative influence on the entire society that such violence-inciting communication patterns and negative examples of coexistence this Assembly and political village of ours has produced.

Obviously, we are clear that the largest burden of responsibility today falls on us, the parliamentary and governing majority and we shall bear it while growing the seed of tolerance, the spirit of dialogue and the sense of understanding with our competitors in this hall and outside of it.

Once, many years ago, the late and unforgettable Gramoz Pashko, who had found himself in the midst of the first internal party conflict, was the first use a sentence that since then has been frequently quoted: “Things uniting us are more than those that divide us.”

I quoted his statement not because I am telling you, distinguished competitors, that the things we have in common outnumber what drive us apart. No, that is not so! Back then, Gramoz and Sali, as members of the same party, had indeed more things common compared to what divided them. This is not the case with us, however. The things that divide us are more than ones bringing us together. However, those things that bring us together are greater than those dividing us.

Albania and its reputation in the world is something major that unites us, isn’t it? I do never want to believe it that you love Albania less than we do, and that you act deliberately when contributing to undermine its reputation in the world.

How is it possible then that we have been going along divided lines all these years on something this important?

Who among us have got to gain and what on earth is to be gained by tarnishing Albania’s image in the eyes of the world?

Nobody has any benefits whatsoever from that. Others instead do, those who are malevolent towards this country have got to gain from internal ill-feelings being blown out in media stations around the world. In the meantime, Albania only has to lose from all this. Albanians in and out of Albania have to lose.

To those who might tell me that they pay lobbyists around the world or in the foreign media to discredit the corrupt and incriminated Government of Albania, but not Albania itself, I could respond by giving only one out of the slew of reasons that can counterpose such less than serious argument.

I will not name any countries, but they are easily identifiable, both very close and away from home, where the government and the opposition clash strongly with one another, but never does it occur for any reason whatsoever that political opponents take to the streets of the world to sling mud at each other, only to smear their own country. Even more so, they never happen to articulate in any other language the dirt they don’t spare to one another in their own mother tongue.

Votes are not won by filling the ears of ears of foreigners with slander against one another. Elections are not won by financing or instigating foreigners to declare and publish gloomy sensational news about this country which belongs equally to you and us, to everyone. Power is not taken over by going to Brussels divided, as if we were representatives of groups fighting an interethnic conflict.

Let me be crystal clear:

Do not even think that I am beating around the bush having in mind only the cannabis and decriminalization, both of them issues that the Democratic Party has strongly raised. These have been real issues for sure, but that, in my view, were blown out of any proportions in the eyes and ears of the world, exceeding any limit.

For truth’s sake, we have to admit that opposition plaid an actual role in shaking us in face of these two issues. It would be useless to deny that the opposition has had its contribution in the total offensive we are staging today against cannabis with incredible results.

Some or all of the opposition colleagues may even stand up now and tell me that if they hadn’t talked loads to international partners, we wouldn’t have built the dam of the law on decriminalization that currently prevents any individual with criminal records from entering Parliament, city councils, and the administration.

Fine, let us not argue with that and take what you think for granted, but let us try and make at least an attempt to discuss issues of certain dimensions among us. Let us take the pains and try to address and resolve them in Albanian, with patience and good faith.

Let us again try for God’s sake to distinguish the factual reporting from Albanians’ criminalization by foreign information sources that shamelessly speak of an Albanian ethnic crime in some cities! There is no doubt, I believe, that we must stand together against it.

Our State, its Constitution, its rule of law, the electoral process in Albania, the criminal money in politics, the media, the economy or the transparency in the use of public funds are major issues that, in principle, do not divide but unites us, don’t they?

What stops us from opening a serious, organized, constant and patient dialogue, in order to steer clear of the “same old story” for another four years; to prevent such issues from being left largely ignored, and finding ourselves forced in the end to provide last-minute solutions after being reduced into the laughing stock of the world.

Who among us has to gain and what, if you could tell me, by barricading everything and always eager to go against one another? There is definitely nothing to gain for anyone.

On behalf of the governing majority and in front of all of you distinguished colleagues, with no exception, whether you are traditional or seasonal opponents of the Socialist Party, I state our willingness to take a joint initiative, a round table on the major issues that ought to bring us together, which, I repeat, are fewer than what divides us, but outweigh them in value and constitute the major set of obligations that every true political parties and serious politician has in any country.

Aren’t Albania united with Europe and the national union of Albanians part of this binding package for all of us?

Who among us has to gain and what from our squabbles and strife that randomly turn into stumbling blocks in our European integration path or into unjustifiable delays to own the national agenda of the unification of Albanians?

Everybody understands what I imply by the former. The second is explicit as well, but so as to prevent any innocent misunderstanding, or deliberate misconstruing, I will make it clear:

I am not speaking of a Great Albania, but of one Albanian people, who even if today has two States and lives better than in the past even in the other countries, near us or distant, is still a far cry from being bound in rights and obligations, compact in the face of major goals and unified in their efforts, like many other developed nations are.

Even our own mother tongue, the unified Albanian language has finds itself under threat from the inertia of the vacuum created throughout numerous transition years, where the school lost its mission and function, as well as from the confusion of values, again an offspring of the transition that continues to rear its head into worrisome forms of insanity, like the recent one involving our very own National Hero, Scanderbeg! People who, truth be told, cannot even match up to the underbelly extension of Gjergj’s horse, sprang up on TV, internet portals and headlines looking down on his history, our history, the history of our children.

As ridiculous as it appears in its own madness, that episode needs true analysis, reflection and reaction, not to deal with the curtain that actually did not cover the monument, but with what has surfaced by using that media-mounted tent as the embryo of an ominous worm. And mark my words, this is an ominous worm eating at one of the most solid pillars that bears the weight of our house: the religious harmony and European affiliation of Albanians.

Honourable Assembly of Albania, do we have the luxury of not coming together on such major matters like our own identity values and the challenges we face as a nation and as a State in the Europe we live in?

Even if we screamed on top of our heads and got at each other’s throats over our political beliefs and arguments on taxes or concessions, that must never hamper us from finding a unique voice and standing by each other when we have to speak of Albania, on behalf of our country, of our nation; when we need to speak up of Albania’s European integration and defend the values, freedoms and rights of every Albanian, of every child carrying our bloodline wherever they live.

Let me give you an example that speaks volumes:

We speak over and over, endlessly, about the Albanians who leave, but will we ever start to talk without wasting any time on their decision-making power in this country that will bind them wherever they live, morally, spiritually and mentally, as they already are to Albania?

I am talking about enabling the right to vote for every emigrating Albanian, granting the chance to participate in elections from wherever they live to the sons and daughters of these people, who wish to elect the parliament and government of their own country.

Isn’t that another major cause that we have in common and which we have raised for so many years now, blaming one another at every end of mandate for the failure to make it a reality?

I call on all of you, let us no longer waste time but sit together and make emigrant voting a reality in the 2021 political elections.

Who among us have got to gain if that fails, and what? There is absolutely nothing to be gained by anyone. Instead, Albania is the one to lose and what is lost is much more than just a group of voters in parliamentary elections. What is lost is the moral ties between the country and its people.

We will keep making our foreign policy more dynamic, while invigorating the dimension of economic diplomacy. I shall not go into details in these areas, for it will be the ministers themselves who will tackle them one by one.

I will only underline the major issue.

First, we will work hard to enact some of the initiatives under the regional cooperation context, within the framework of the Berlin Process.

Efforts shall be multiplied to materialize faster many of the initiatives that have been already agreed upon with Kosovo in the joint meetings of the two governments.

I wish the Prime Minister Haradinaj wisdom, strength and health for the benefit of Kosovo. At the same time, I hope that we agree on turning land borders in to a European border; without kilometre-long queues and excessive police controls, possibly starting from January 1st, 2018. We are ready. I hope Kosovo is ready, too. I also hope that the unification of the Albanian and Kosovar customs happens the sooner possible, making the Albanian port customs Kosovo customs, as well. The project is ready, as it has been designed, consulted and agreed upon by the two parties at the technical level. We are ready to endorse it at the political level and are only pending for the approval by the Government of Kosovo.

Second, we stick to our motto, “Zero problems with neighbours” and shall intensify efforts to address via the agreed structure of dialogue the inherited issues with the only neighbour we have problems with currently, Greece.

My message to the southern neighbour is simple and clear: What we want is reciprocal friendship, mutual respect and strategic cooperation.

To us, every Greek living in Albania is a full member with equal rights of our own family and the Greek minority as a whole is an exceptionally precious bridge connecting our two countries and peoples, and the attention the State and Government of Albania will dedicate to them will only grow. However, for all its challenges and needs, Albania shall never turn a blind eye or shut itself up when it comes to defending the truths and its own rights.

Allow me to declare today that I am fully confident that the times ahead will produce the desired solutions for both parties through realistic and grounded dialogue, and not by means by declarations flying back and forth from a distance and that our relations will be elevated to a new stage of friendship, respect and strategic cooperation.

Third, I will start by a parenthesis:

Today is 11 September, a day marks a deep mournful commemoration moment for the United States. While reaffirming on this day our unwavering commitment to stand by the side of our great strategic ally, I would also like to inform you that the new government shall allocate a solidarity fund for the victims of the vast destruction inflicted by the natural disaster since days on the US.

We will continue to strongly rely on the strategic allegiance with the United States and the European Union, standing unequivocally with them and contributing with everything we can in all the common diplomatic or military fronts.

Albania’s European integration is to us our own history; the history of the reforms we must write and enforce here in Albania; the history of democratization and modernization of this country, not because it is Brussels that tells us so, or even the whole world for that matter, but because the European Albania is the testament of our Renaissance and the obligation we have towards our children.

The official opening of access negotiations next year is definitely what Albania expects and deserves and it would be unfair in our view that this matter continued to be dragged on for reasons not related to Albania, by finding a new justification at every step. Nothing to be bitter about though. We know how European Union works nowadays and also how increasingly unpredictable the integration process is. Consequently, all that is left is for us to do the best we can and, regardless of the formalization and the official stages of the process, to make Albania a country that has the same standards, norms and demeanour as the European Union.

It is up to us to undertake a radical reformation of governance, of the institutions subjected to years of corroding corruption and the long-decaying system of citizen services. And we will do it! This is a part of the state-building effort that is implied by each step of the European integration process itself. We shall strongly push in that direction.

We have a comprehensive vision and a clear plan which we have started to enact with the new government structure and that will cascade down to the very baseline of the state pyramid. The principle that drives our governance will be: “Do more with less”

It is up to us to watch over the Vetting process and push forward the entire Justice Reform, while alleviating at the same time the heavy burden placed by the many links of the justice system on the citizens and the entire country. Focus on the Vetting is more than normal. Focus on the big fish by the public opinion is also more than understandable. In the meantime, though, our judiciary is killing the hopes and rights of many ordinary citizens daily. We shall strongly push ahead not only for the public opinion to see for himself concrete proof of the gains the Vetting will bring to the nation, but also to ensure that in four years from now, the common citizens do not think of the justice we want as a utopia, as it has been the case in these 27 years.

It is up to us to ensure the rebuild all existing schools waiting for years for the state to act; all hospital rooms and facilities that have been waiting for years for the state to act; every national road that is ailing for lack of the state intervention that over more than 20 years has left the footprints a irresponsibility and incompetence that is perplexing. And we will do it all!

A significant investment programme will kick off during this mandate for the country’s road, school and health infrastructure that will result in many new jobs and produce a significant impact on Albania’s economic growth.

Partnership with the business will enter a new stage. The new Government will have a State Minister dedicated to protect the entrepreneurship, who will be a de facto Entrepreneurship Advocate within the Government.

Even collaboration with the business to fight corruption in the administration, rid of the vultures in state offices, in order to facilitate interaction between the business and the state dramatically, will get to a new stage and we will not hesitate to use all the required unconventional tools.

On the other hand, the fight against informality will mark a new phase from the first 100 days of the government, starting with a significant shift in approach and producing that will be constantly consolidated over the next four years.

It is up to us to boost much more the of security standard in the country and that of the police service across the territory; to go after any “strongman” who defies the order and safety of the common people of the community; to persevere and renew our police force by continuing to further reduce the retirement age and enhance their professionalism. And we will do it!

It is up to us to increase the investment volume without leading to a surge in debt, but rather to a reduction thereof; to go over growth rate of 5% in the third year of this mandate; create the opportunity for 220 thousand more jobs in the state books of accounts; to raise again wages and pensions in the four-year span, without augmenting the debt; to further increase agricultural exports, buy providing stronger incentives and giving up partisan-inspired subsidies that lack in efficiency. And we will do it!

We will strongly commit, in cooperation with the local government irrespective of whether they are right or left, to close once and for all the chapter of property titles on agricultural land that has been going on for years. Likewise, we shall finalize the legalization process. A special entity will conduct the state-owned property inventory, ranging from the roads that are still reportedly public property, but actually serve as food for land brokers in immovable property offices, to all free agricultural or tourist land that can’t be left at the mercy of the plunderers and brokers of this country.

It is our job to turn tourism into one of the greatest sources of economic and employment growth over the next four years; to shift significantly the approach in this area; to take the collaboration with the local government and the entire industry to a whole new level; to ensure a dramatic increase of both domestic and foreign investments in tourism. And we will do it!

Starting from next year, do not be in such a run to book holidays abroad, as the tourist season will bring a new era in Albania, with high security, exemplary cleanliness and decent health services. That has been recorded into the archive. The well-educated people of the opposition must keep this in mind so that they can confront it with the reality. I am telling you, do not waste you money to go abroad next year, it’s your call.

Fires in the forests during this season deserve a very serious analysis, as well as a strong and efficient response from the next year. Reformation and elevation of Civil Emergencies to an entirely new standard is an immediate necessity. And we will do it!

We will design a new approach on environment and will include immediately the goals for a clean country and protected natural resources into our four-year agenda and never take it out of there not even for a single day. Albania may still be poor, but there is no reason for it not to be clean starting from today; it may well be a very small market, but there is no reason for it not to be a very safe country; it may miss rockets, airplanes, high-speed trains, but there is no reason for it to lack water and energy supply all across the territory, guaranteed security and equal opportunities for each and every one; an economic and social development that is much more meaningful to the common individual.

It is up to us and we will do it!

Of course, every helping hand you will decide to give us in this process and along this path through which we seek to engender a historic change, will be one we will kiss and never bite.

Thank you!

*** 

Prime Minister Edi Rama answers to the questions by parliamentary groups on the government program in the Assembly: 

In thanking both groups for their questions, I’ll start by answering the questions of the political group of the Socialist Movement for Integration:

- What are the government's priorities for public investment?

I said briefly in my presentation this morning, road infrastructure, education and health. Moreover, priority is given to securing public funding at 5% of the domestic output for investments, providing the appropriate budget support for economic growth. With regard to infrastructure, the essence remains the guarantee of mobility and interconnection that will drive investments, with the aim of developing the sectors of tourism, agriculture and cultural heritage, in addition to what I have underlined, the overall recovery of the entire national road system. We will intervene in the national road system with a major project that is being prepared, and I believe we will bring it to this Parliament. Change in the approach will be essential, and priority sectors will be supported not only by public investments funded by the state budget, but also through public-private partnerships, as well as by attracting foreign investment through a range of specific facilitations for the sectors of relevance which will also be presented to the Assembly with the new fiscal package.

- What percentage of the domestic output will be spent on education, health and agriculture, because it is not clear in the program how these sectors will be prioritized?

An attentive reading of the program would have probably answered this question, but I am here to respond. Throughout the first mandate, we have seen a significant increase of health support by 3% of the domestic production, and we continue to look towards this sector with the conviction that with regard to health care we will reach 60-65% of the total expenditures of Albanians for health, a figure which, just to remind you, was only 43% in 2013. In addition, our aim is to make sure that no Albanian families find themselves in a situation of poverty because of the costs of health care. As far as education and health are concerned, we are also clear about the necessity to continue with a priority support to teachers, as well as doctors and nurses, considering as totally achievable the target to increase their salaries by up to 40% within this mandate. We are also working on a new funding scheme to encourage specialist doctors to work in regional hospitals or municipal hospitals outside of Tirana. It's still under discussion, but the idea is to offer these practitioners a salary close to what they can benefit, without counting taxes, if they go and work in Italy, for example.

Agriculture will continue to be a very important branch in our view. The goal is to move much faster, with a thorough reorganization and a special focus on over 5 ha farms and on their continuous increase. On the other hand, we are already very clear that 100% of the agricultural land under water is a fully achievable commitment, and it will be a reality within the first two years of the mandate. The irrigated area of agricultural land doubled  in four years, and today there are 225 thousand ha that are irrigated and drained normally, compared with the 110 thousand that were in 2013. But the target remains to cover 100% of the land that is available, and it is arable farming land that requires irrigation.

- How will the education budget be distributed by the sectors that make it up, and which of the ministries is responsible for vocational education?

Actually, we do not need a profound knowledge of the reform and of the policy on vocational education of our former coalition to understand that there is only one ministry that can take responsibility for the further growth of vocational education, and this is the Ministry that is also responsible for the economy, hence the Ministry of Finance and Economy which will continue the work on setting up vocational education centres in cooperation with local government and entrepreneurship in each of the 61 municipalities. Thus we will continue to deepen a process that has started to give very encouraging results. On the other hand, in terms of what is called distribution, but which is actually a subdivision of the total budget for education, 76.7% go to post-secondary education, 21% go to higher education and research, and the rest remains for sport and youth.

- Your promise is that for the next four years 75% of water needs will be fully met in the entire territory. What does this mean?

This means that one does as much as s/he can, and we could have done more had our joint government of the first term been more focused on implementing water reform. However, I would like to point out that 75% of the needs do not mean that 25% of the population will drink water directly from the river bed or take it directly from the sky through the rain, but that the supply level will reach 75% out of 100%, which is an optimal rate for normal European countries.

- What could be more important than water for Albanian citizens?

Actually, I admit it is a question beyond my level, and perhaps the Academy of Sciences, before it is reformed, can give you an answer to the emotional level of the question.

- What is the social package for the families in need, or will we have the alms package again? The traditional program of economic assistance will be replaced by a reintegration support program that will condition and will increase, at the same time, financial support for poor families by involving them in different personalized educational, health, training and employment programs. We also aim to increase access to social enterprises, social business and community affairs. I believe that you who have asked the question know, as we have been together for a whole term, that we tripled the economic aid from 1.5 thousand to 4.5 thousand ALL. It's definitely little, but it's far more than it was, just as we increased it from 3,000 to 8,000 ALL. 8 thousand ALL is not a lot either, but it is far more than 3 thousand ALL. By 2021, what we aim for with the new program that transforms access to vulnerable families and focuses on reintegration, is that one in two families is the beneficiary of this support for reintegration, and is involved in the subprogram "Albania works" with the aim that by 2025, the timely extension of this program will enable three out of four families to be included in this category of beneficiaries. The new reintegration package envisages an aid increase by removing the cap of 8,000 ALL which is the maximum for each family today. On the other hand, today the scheme is quite clear in relation to 4 years ago, but it requires further increase of transparency, and this will be the result of the capillary extension of the program launched with World Bank pilot projects across the territory.

We will have a new disability assessment package for 154,000 invalids and people with disabilities, based on which we will review their payments and provide them full rehabilitation services. One of the many mechanisms that will change with the overall restructuring of government and governance, is that we will no longer leave empty space for so much dirt and corruption among the applications for the disability status, but we will restructure this whole process and create a direct link between those who need this status and hospitals in a straightforward way.

- Will we have free healthcare, or has the government already repented?

We haven’t repented for governing together for four years, let alone repent for this purpose which is free health service. Therefore, our policy of universal health coverage will continue by boosting investments in all health-related sectors, in order to move systematically towards the horizon of full service with universal coverage. We will continue to support early prevention and diagnosis. We aim at taking public funding for health to 60-65% of the total health spending of Albanians. Also, we will continue to broaden free healthcare because there is actually a much greater proportion of free healthcare today than it was four years ago.

With regard to the stage of disease rehabilitation in order to reduce the time of stay in health institutions and to reduce the burden, which up to date is covered by the family budgets, there is a considerable space according also to the many consultations we have had with professionals in this field.

Of course, we will continue to cooperate with non-public health institutions to increase the public funded offer, as well as to reduce the waiting time for specialized examinations or treatments to acceptable deadlines. We will continue to expand the site with new works of hospital infrastructure and, as I said, also with a reconstruction program in all those parts of existing hospitals, ranging from regional ones, that still need state intervention after many years.

-With regard to investment in sewerage and removal of urban wastewater, you promise you’d achieve only the level of 48% until the end of the mandate. What is the investment map?

We will send the map as soon as we enter the office, of course if we find one at the water supply and sewerage agency, and as soon as the director appointed by you will probably make it available for us, provided that such map exists.

- Will we still face in Saranda, Ksamil, etc., sewer cracks at the peak of the tourist season? (This is a question that requires a prophetic vein).

Now, as a matter of fact, in order to learn whether there will be a crack in the water supply and sewerage pipes in the areas of Saranda, Ksamil, etc., where the project implementation has been contracted, funded and supervised by the European Commission, you’d better ask a fortune teller without the participation of the majority, and you can do the same for the “etc.” area that hasn’t been identified yet.

- What could have more priority than water? Next question, I believe I answered this question.

- How can agriculture be considered a priority again when you say that we will budget 25 billion ALL in the next 4 years? This is related to the next question:

- About 200 million euros in 4 years are less than the 50 million euros budgeted per year today. Do you know this?

I don’t know how 200 in 4 years can be less than 50 in 4 years. It's a creative arithmetic that the SMI has always had when it comes to calculations. Meanwhile, let me remind you that sector funding, including agriculture, is not made just from the state budget, and here I can tell that, in addition to the $ 225 million commitment, there are three direct support programs for farmers with 14 million. Support to the sector and rural development as a whole from European funds with 69 million. World Bank support with 100 million. About 95 million are funds from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development for sector crediting, and they are available. So these are all available funds, and if you pay attention, growth has been significant due also to a positive legacy for which I want to thank my friend, Professor Panariti.

- How much is the minimum envisaged to be in four years, from today until the end of the term?

Actually, there is no official calculation of the minimum living costs in Albania because the calculation should take into account several indicators that are related to employment, economic development, social assistance and above all it should take into account the hidden part of money that is paid but not declared, and we know this very well, which is a phenomenon for which we have taken some measures on paper in order to deal with it very seriously.

- How much is the impact of the experimental government on the budget? How many dismissals, what costs?

I do not know what the experimental government is. He or she who has asked this question should tell us. I cannot answer for a government that has nothing to do with me. I am here to respond for the government of Albania. The experimental government may be a fantasy, it may be a reality, but this is known by the one who has asked the question.

With regard to dismissals, don’t worry for administration is an asset for us. However, the healthy part of the administration is bigger than the rotten part, and it is undeniable that in the whole reconstruction of the governing mechanisms, a special attention will be given to the preservation of any valuable asset in our administration, either in the civil service or in the state administration that functions according to a working code.

-What will be the measures to be taken by the government to eliminate functional illiteracy and school dropout?

In fact, the first results of the battle against functional illiteracy have begun to emerge with the implementation of a new competency-based curriculum. In fact, we are convinced that within this mandate, with the competency-based curriculum along with the cycle of all the new texts which luckily have not been approved by the Academy of Sciences but come from Oxford, Cambridge, Pearson, - we will have again an indication of the progress, which we are very confident will have also from PISA 2018, which also measures functional literacy.

On the other hand, in order to reduce the phenomenon of school dropout, we have a concrete plan which includes identification tools, preventive schemes, EMIS system improvements, school management system and an inter-ministerial policy document that addresses the problem at many levels. But there is also a white sheet in the file in view of education, available to all MPs and activist MPs of the SMI who want to make their contribution, and we welcome them with open arms.

- In the context of European integration, gender equality and the strategy combat against violence, are issues dealt with in the chapter 23 of justice. Which of the ministries will be responsible for gender equality issues, because this isn’t clear in the programs presented?

It wasn’t clear to the former president either, so thank you for the question. The issue of gender equality will be treated as a very important component by 3 ministries. By the ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, which for your knowledge is not our invention, it is not a ministry that does not exist anywhere, but it exists in Europe. It will focus also on the protection of human rights as a fifth priority within the 5 priorities, as I believe it has become clear today that the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs is the ministry that will lead the integration process as well. Integration is not a matter of ministry, for if it were a ministry issue, Croatia would not be in the EU because there was no European integration minister there, not to mention in other countries, for many years before Croatia’s membership.

The Ministry of Justice is also concerned with maintaining and strengthening the mechanisms for the legal protection system, in the framework of protecting the rights of vulnerable groups. Even the Ministry of Health and Social Protection very naturally, with regard to inclusion policies and social equity, the creation and strengthening of coordination mechanisms for gender equality and domestic violence. In our program, the main objective is to improve the legal and institutional framework, as well as raise awareness of non-discrimination and protection of community rights, but above all women's rights. We will continue to evaluate gender equality as a necessary condition for sustainable development by continuing to promote this equality in political life, in the administrative and social life, and by coordinating with all parties here, with all social actors with regard to attitudes, initiatives, actions with zero tolerance, against legal violence and domestic violence. I believe that the new government with full legal equality speaks better than any comment I can make.

- What mechanism will you use to absorb 100 billion ALL of investment?

Public Private Partnership and State Budget Financing.

- In the program you talk about 50 billion public investments in energy, while promising the Adriatic-Ionian highway which requires about 80 billion. Have you made the arithmetic of these investments?

I’m sorry, we had to have consolations, and despite our efforts we couldn’t find any connection between a highway and an energy network in arithmetic terms. We did not really understand. What we have understood is that who has formulated the question, has not understood that these investments are not related to the state budget.

- You didn’t mention waste treatment in the program. Don’t you have any policy in this regard?

In fact, we have a very structured policy of our colleague who is among you, and because of the obstacles within his party, he failed to realize a good part of this policy which we will take forward with a lot of determination.

- There is no incentive for employment in the program.

What I can tell you is that due to the 1 billion injection in the Reconstruction Program as a complementary program with the state budget program, we will have a very substantial increase in jobs.

Now there are some questions by the SP group, which surprisingly coincide with a significant number of questions asked by another of our former allies, our friend Vangjel Dule. The first question is:

- What will the government do best to open negotiations with the EU?

What I can say very openly and very directly, then it is a topic to be discussed, opening negotiations is no longer an issue related to what we do best. I'll be back in a while and remind you that the 5 priorities were such that the commission decided the constitutional reform in justice as a benchmark to open negotiations. Constitutional reform in justice passed, negotiations were not opened. Then it was the vetting. The Vetting passed, and of course the implementation of the Vetting is expected, it depends how you understand this because the implementation of the Vetting has started. We will have the first results very soon, but if the European Union asks for more time for its own reasons, then it may continue to say, "Keep going with the implementation." We know what this "keep going" means. (If you do not know, Luan Rama can explain.)

Then we had the free elections. They also passed and, at least in our understanding, they were assessed positively.

Then, there’s cannabis. I believe that the European Commission itself, the international partners themselves, will have the opportunity to note, at the end of this season of cannabis planting, cultivating and fighting, the spectacular outcome of this battle. Will this suffice? I do not know.

They don’t say it officially, I can’t tell this, but now the ghost of the Albanian “ethnic crime” has emerged. Of course, in certain media driven by certain resources and forces, but the question is how much this topic will remain at that level, or whether it will turn into a kind of conditionality of the sort: "once solve the problem of the Albanian ethnic, then we’ll see."

However, my answer is also simple and optimistic because the deep reforms we are pursuing, the fight against corruption and crime, which we will escalate, the further implementation of the Vetting and Justice Reform which we will push very hard, in general, modernization of the state and democratization, for which we will do everything we can, and I hope we will have also the support, suggestions and advices of the opposition, are the very European integration process. European Albania is what we owe to our ancestors and our children. It is not a task that Brussels gives us and which we must fulfil with a feeling of obstinacy.

- How do you respond to the claims that in the Ionian coast, namely in the Himara area, there are urban developments that are in conflict with minority rights, episodes of arrogance and harassment by law enforcement forces and by the Inspectorate, and also a development planning process in view of the interests of so-called "oligarchs"?

The answer may be long, or it may be too short. In that area, as in all areas of Albania, a completely normal and completely integral process is taking place, with regard to what is being done all over Albania in view of Urban Renaissance, urban regeneration and urban renewal. There is absolutely no tendency, and I remember I have made an interpellation here with Vangjel, I’ve already told and will repeat again for all those who are interested in this subject, whether they are MPs of the Socialist Party or MPs of the Democratic Party or of other parties, even to Vangjel who does not know to which party he belongs at the moment, bring a single document, a single documentary evidence that shows that there is an approach or action in that area that is asymmetric  with what happens from Tropoja to Konispol.

On the other hand, I have never heard, it is the first time I’ve heard that a planning, a Regulatory Plan, is done to harm certain interests of people who have properties. That does not exist. It is a concept that is not related to how a Regulatory Plan works, not to mention that the design studio, which is a well-known studio and the leader of the whole Plan process, is a Greek fellow.

- Will the government bring to parliament the law on minority rights during this session?

I could talk longer here, but the truth is that since April of this year we have adopted the draft law "On the Protection of National Minorities in the Republic of Albania". It is already in the Assembly. The draft law is the product of a very broad inter-institutional consultation. It should be said that the promise for such a bill was made 10 years ago, not by us. For this reason, this is a major commitment of everybody I believe, and it is a tangible proof of the fact that this government really has a focus on human rights, and the objective to reflect in national legislation a historical reality of coexistence in our society. We will have time to talk about the bill. As I said, it is in the Assembly. I believe that it is not worth taking all the time I would like to use to talk about this project. But the bill as a whole has specifically a number of considerable resources which, I think, are another example of Albania as a country with the full will to radiate a model which should be envied in the region in terms of the highest European standards in respecting minority rights.

- Can you be more specific on the idea of fire prevention, through a radical organism, as implied in the speech for the presentation of the program, while it was only mentioned the transfer of civil emergencies under the Ministry of Defence?

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