Round of conversations with citizens in Elbasan

Local Elbasan citizens, representatives from various professional occupations, young people and older adults joined the conversation with the Prime Minister on current events and problems needed to be discussed and addressed.

“This is an opportunity that we reciprocally grant each other to listen and express opinions, but of course it is primarily an opportunity I and my colleagues who have come together to directly react to every concern, question or a critic or a complaint you may want to report,” PM Rama said in his opening remarks, inviting citizens to be open and straightforward with their questions.

The vocational education and its perspective in the next four years was the first topic up for discussion, with the Prime Minister Edi Rama saying:

“This topic touches upon an aspect that has been an extremely very important aspect of the whole education reform, the rebirth of vocational education schools that, as you all have witnessed for yourselves, had been reduced to a lamentable state, becoming a kind of atavistic extensions of the system inherited from the past, but lacking the minimum infrastructure and no attention at all, and such schools actually served as a choice for the worst performing students, without any ambition, who used to enrol in these schools just for the sake of a secondary school diploma. We aimed to bring about a change by primarily referring to the German vocational education system, but not only the German system, but we refer to Germany as the country where a model has been established and is being followed by many other countries, with the vocational education system having at its core a combination between the education at school and training at private enterprises, which provides both the individual and the enterprise to reciprocally interact for their shared interest, as the private enterprises start recruiting and hiring skilled young girls and boys while still at school, providing the conditions for them to gain access to the labour market as soon as they are graduated. Let’s say that in this aspect too, like in every other sector we are still halfway through. The indicators are positive and encouraging, yet they are insufficient for us to openly state that we have built a vocational education system that is organized and fully consolidated in its every step. Another very encouraging data is that vocational education graduates are easily absorbed by the labour market compared to other high school and education graduates and they are advantaged when it comes to various occupations and trades highly sought by the labour market. What we are now discussing ways to create a missing link of this system, that is the vocational colleges in order to provide a whole new opportunity and a new potential level for the students, who would be able to enrich their know-how, further master their skills by enrolling the vocational colleges, which represent an intermediary phase between the secondary school and the university.

This also has the potential to address another need as part of our efforts to sharpen the higher education’s profile by discouraging the universities’ tendency to add programmes, mostly having nothing to do with the labour market, but programmes that are mostly introduced because of the inner instinct of the university teams to survive in a competitive environment and guarantee continuation of their universities instead of rethinking whole way of functioning and resort to the programmes and curricula that meet the market’s needs.

-Answering to the question about progress of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and the vaccination of the personalities over 80 years old, the Premier said:

“It is not about personalities belonging to other age groups, but it is about starting the vaccine rollout of the seniors over 80, along with certain personalities at the age of 80 and convey a message of solidarity and care about them, because I am often upset at seeing some shedding tears and words in speeches dedicated to these people after they pass away, which I think wouldn’t sound that good if they wouldn’t face – God forbid it – the loss of any of them just because of the lack of the vaccine and, on the other hand, also to positively take advantage of their image and influence upon other people.

This also means that vaccination has another aspect aimed at raising awareness and relieving the psychological burden on those, who suspect the vaccine or think that the vaccine is harmful or the product of a global conspiracy to eliminate the human race and other nonsense like this.

Me poshte vijon pjesa e dyte e bashkebisedimit te KM Rama me qytetaret ne Elbasan:

So, the vaccination rollout will begin for the seniors over 80, starting with a group of leading personalities in this age group, who will be accompanied by many other ordinary older adults who would receive the vaccine first, and the process will start with them symbolically so that they can set an example for other people to follow. This idea has been very inappropriate, unworthy and miserable opposed and described by people who are granted the opportunity to communicate with the public and who randomly misuse such an opportunity seeking, in this case too, to take advantage and outpour their embitterment and resentment against the government and me, but I think this is not praiseworthy. Even if it was about for a group of people who were not 80 years older and over, but 79 or 78 years old, but individuals with a valuable contribution to this society by sacrificing to create values for this society, I don’t think it would have been worthy to cause a tempest in teacup, when it is actually about a dozen of persons, whose number is a drop in the ocean in terms of the volume of the vaccine doses due to be administered.

-Speaking about the government’s vision on development of agriculture in the next four years, the Prime Minister said:

“We deserve to be criticized when it comes to the agriculture, just like it is the case with many other sectors, yet I also believe that praises are also appropriate. Albania’s agriculture has experienced a significant boost if always compared to where we started from and not to where we are seeking to arrive. We are halfway in a process and I would like to draw your attention and constantly reiterate some data. The area of the cultivated land has doubled over the past seven years in Albania. When we took office seven years ago, the area of cultivated land in Albania was estimated at around 125.000 hectares. The cultivated land today is estimated at 240.000 hectares. The country is experiencing an incredible transformation in this aspect, a transformation that is primary a result of the government’s efforts and projects to send the irrigation water right to the land plots that existed, but which were left uncultivated for many years, not because people were unwilling to work, but it was impossible for them to cultivate the land as whole irrigation systems were non-operational, because the irrigation systems were not maintained and upgraded over the years and because the main arteries of the largest networks of drainage and irrigation canals in the country were blocked, causing catastrophic damages and effects whenever various areas were flooded. This is a figure that should indicate something to those who are forced today to listen to the statements of those who claim they would stop the train of people who leave the country today and will bring back the Albanian citizens back home through their with their miraculous behaviour, as if it was not them who left the agricultural lands barren and uncultivated, giving no help to the people there, even by channelling the irrigation water to the land plots. We are no longer the country we used to be just few years ago, when Albania lagged behind other countries in the region for absorbing the EU funds for agriculture, but Albania is today a leader in the region for absorbing the EU funds, because we have transformed the Agricultural and Rural Development Agency, we have transformed the approach and the structure to properly address this important funding source and we have significantly transformed, though not completely, the relation with the entrepreneurship in agriculture. The road to agriculture’s development is a difficult path, encountering many challenges and complex issues, but it is now a cleared path.

– Answering to a question posed by a civil society representative regarding the government’s main policies to further alleviate the social problems facing women, Prime Minister Edi Rama said:

“I have strongly and convincingly promoted the idea that a society, a nation or state with no gender equality and balance is doomed to badly fail as a society and a state. On the other hand, we have made gigantic steps towards promoting and integrating women and girls in the government and representation, creating conditions for the Assembly of Albania, the city councils and public institutions take a completely different look and face from what they used to be 10 years ago.

Our government ranks among the top five countries on the United Nations’ ranking regarding gender equality and we are in very good company among those 5 countries. Of course these are important accomplishments, yet not sufficient and I agree with you when acknowledging a number of problems and concerns. We have made many efforts to make sure that things move in the right direction, starting with the legal framework on punishing violence against women, domestic violence to a number of various initiatives from the economic assistance provided to women as family heads, even when the head of the household is her husband and further with efforts to support women initiatives.

One of the aspects we believe it will bring results in this regard includes support for entrepreneurship run by women, from the grassroots level. There are many women who are willing to involve in agritourism projects and entrepreneurship, without necessarily needing to leave the house or the community area, because such businesses could be carried out from home.

We are working on developing a frame of this sort with access to a number of the state’s portfolios and with special focus placed on initiatives launched by women and ways to promote such an opportunity for women. Enhancing and expanding the space and opportunities for community social activities for children is a must. We see that the situation with the kindergartens, schools, and playgrounds has changed a lot in some urban realities across Albania, but these are not enough.

We need to create more space and more opportunities for children and create conditions for higher quality of socialization and this to create a better basis for tomorrow.  The issue is extraordinary and complex, but on the other hand, the progress we have made to date would is enough to make us aware that more progress can be made. It is a topic that is not politically stimulated, one of the deepest points in the human aspect.

-Answering to the question made by a participating doctor on how the performance of each doctor would be measures, the Premier said: “This is neither my, nor our invention. It is a well-known and well-established model throughout the world that is based on the hospital autonomy and transforming hospitals into performance-based enterprises and turning them from passive structures with fixed salaries based on a prescribed hierarchy by the health authorities to a whole new level from the medical personnel to the performance-based reward being based on a fundamental principle, namely the effectiveness and service quality.

We have been mulling plans on the hospital autonomy for years, but it is unimaginable to implement such a policy given that you lack hospitals and what you are dealing with are just dilapidated structures, just it was the case with the Elbasan regional hospital seven years ago, when you lack the supply lines, the medicine storage facilities and all you have is a medical personnel working in unacceptable conditions and the hospital’s performance depends on the sacrifice, efforts, will and readiness of the doctors and nurses only.

In order for you to implement the hospital autonomy policy you should first go through a stage that we can consider almost overcome. This stage included reconstruction of the infrastructure, the hospitals’ restructuring to ensure needed internal supplies and equipping whole health system with the basic logistic. After having gone through this entire stage, we now believe it is time to launch the hospital autonomy project and in order for us not to take wrong steps, we have picked the new regional hospital in Fier, which is going to serve as a know-how transfer centre and the autonomy will be transferred to the hospital as part of a pilot project based on the experience and models of one of the countries that have excelled in their health care system over the past decade after having gone through the abovementioned stages, not during the last century, but this century.

It was just 15 years ago when Turkey’s health system fared poorly and faced similar problems our health system used to encounter seven years ago. We have made progress in reconstruction of hospitals and reorganizing the supply lines and we should now take the next step towards the hospital autonomy. The autonomy will be initially implemented as a pilot project in the new regional hospital in Fier, we will take notes of it progress and will draw lessons from the work there and the hospital autonomy project will then be extended to other regional hospitals across the country. It is impossible to provide same wages to two doctors working at the same hospital, when one of them performs more surgeries, visits and work hours than the other. How all this process will be organized is something else, and in order for us not to waste time and energies in a theoretical debate, it would be best to resort to a practical process. The new regional hospital in Fier will involve mixed medical personnel precisely for this reason. A team of 50 people will come from Turkey, including the hospital’s manager, the ward heads, doctors, specialists, nurse chiefs and specialized nurses, whereas Albanian medical personnel will include 320 people, who would be handpicked by the Turkish staff among the doctors and nurses already part of the health system or those waiting to join the system. A one to three-year transition period will follow, with Albanian management and medical personnel being trained and prepared to take over. This pilot project will also help the Ministry of Health and the health institutions to accumulate experience.

I am confident we will have enough time to build an autonomous hospital system during our third term in office, providing doctors the opportunity to deliver care without having the need to work in private hospitals and practices, which complicates the performance of public hospitals, and provide also them the opportunity to work overtime and receive extra payments and benefits in addition to their monthly salary. This is in principle, while the details will involve a broader discussion.