Speech of Prime Minister Edi Rama:
I will take advantage of the fact that this activity is being held in front of the public opinion, to congratulate heartily the director of the agency who has led an extremely difficult transformation process of the agency from a warehouse with no inventories where the “corruption mice” used to party, in an institution that is ready today to welcome with dignity all the citizens who have been dragging their foot for quarter a century on the stairs of a non-existent state, so that they can finally address step by step realistically and specifically their endless issues.
The truth is that property has been a "cannon fodder" for quarter a century. Actually, our country’s backwardness in every aspect in these 20 and some years during which, as the three last years show, we could have done many more things to lay the foundations of a normal state, is connected first of all to the backwardness with regard to property. We all know how property was abused, transformed, disposed and propagandized in the past as a reason to divide the parties between those who stood with the owners and those who were the owners, but in fact the truth is that whoever spoke on behalf of the owners did so only with words, while with their deeds they left the owners in a sucking mud year after year.
The law on the restitution of property which was adopted in 2004, had been constantly amended, and the whole property legislation is a land where we finally set the benchmarks for the future because we inherited a set of countless contradictions in the articles, paragraphs and documents that contradicted each other openly. Actually, nothing remained of the first law on the path of its enforcement, and what its enforcement brought was more chaos, more insecurity, and more injustice.
The reform which we undertook is one of the most complex and the most difficult reforms, and certainly one of the reforms that at first glance does not provide a sufficiently fair solution because in 25 years the issue was highly complicated, and a there is no ideal solution, but neither we can think separately in this process. The truth is that the law that actually introduces in the process of implementation our reform of the property, provides a final solution for all. A solution which, as the Director said, had the blessing of the Venice Commission, but still needs the seal of the Constitutional Court which that affected the opinion of the Venice Commission with a terrible decision, something that has never happened before in our Republic, but it did something that you cannot find in any democratic republic, it addressed the Venice Commission. However, we remain hopeful that once the decision is made public, there will be no room for creating new confusion and uncertainty.
On the other hand, we are all aware that if there is a topic that is directly related to the topic of judicial reform, this is the topic of the property. We are all witnesses that the Justice Reform is perceived primarily as an instrument to hit senior officials involved in the channels of corruption, but the truth is that if this country has been desperately needing the reform in the judiciary for more than 20 years, the very first thing to do is to end through a fair justice the injustice transformed into system, and in particular the injustice turned into system when it comes to property rights.
What the courts in this country have done to property, was never done in centuries even by the invaders. What the corrupt judges have been able to do to this country, no sworn enemy has been never capable of and never will. The property reform is unquestionably an essential condition for having a European Albania and tell ourselves that we have a state that works for the people and on the basis of the law.
It is no coincidence that in all of the European Commission's progress reports on Albania year after year, the problem of property remains one of the fundamental challenges, and their findings are among the most bitter. Finally, this year's progress report noted progress in this regard and the new property law actually shakes the foundations of the rotten system of recognition of ownership. This law, this reform ratified with this law, makes it clear that in the end we have a deadline in an indefinitely long history to close all issues related to property and to reply to all those who are entitled by God and by the Constitution to claim the return or compensation of property. A process that had no deadline, no way out, no hope, has today a deadline, a way out and hope for all.
On the other hand, the financial evaluation process is closed for all decisions taken in these 22 years on return or compensation. In addition, all applications which have not been addressed and for which people have been waiting a solution for more than 20 years as the previous speaker and hundreds and thousands other people have witnessed, will be reviewed in three years, in just three years. 6 months is the deadline for publication of legal and technical shortcomings of approximately twenty-six thousand decisions on compensation. 6 months is also the deadline for submitting new applications without dragging citizens at the doors of the courts. The new law deals in an exhaustive, full and equal way the right on all land categories, including also agricultural land, pastures, forests and meadows.
Imagine the fundamental change of the transformation brought by this law compared with more than 25 years. Not any square metre of agricultural land was in 25 years. 32.5 hectares of agricultural land have been compensated in just 8 months, just to give you a concrete example. Also, in order to give you another concrete example, in 8 months this agency has compensated financially, in cash, 15.4 hectares of land, which is equal to 91% of the total compensated financially by the previous government in 8 years. Like no other previous government, we have taken a budgeted commitment over the span of 10 years to end the endless stories of returns, compensations and claims on a property worth 500 million dollars, with regard only to the financial compensation of property. Whereas zero square metres were distributed from the land fund for physical compensation which the previous government had made available to owners only on paper from 2005 to 2013, today this situation is totally different, and the perspective is at least clear to all those who are waiting.
We have allocated for this process 500 million dollars, while 20 million have been allocated for this process from the budget. Whereas a total of 42 million was distributed in 8 years, but I’d rather not discuss this. Not to mention the physical condition of the archive, the files with no inventory, the owners who lost their documents in these labyrinths and had to come back here and to everything from scratch, and many other endless stories that are now over because everything has been archived digitally. So, there is no other chance for the files to get physically lost, and if such a thing happens due to an unexpected reason, it is quite simple to replace within a minute with the basis of digital database that is the result of a financial investment made by the government since the first day to end this terrible chaos of confusion and lack of reference to information.
This brings of course another very positive thing that guarantees citizens a quality service, and avoids overlapping, the terrible overlapping that became a nightmare in this more than 20-year long history, and which has dragged owners in the courts of this country for decades, in addition to avoiding uncertainty in the fair distribution of compensation funds.
What I’m saying is not a reason to ask the owners to cheer the government, but it’s a solid basis to build this whole process which will take its time, which has its challenges, but which shows us also that thanks to the will and determination, we did in less than three years what wasn’t done in more than 25 years taken together. Today there’s a perspective, there’s a green light for all those who haven’t been answered in more than 20 years, and finally there is for them a way out form this tunnel, which is not just the tunnel of those who have a property to compensate, but it’s the tunnel of our economy, it’s the tunnel of the perspective of our economy and society, and if we don’t solve this problem once and for all, we cannot aim at totally deserved major laps also in terms of increased welfare and consolidated sustainable economic growth.
James Madison, a President of the United States said that property rights are objects for the protection of which the very concept of governance was created. Without property rights governance itself is a meaningless concept, devoid of substance. We are proud that we have given a substance to this endeavour.
In addition to expressing to all of the owners the strongest sense of solidarity for the torture and suffering of all these years, I want to assure them that now there is a process that is guaranteed also politically, in the sense that it doesn’t matter whether there is this or that governing force, whether this or that party wants to guarantee their right, or conclude a process that is based in the Constitution, on the law and on the need to close once and for all within a determined time frame this black page in the history of our Republic.