Thumane transformed on eve of earthquake anniversary

The newly-built residential complex in the town of Thumane, a project under the major Reconstruction Programme, will soon welcome its residents, whose homes collapsed in the devastating earthquake that hit the country on November 26 two years ago.

Construction of 178 apartments and 158 single-family homes has completed, while the construction site is still open and work is expected to finally complete in the next few days. Prime Minister Edi Rama, accompanied by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Reconstruction Arben Ahmetaj, today visited Thumane not only to mark the earthquake anniversary, but also to announce the good news that as many as 433 quake-affected families will move into brand new homes built and designed in line with modern construction standards. The new residential neighbourhood will also put an end to the chaos in construction and inherited problems in the last three decades.

“The construction project in Thumane is expected to be completed in the next few days. Construction of 178 apartments has been completed. On the left of this site, a total of 158 single-family homes have been built too. The complex of 178 housing units includes 18 apartments built by Behgjet Pacolli Foundation, while Firdeus Foundation has built 158 single-family homes. The one in front is the administrative unit building. In other words, this is a whole residential complex featuring all sorts of constructions, service and local government buildings,” the Deputy PM and Minister for Reconstruction said while touring the reconstructed site.

Addressing participants after inspecting the new residential neighbourhood, PM Rama said:

“I am not going to repeat what was already said. Today, on the eve of the dramatic anniversary of the earthquake that hit the country two years ago, I practically wanted to be here together with the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Reconstruction, as well as with Behgjet Pacolli and with each and every one of you to express my gratitude primarily to all of those who delivered on the exemplary revival of this area, the worst hit by the natural disaster. I am very pleased that as the rain started,  I can wish that these raindrops are an auspicious harbinger for all the affected families, and I would like to wholeheartedly appreciate the construction companies, Behgjet Pacolli and his company, I would like to thank Elvis Naçi, Ilir Hoxholli and their firms, because Thumane was the right place to embody through solid walls and a much more decent community space than it used to be before it was hit by the earthquake the solidarity that unfolded and demonstrated by all Albanians right after the earthquake and this is a work of united hands and united forces of folks from different walks of life, the government, the foundation “Albanians for Albanians”, Behgjet Pacolli, who is an institution on his own, where all the necessary funds were made available. Just two or three days after the second anniversary of the earthquake, the affected families will start moving first into the apartments right behind my back and into the single-family homes and I hope we will return back on the Christmas Eve to attend a massive party  here and together light the olive tree as the symbol of peace and prosperity, with the olive tree set to be placed on top of that building of the past, that famous tanker, which will become a symbol of this neighbourhood, a symbol of remembrance, and a symbol of hope.

As many as 433 families will return to fantastic living spaces and, as I already told Behgjet, these apartment buildings meet the highest standards of the properties and apartments that Tirana’s wealthy people would normally purchase, while they are actually built and will be provided for free to people, 95% of whom would never afford purchasing, which means they face no financial obligation of whatsoever, but the obligation to maintain this so beautiful environment and take care of it. In the meantime, Kruje Municipality will continue to cooperate and work with us to tackle some minor details so that more space is ensured for small children and the elderly amid these green spaces, which I am confident will be materialized by next June 1, on the Children’s Day.

I recall a debate I had with a group of young boys just two or three days after the disaster struck right where the tents were erected at the only sports field Thumane had, and while majority of affected residents had become homeless, but the young boys were lamenting about football field and I told them that we will build not one, but several sports fields. Of course they looked at me in disbelief and greeted me by raising their fingers to make the V-shape, but I very much hope they are now pleased at seeing all these sports fields.

In the meantime, I would reiterate something else and recall that I have already stated this project won’t end here.

We want to transform Thumane into a destination for other people to visit on the weekends.  The area here is home to an amazing lake that we plan to treat as an asset for domestic tourism and I am pretty sure many families would wish to visit this area and please their children in all these spaces that many neighbourhoods in Tirana and other big cities across the country actually lack. In the meantime, in collaboration with the Education Directorate we will build some after-school spaces in the lower floors of the municipal offices building, not only for sports events and activities, but also for craftsmanship and technology, where we will host training programs and courses for local children to nurture their talents and skills and enable some of them to access the global technology market, as it is actually the case with many students who attend the school yet and work for international companies from home.

I would like to add that this process has been indeed a success story of efforts to turn a major crisis into a great opportunity. A total of 400 companies, ranging from the design and construction companies, are involved in the ongoing post-earthquake reconstruction program.

A total of 27, 000 workers have been involved and this is to tell those who claim that there are no jobs and that everyone has left the country, but it is indeed 27,000 families that are earning their living through the reconstruction program.

The country’s main architectural and design studios and construction companies are involved in this process.

Projects at record low prices have been finalized also thanks to the guaranteed competition for everyone, and indeed there is no participating company that could complain for being excluded from the process, quite the opposite, but I am really grateful to the companies and I would like to thank them again.

The 27, 000 workers have benefited higher pay levels, with the social and health insurance contributions included.

We have certainly done our job we are tasked with, because we know quite well that as I speak, a lot will take to Facebook to make comments like: “You have simply done your job, and you haven’t done it with your own money but with the taxpayers’ money.” Some would even say that these are not for free as the rest of the population will pay for them. Since the first state formation idea was born, governments are definitely elected to do their job and not to work magic. They are in office to well-manage the revenues collected from the citizens’ contributions, but the governments differ not due to the fact that which one does its duty by using its own money or the taxpayers’ money, but the fact how good or bad an administration manages the collected revenues and how much of the collected from the citizens are redistributed to them.

I am very proud that we prepared and implemented a very exemplary post-earthquake reconstruction program, which super fast in all its components and aspects, and it is the only program, as far as we know compared to similar programs implemented in the neighbouring countries, where the affected families are asked to provide a certain financial contribution, whereas the new homes are provided for free to the quake-affected families under our program. We can’t force the devastated families to pay a financial contribution, nor to apply for soft bank loans.

I am very proud that, as I already said, the majority of the affected families, which have already moved and will keep constantly moving into the new homes, would never afford building such homes on their own.

In addition to that, we have also made sure that families previously living under the same roof will now move into their own separate single-family homes or apartments.

I would also like to highlight the fact that during this process, we also had to deal with the brutal blow from the pandemic. Many of these reconstruction projects should have been completed earlier, but many processes were suspended or delayed. However, if we are to consider Turkey as the role model regarding speed, construction of these new residential complexes is practically completing at about the same time as the neighbourhood being constructed in the town of Laç, where the project personally supported by the President of the Republic of Turkey is underway and where a Turkish company is working on it.

I avail myself of this opportunity to downplay all the allegations over mismanagement of the pledges provided by our international partners and tell everyone that the Turkish donation is being managed by the Republic of Turkey itself.

We have just approved the projects and we have been part of these processes regarding the projects’ standards only. The government of Albania has not been involved in none of other procedure, namely selection of the construction companies and the funds disbursement, either for construction of the residential complex in Laç or the new residential neighbourhood in Spitalle, whose construction kicked off recently through the funds provided by the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates, or the new educational facilities under the EU-funded programme. We are really grateful for each and every contribution from our international friends and partners to build even a single school, kindergarten or a house. Funds administration is done by them only. Nothing goes through us and whatever we have built we have done so through the Albanian state budget money.

There are many others suggesting that everything is being implemented through bank loans and debts. I don’t know whether there is another way to deliver on such major projects, but I would like to note that there are no countries around the world without an external debt. We used to live under a state, where borrowing was banned by constitution and everyone knows how the story goes.

There are two kinds of debts, like families that borrow money and they are unable to repay the loan, and there are other families that apply for bank loans to support an investment and settle the loan through employment-related income. Albania belongs to the second category. Albania could not receive a loan in the past, because no one would accept to lend money to this county.

Albania has just succeeded in the international capital markets and successfully issued the Eurobond and the capital markets evaluate the fact that Albania has built sound financial foundations and it doesn’t face bankruptcy risks.

We actually want every quake-affected family to move into their new homes in the coming days and weeks for them to celebrate the New Year’s Eve in their houses. Work will then continue on construction of the larger residential neighbourhoods in Tirana and Durres, where a number of families will be housed soon.

The government has projected an amount of one billion lek under the next year’s state budget to cover the rental payment for the families still having to wait for their new homes. You can recall the fact that we accommodated the affected families in hotels and in rented homes later.

In neighbouring Italy, the world’s fifth economic superpower, there are still people living in caravans after an earthquake hit the country 12 or 15 years ago.

This is not to draw a negative comparison with our Italian friends and partners, who played a crucial role and have provided significant assistance through which we are funding a project on the Civil Emergencies, another project on sustainability of the fishing industry.

We have actually delivered and accomplished what nobody has ever imagined and this is a fact. We have accomplished it as we have committed everything to it. We have committed our mind, heart, time and everything else to making sure that these people are not forgotten, as they have been forgotten and neglected over the years.

Whoever claims the opposite, I would tell them that a fund was allocated eight years ago to assist families that had lost everything in the floods, but not a single cent was transferred to these affected families. Meanwhile, we today witness this colossal transformation, turning the disaster into a fresh opportunity for entire families and communities. The families moving into new homes today will own a much bigger property than they used to own prior to the earthquake.

Whoever moving into a new home today owns a capital that didn’t possess prior to the earthquake and would never afford building it. It is a whole capital now transferred to thousands of families and will be transferred to thousands of other families soon, starting by the end of this year, when the majority of the affected people will move into new homes they have never imagined.

These are all residential complexes now available to people with limited financial opportunities. Such neighbourhoods like this one behind my back in Fushe-Kruje, Bubq or Manez were affordable to the wealthy people only.

Thanks to this joint contribution, folks and families with limited means, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford, will now move into such new homes. I am very proud of this and I am very grateful to all workers, engineers, supervisors, architects and builders, who have clearly demonstrated their solidarity during this process.

Thank you very much!