Determined to put an end to mismanagement of water supply system

Prime Minister Edi Rama’s remarks at meeting with mayors to discuss issues concerning water supply to residents all over the country:

 

Hello everyone!

Today we are holding a tripartite meeting between the central government representatives, the local government representatives and the representatives of our country’s partners that have assisted us in our investment drive in building water supply systems across the country.

This is a chart showing the Albanian government investments since 2014, including the investment projects by the previous governments until 2013, investments that include state budget funds and the funding provided by our international partners, which, I remind you all, are mainly loans that should be settled and the amount of funding made available by the Albanian government through these two sources is over one billion euros and to be more precise it is estimated at around 1.2 billion euros.

I want to ask three questions to each of you in your capacity as mayor. My first question is: Are you aware of the performance of the water supply entities in the municipalities you head? Are you informed about performance of the water supply entities to the residents in your municipalities?

Second, have you ever checked the reports that you eventually submit to the government as self-declarations on the performance and, above all, about the data on the hours of water supply per day, the billing rate, cashing rate, number of employees compared to standards?

And the third question, how much have you allocated in municipality budget funds for water supply systems?

Of course, these are all rhetoric questions, because facts speak for themselves and the most recent fact, which was the last drop to fill the cup to the overflowing point, is the fact that while we increase investment, you increase losses and it is then the citizens who rightly complain over the fact that the investment drive cannot be translated into increased losses. The growth in investments should be translated into better services delivered to the residents and definitely an improved service to the residents should coincide with the losses cuts and a higher sense of responsibility over the hole dug at the very heart of this state just because of mismanagement of the water sector over the last 30 years, which can certainly be filled immediately, yet not signals are being sent from the local government for this hole is tending to expand further.

The Minister referred to the data on the losses of the Power Distribution Operator, OSHEE, precisely because of the mismanagement of the water supply systems. I have a list here but I am not going over the details, but I would highlight the municipality of Vlora as a champion with the losses of the water supply entity estimated at 78.9%. What does this mean? 78.9% of losses! This means a bankrupt company that keeps absorbing state funding and an example of abuse with the fact that water is vital and of course it is not a commodity that can be treated as any other kind of commodity, when it comes to the necessity of providing running water supply to every household. And how can this story continue this way? How can the directors of the water supply entities still be at work, and is it possible that the number of employees in the water supply entities of Albania is equal to an army of a country that is 10 times larger than Albania?

Of course, everything has been already said, it is time to act and certainly, just like we noted regarding the waste management, the government will no longer just remain in the position of the fund provider for all these services, but the government will be actively involved in these services. We will no longer allow the Albanian taxpayers’ money to be wasted this way by the extreme mismanagement of this sector and a continuing inertia of income misuse.

First of all, by paying wages to individuals who have nothing to do with the water sector, even individuals who don’t live in Albania at all, yet they turn out to be on the payrolls of the water supply entities over the years and, on the other hand, by having such geological information, namely the human resources layer, this is translated into failure to cut off the service to debtors  and causing unimaginable effect on cashing the water bills, just it is the case with the municipality of Kavaje, where the water bill collection is estimated 31% only.

There are differences in this aspect too, but I am not going to focus on these differences, because even the best performing municipalities and water supply entities are still in an unfavourable position vis-à-vis the performance data, even the best performing ones. This is clearly a matter of mismanagement and misconduct. This is somehow a chronic disease, a condition lasting over the years, but we can’t afford accepting it as such and not acting to reverse this trend.

This is the trend of a very aggressive cancer that grips and swallows extremely huge amounts from the organism of the state and last but not least, it is really a grave insult to the individuals and the families that regularly pay the water bills, the retired people first and foremost. And we again return to the same old story of the past, with those refusing to pay the electricity bill constantly complaining they can’t provide the daily bread for their families, while those who could rightly complain over their income were actually the ones who regularly paid the electricity bill. The same goes for the water bills and the ones to abuse most are not the household consumers.

Businesses are the ones to abuse most.

Hotels are the ones to abuse most.

The ones to abuse most are the haves and not the have-nots, because the water supply entities are not harmed by the families in need who, among other things, enjoy the state support for this.

I don’t want to take more time regarding this, but I would like to say that this situation is at the limits of absurdity and therefore the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure should act immediately to break this trend by building an interaction process with partners and you in your capacity as mayors to totally reorganize the entire system and whoever doesn’t wish to understand that a water supply entity incapable of paying the wages and social insurance contributions, but still employees long list of workers, this entity is actually the most depressing picture of irresponsibility, because it is out of question both for Korça nor Pogradec, which have moved to a another stage for known reasons  as they have received multiple funding under the German bank KfW programs and other donors programs, not to pay the loans either. And we are not asking the water supply companies to pay the loans themselves but we are asking for this haemorrhage of irresponsibility to stop and to stop this constantly ongoing film with unimaginable costs for the state and with considerable costs for the citizens and the services to them.

The Albanian government and the international partners have allocated over one billion euros in funds to support investments designed to tackle the water supply issue once and for all. But how are we supposed to ensure 24-hour water supply if the network losses due to the water theft and failure to cash the water bills are estimated at around 80 percent, just like it is the case with Vlora municipality? This is theoretically impossible.

We have a responsibility that we cannot avoid, because it is about a responsibility we can no longer delegate, telling the citizens that the water supply is managed by the municipality. We can no longer do this because the citizens rightly ask for the service, and they don’t care who manages it.

Just as, not only in terms of legal responsibilities, if we assume them we understand the strict legal responsibilities, the vast majority of municipalities are  violating the law, but what is more serious is that when it comes to taking responsibility, the latter is delegated to the government.

In short, we will take this responsibility, since a good part of you delegate it to us and ask for it all from the government and together we will change the course of this history, begging to all the donors and partners here to partake in this process and through their assistance we will scan all human resources working in the water supply companies. We will verify the managerial and technical capacities of the directors of water companies in Albania, the managerial and technical capacities of the heads of water supply companies in Albania, and how many water supply employees have received the due training and graduation. I would suggest to each and every one of you to take actions before such a verification process reveals facts that will go down in history of Albanian humor and satire.

It is up to you to find an excuse for the losses shown on this chart, starting with Vlora municipality and other municipalities across the country, but the responsibility must be direct, starting with the directors of the water supply companies and everyone else tasked with management powers. The responsibility should be direct and immediate.

Me poshte vijon pjesa e dyte e fjales se KM Rama ne takimin me kryebashkiaket per ujesjellesat:

The directors of the water supply and sewerage companies will no longer be appointed the way they have been recruited to date, because we will no longer accept the process to happen this way. We will ask for our partners’ assistance to deliver a serious recruitment process in any entity, because it is all about public entities and nobody should be allowed to abuse just like it has been the case in the last 30 years.

They are public enterprises and will work as such.

These enterprises should not serve as employment offices for individuals who do not wish to work and instead just receive the monthly wage even while being abroad, or individuals who do not report at the workplace at all or others who go to work yet they do a lot of damage.

Such a picture is actually very sad.

We decided to make this publicly for a good reason. And we did so not to relieve ourselves of the responsibility, because there is no responsibility we should relieve ourselves of, but to send a very clear message to everyone, to you and the citizens, and for us to take the responsibility in the name of the autonomy, in the name of decentralization, in the name o f the local government’s right to be free in making decisions.

This is not autonomy, this is not decentralization, but this is openly an abuse with the citizens’ vote and trust.

It is flagrant abuse, offensive abuse, and arrogant abuse of the people’s vote. No one has ever asked you to develop “social” policies, because you name as social any kind of your inaction.

As I heard some of you saying that you face social issues when it comes to tackle the issue of the quarries that the Ministry of Environment has decided to hold them accountable for failing to honour the contracts on forestation of the area they exploit and that you seemingly view from the social viewpoint.

It is not a social policy to resort to the totally wrong idea of losing a number of votes and instead let the taxpayers’ money running through the streets in the form of water that is not gauged, in the form of water that nobody pays about and in the form of the drinking water that is stolen. These are not social policies at all. It is not social at all to talk on behalf of a group of workers in a quarry that is totally destroying a mountain and fails to plant trees as stipulated under the contract. This is actually antisocial and, above all, a crime against children. Such policies have never helped and will never help to increase the number of votes, but they just cause damages.

Therefore we should work together and counteract to build a dam so that the losses do not further deepen in the first place, and the taxpayers’ money and the funds provided by the international partners are not misused.

No, it can no longer be this way!

We need to change now and by now I mean that the Minister will visit all regions across the country and will present mayors the plan to change. A crucial part of this change is creation of fresh synergies. We can no longer continue this way. Another important part is banning politics and politicians from appointing people to take up jobs in the water supply enterprises. For this we will ask for our partners’ help and support by monitoring the human resource recruitment, because they have invested and are investing energy, time, and money of course. Of course we are the ones to pay that money again, but of course they are very low interest loans borrowed over the years and they do not do this to get the money and leave, but they do it to succeed here together with us.

The three sides should ally and deliver a radical change in this respect and the radical change should actually start with you as mayors. It should start with you telling yourselves: “Stop, enough with this. This cycle should end now.” A new chapter should start and there could be no social policies by allowing water network theft, as those who objected the energy reform used to say that “it is not social to cut electricity someone who refuses to pay the electricity bill.” “It is not social to tell someone he would face justice if he steals electricity!” What is social then? It is that on behalf of the social aspect for the abusers the rest of society is denied of the service? Is it that on behalf of the social aspect for those who steal drinking water, the households that regularly pay the water bill are denied from 24-hour water supply, although the investments have been designed to ensure 24-hour water supply? Is this a social policy? These are not social policies, but scandals.

The public should know today that not only are we determined to alter this situation, but we will also act and I expect none of you to hinder the efforts to change the system, because there is no other argument then the document stipulating that you are autonomous and therefore no investment funds are provided, no performance is improved, nobody is held accountable for employment in the water supply enterprises, nobody is held responsible for the miserable level of human resources employed in water supply enterprises, nobody is held accountable for the fact that no penny from the loans borrowed for water supply systems is not paid by water supply enterprises? Not a single penny and I am not asking them to pay off the entire loan.

What is the argument for this story to go on?

In this case too, a series of positive examples have been set and we will capitalize on these examples to show how this should be done throughout Albania and should be expanded throughout Albania.

So, I thank you again for taking the trouble to attend this second meeting!

A third one will take place soon to discuss the issue of quarries and I am confident that if we deliver improvements in all these three directions we would do a great service to the community by tackling the pressing waste management issue, tackling the water supply and the dust and environment problem from the quarries. You defend these quarries when they are told to cease their activity, but strangely enough they haven’t obtained any permit from the Ministry of Environment.

The agreements stipulate that the company will harvest the quarry, but also it will afforest the area. I would nicely ask you not to interfere and make no efforts to defend the quarries, because the next meeting will bring together representatives of the companies that are exploiting the mountains, while the local government authorities should stay away from this affair.

They should come over here and be told how deep they have embarked on the illegality path, and they should take over and commit to afforest the area as stipulated under the contract and only then they can go on with their business. The deadline for them to deliver on this until December 31st, but of course, together with the Minister of Tourism and Environment, we will call them and tell them one by one, case by case, their problems with the law.

If they are willing to recover, we have no reason to stand in their way. Whoever is not ready, not only will lose their business, but they will go before the law, there is no other way.

Thank you very much everyone!