Time to give final blow to mismanagement of cities cleaning 

Prime Minister Edi Rama’s remarks at meeting with mayors and prefects:

 

Thank you very much, Mrs. Minister! The current state of affairs is clear to everyone, I believe. Nothing new was underlined in the sense that there is no Albanian citizen either living or visiting Albania to spend holidays, who is not straightforwardly annoyed at these views, which we must put an end to at any cost.

Of course, if we turn our heads back, as the data and facts provided by the Minister show, it is clear that a significant change has taken place, but as the saying has it “people do not ask how were you yesterday, but how are you today? ” And today the situation is at a crossroads and we have to get out of it at any cost and we will do so now and not after a few years. 

There are of course things that would take years, but there are also things needing just clarity and readiness.

The municipalities and local government authorities today are responsible for the management of a territory that includes the urban centres, the cities’ outskirts and the rural areas and unfortunately there are still a number of illicit and criminal landfills and waste disposal sites that pollute the environment and violate the legal obligations you should all meet.

Likewise, huge piles of waste are to be found everywhere, as the images showed, and you have failed to remove them.

The national roads are also another pressing problem and you can’t actually be held accountable for their situation, although one can find your hallmarks when it comes to issuing illicit permits on construction of oil refilling stations along the national road axis, but when it comes to cleaning these roads you are not accountable and you are not asked to do so.

I don’t know whether you watched the demolition of the refilling station a day ago. Local officials in Lushnje municipality, who have signed and issued the permit on building that station, will be referred to the prosecutor’s office, because local government officials are not entitled to issue any permit on projects along the national roads.

Pollution and waste mismanagement in the marine coastal areas are increasingly becoming a serious problem and would definitely worsen with the growing visitor numbers in the coming years.

Once the tourism season is over what we see are these views here which are indeed the painful and shameful everyday reality of the Himara municipality, which is the symbol of idleness and failure to act and deal with the pollution of the coastal town.

The same goes for the protected zones and the historical and cultural sites, as well as the agricultural land that in no way can be turned into a waste disposal site.

I have already stated during the government program presentation and we are working in the light of this program, meaning that the government will no longer remain in this position, but will directly intervene. The first government move is that no state budget fund will be transferred to any city council if no cost of cleaning and waste management is projected in their budget.

The Minister will attend the city council meeting in person and it would be wise for the mayors not to take the step and present to the city council a draft budget that fails to project the cost of cleaning and waste management.

No municipality faces shortage of funds to cover the daily waste management operations in financial terms, even if the municipal budget is totally earmarked to cover the cleaning and waste management cost. Nothing else is more important than cleaning.

The homes of Albanians – at any era, at any century and despite the living standards and the poverty rate – have always been a model of cleanliness.

Albanians have never been pointed out as people living in messy or unclean homes.

The municipalities are the very homes of these communities and if certain individuals or a category of citizens pose a constant problem to the shared environment as they throw their trash and waste on the streets and roads, the mayor, his staff and other local government officials should take the role of the household or the family head and discipline these individuals. None of us in our capacity as elected officials should not accept and coexist with dirtiness.

It is intolerable, unjustifiable and it will become unacceptable, starting with the next year’s state budget, for any of the municipalities not to project the entire required fund so that illicit waste disposal sites are no longer found anywhere across the territory of the country, but instead the process is best controlled.

This requires cost calculation, budgeting, willingness and well-management. We would have been perhaps discussing something else if no good examples were already set in this respect. I would invite each and every one of you to visit Lezhe – as the Environment Minister also suggested – and I am suggesting it practically, not metaphorically. Visit Lezhe, the city and the beach town of Shengjin, and the rural areas if you will, and you will find no illegal waste disposal sites. I invite you to spend several weeks there during the tourism season, when the needs are multiplied but this is not the case with the municipal budget. Take a stroll there and you would find not a single piece of paper on the ground.

This an example of readiness and well-management and it is not a coincidence that out of all municipalities throughout Albania, Lezha municipality is the one to earmark the largest municipal budget, and I mean no other financial sources, but the local budget it has allocated in a sign of respect for Lezhe residents, a budget that fully tackled the needs. 

I would invite you to visit Korça and challenge you to find trash on the streets. The same goes for other municipalities in Korca district. Search for a municipality that instead of disposing waste in a remote area, it instead disposes them on the bank of rivers, as it is the case with the municipality of Elbasan  or the municipalities of Durres or Kamze, which has created a strange disposal site that lacks the global name, as it was the case previously. I wonder how they haven’t yet called that toxic hole by a fancy name like “Green Peace”, although the landfill is there.

What turns out is – and we have to acknowledge it – is that the quantity is reduced when you go to the endpoints. Why is the quantity reduced when going to the endpoints? Because the long-standing habit of fictitious billing of tons has yet to disappear from the territory of Albania, with illegal political disposal sites for the interests of certain individuals.

On one hand major investments have been made than ever before to tackle waste management throughout the country, as well as to provide water supply to the residents. However, we will be discussing water supply projects next week. This government and international donors have invested around 800 million euros. Investments in the past years total around 800 million euros, but the losses in the water distribution systems and considering the water sector as an employment sector with employees, who receive wages for doing nothing and causing the local government debt to rise. This has somehow become a routine, but this is another topic. We will be talking about waste management. Therefore, now that the next year’s budgets are being drafted it is very important for everyone to be clear that no local government budget will pass the prefect’s filter, even if it goes through the filter of the city council, and not only the Minister, but I personally too will appear in front of the city council members, if I am informed that the mayor proposes a budget that fails to address the cleaning and waste management costs.

Of course, this process has its own specifics and these specifics are not the same. Certain municipalities have certain specifics, certain difficulties, but when Lezha municipal officials decide to transport waste to a remote landfill like the one in Bushat, then nobody else can claim that transport to such distances costs a lot.

There could be no higher cost than the one imposed everyday on our children and on our country through those illegal waste disposal sites. This is the highest cost. There is no lek, euro, dollar that can be matched with this cost.

On the other hand, I understand that local government authorities face a daunting challenge to cope with the volume of work during the summer tourism season, when the influx of visitors is exponentially higher vis-à-vis the opportunities the municipalities have, because if cleaning and waste management relies on the revenue from the contributions and the tax collections, then cleaning and waste management in Durres, for example, has a certain cost and Durres has a much larger population during the summer season than the city normally has and these are all contributors. Yes, I agree. But, what for the municipal funds are used. For the miserable management of the beaches? Where does this money end up? And how can one explain that once beach management is transferred to the private operators, the only thing the latter do is that they set beach long chairs, set up tents, impose tariffs on the sand or gravel that are littered with papers, cigarettes, plastic bags and everything else. But who would buy on these? Do you? Without taking into account all the steps that have been launched, we are still too far away from what it should be the case with the beaches management and, on the other hand, I also understand the workload the city has to cope with because of the beaches, but it is unacceptable for the visitors and citizens to walk through garbage bins and the fact that they have to bear the extreme acoustic pollution.

We will allocate a special state budget fund for the coastal areas in collaboration with mayors and local government officials in these areas and we will definitely share the financial burden, but if we fail to do so and if mayors fail to do what the Mayor of Lezhe has already done, then the problem won’t be resolved.

One of the most sought-after beaches in Himara municipality, pictures were taken this summer that went viral around the globe, with holidaymakers and horses staying together. Horses, herds of horses. Holidaymakers under the sunlight, but surrounded by horses and waste and just imagine the situation.

We will closely cooperate with you on this, but words are dwindling and the law clearly stipulates that mayors are responsible and municipalities function according to the law in financial terms to support actions of such nature and we will move forward by imposing sanctions, which could also include taking over the municipality management and referring the respective mayor to the prosecutor’s office.

This would mark the end of our common journey if we fail to find the right partners, who would commit to work hard and make sure that Albania becomes a role model of cleanliness during the upcoming tourism season. And by the upcoming tourism season I don’t mean the coastal areas alone, but the whole territory of the country. 

Berat has set another excellent example today. Although inheriting a problematic situation, Berat municipality has become a role model regarding the transformation taking place there. The entire infrastructure has yet to be completed, but a suitable waste disposal site will be available soon in Berat district. Likewise, as the Minister already mentioned, the same goes for more remote municipalities like Çorovode and Gjirokaster. What is missing now? Should we beg the mayors of Elbasan, Librazhd, Belsh, Cërrik, Peqin, Gramsh and Përrenjas to do the same? Should we beg you to transport waste to the waste management plant instead of throwing them along the streets and roads and justifying their actions with the supposedly high transport cost? No, it is not a high cost. It is not expensive. Quite the opposite is true. It is more expensive that way, because the quantity of waste is decided by guessing, while when transported to the waste management operators they are weighted and the exact quantity is correctly determined. Therefore it is not more expensive. Money won’t be spent on other issues, because there could be no more important issue than waste management. We are not telling you what could actually be told, but how the spending by the water supply entities is supposed to be tackled? For what reasons should this sector be plunged into debts? Should it be done because management of the water supply systems is criminal? Should we freeze your budget so that we can start settling the debts? But we are not saying this, because it would sound as if we are the IMF and you represent another country.

But we are partners and we understand very well the difficulties and we understand the shortages,  but we can’t understand what else the municipalities should do if they fail to tackle cleaning and waste management. I don’t understand it at all. How are we supposed to accept this? Should we be pleased with the gradual progress as the years go by, when all this tremendous investment has been finalized and the endpoints have been created? There could be no excuses for that. There is no need for gradual progress. All it takes is a committed mayor working around the clock, a right budget, support from the government, because given the current gradual progress it would take another 100 years for things to be resolved.

The Minister will personally visit the whole territory and will sit with you and every local government official in all districts throughout the country. The meetings will focus on the specifics of each municipality. For example, one of the reasons why the great work already being done in Tirana municipality  – and this true despite the main problems are being encountered in several remote rural areas, where everything is going in vain due to the licenses issued over the years to the so-called waste collectors, as well as because of the illegal recycling points and of course where a number of people, or waste pickers rush to the public trash cans to collect cans and whatever else they can scavenge from the waste containers, then of course a good part of the hard work is wasted in terms of perception. This is a specific problem that needs to be ultimately tackled. Of course I can’t understand – and I am an eyewitness myself or a victim as many other citizens, who spend their vacations in Himare, or Dhermi to be more precise. I can’t understand it. The town of Dhermi has just one pedestrian street for people to walk on and that street can be cleaned even if the Mayor himself was to wake up early in the morning to collect the trash littering that street. But it is me who wakes up before Mayor Jorgo to find the street full of improperly discarded trash and it is just then when the Mayor orders that an old vehicle is sent to pretend as if collecting the garbage.

These are scenes I have experienced firsthand and since we are working and preparing this plan, I chose not to walk out so that I don’t find out that the situation hasn’t changed at all. Since you have been elected, it is impossible to transfer Pjerin to Himara and dispatch Jorgo to Lezha, because, first of all, it is legally impossible and, second, the matter is how to have other mayors like Pjerin. I would ask and beg each and every one of you to mobilize all together, because this is a common shame and this is not about blaming any of you or holding you accountable. Do you know why the landfill in Bushat has become operational? This is all thanks to the Mayor of Vau i Dejes, his willingness not to throw the ball to the others’ court, claiming “I can do nothing. I did my part and can do nothing more than that.” No, everyone should do more than that.

Take a look at the Maliq municipality so that it doesn’t sound that only one is doing things right. The Municipality of Maliq is not richer than other municipalities across the country, but I would invite you all to visit it and see whether you would find its streets and roads littered like it is the case in Dhermi. Why is that? What does the Maliq Municipality have more than others? It has nothing, but a Mayor for whom it is unacceptable to allow garbage to pollute the environment. This is all. What he does is that he just assures people to live in a clean environment. This is what makes the difference, namely the willingness and well-management and interaction with those involved in this process, private operators that have been picked by several municipalities or the public operator that is the municipality subordinate. These are choices everyone makes and they are part of your local government autonomy.

This is also about the tariffs, in order for people not to think that this is about increasing local tariffs.

Of course, higher tariffs should be imposed on those who pollute more and not the retired people or the ordinary citizens. Increased tariffs should be imposed on the businesses that pollute most and it costs you nothing to tell them it is you the one who generate garbage and pollute the environment most in the coastal town of Himare and a new methodology should be imposed so that local businesses leave their trash bags in front of their business premises at a certain time of the day and not throw them into the public trash cans.

The public trash cans are not there for the restaurants and hotels leftovers and garbage. The public trash cans are there for the household consumption for families to throw small trash bags as is the case all over the world. If you are to walk down the streets in Paris in late afternoon or in the evening you would find filled black bags near the doors and the garbage trucks that are used for picking up waste and you would see none of these begs just one hour later. If a business throws its garbage into the public trash cans, the business is closed down and this is what happens across the world.

But who is supposed to do all these? All these should be done by the Mayor.

How can the Mayor deliver on all these? By waking up earlier than anyone else and going to sleep later than anyone else.

The Mayor can deliver on all these by not going to sleep until he is assured that everything has been cleaned up and all the garbage has been sent to the right place as stipulated by law, and has not been thrown over the streets, because the increasing visitor numbers would be worthless if the garbage and trash pile up everywhere. It is unimaginable and it would take not many people, but just us present in this very room for the situation to totally change within a very short time so that the next tourist season is a completely different thing. It would suffice that we alone make sure that the border crossing points from the Rinas airport to Morina, Kakavije and Kapshtice are not border crossing points to a country, telling visitors “welcome to the territory where trash has become part of the landscape.”

This is unimaginable and to conclude I would like to underline that holding a meeting like the one we are attending today was out of the question just a few years ago, because besides the readiness, we also lacked the endpoints. We have established all of them and all it takes is your commitment to working and taking immediate measures to make sure that all the waste in your cities are transported to such remote waste disposal sites and no illegal waste disposal site will be tolerated and every municipality and local government official will face penalties and the municipalities will be taken over by the government, as the law stipulates and such a move wouldn’t violate the autonomy. The government can take over the municipality, but if this is ever to be the case, then the mayors or other senior local government officials will be held accountable before justice.

I very much hope it would be unnecessary for us to reach at such point, because you are not being asked to work magic and don’t forget that the first Albanian satellite will be launched into orbit by next March and that satellite will help and provide us sufficient and real-time data on the situation of the environment on daily basis. Every waste disposal site will be monitored by the satellite to provide data and we wouldn’t even need inspectors, neither for those who pretend to be inspectors, but instead engage in shrewd bargaining, and there will be no need for inspectors to wander in the woods to catch individuals involved in illegal logging, but each and every one of you will be provided with pictures and hard evidence, helping us to fight abuses. The satellite will also monitor the environment pollution and the illegal constructions that strangely enough you and those within the state police ranks tasked with controlling the territory can’t notice them at all and even if it ever happens for them to identify illegal buildings their construction has either completed or is about to complete. All this data and information throughout the whole territory will be provided in real time, so that we won’t need inspectors or middlemen to ask offenders for bribes.

So through this message, I would like to thank you all for your presence, and surely if anyone wants, once this session of the meeting is over, you can voice any concerns to the minister.