Albania – Fresh clashes between President and PM turn up the heat ahead of local elections

Tirana, Albania | 04 Feb 2019 (Tirana Echo) – Albanian President Ilir Meta has clashed again with the country’s Prime Minister Edi Rama, after he called on the government to cancel its public bid for building a section of Tirana’s ring road, saying the project lacks transparency and is anti-constitutional.

Mr. Meta made his inflammatory comments in a public letter, following a meeting with local residents of suburban Tirana whose houses are set to be demolished by the project. The residents had earlier delivered a petition to the President, demanding his intervention and calling on US FBI officials to join Albanian prosecutors in uncovering the truth about the project’s corruption allegations.

In his arguments provided in his letter, Meta has questioned the legality of the bidding procedures and has warned of the social impact the project will have on the residents whose houses will be demolished in order to give way to the new road construction. 

The opening of the bidding procedures without a prior decision of the relevant authority, the National Territorial Council, not only constitutes a severe breach of the law, but creates the conviction that this process has been selective, pre-determined and has deliberately sidelined obligatory legal requirements.” wrote the President.

In addition to expressing his concerns on the social impacts of the project, the President accused a set of Albanian executive institutions, including the Ministries of Infrastructure, Justice and Interior Affairs, of having refused to grant information to the President’s institution when asked on the matter.

The refusal to reply to the President of the Republic, after several demands for information, reinforces his belief that the project deliberately lacks transparency and goes against the judicial and constitutional order of Albania.” said the Meta in his unprecedented letter.

Following the unprecedented step of President Meta to interfere with the executive power in the small Balkan country, Prime Minister Edi Rama swiftly rebuffed Meta’s meddling by cynically suggesting he is acting on behalf of the country’s opposition.

The truth is that Ilir Meta is the most serious leader of the opposition. He reads the constitution in the same manner as them. Hates the government like them. Wishes for a mess to be created, just like them. But un like them, he obliges his aides to fill sheets of ‘legal’ empty words and defends folly through official paperwork.” Wrote PM Rama on Twitter immediately after the President’s press release.

Clashes between Mr. Meta and Mr. Rama, have intensified in recent weeks following the President’s refusal to decree or delay the approval of several legal and ministerial proposals by the Council of Ministers, prompting the Prime Minister to accuse Meta of breaching the country’s constitution, which does not leave much space for maneuvers to the rather ceremonial role of the president.

Tensions between Albania’s two highest authorities are expected to amplify ahead of local elections as Mr. Meta’s former party, the Socialist Movement for integration (LSI), has joined the country’s opposition Democratic Party, fiercely demanding the removal of Mr. Rama from the premiership. Mr. Meta was elected President of Albania in 2017 thanks to Mr. Rama’s Socialist party votes. The opposition block has called for a massive national protest against PM Rama on February the 16th.

The Tirana ring road affairs came to the surface last December, after media reports that the winning bidder of the ring road’s segment DH Albania had falsified its paperwork in order to gain the €18 million public contract. The company which is a branch of US registered Dunwell Haberman, has since been kicked out of the race by Albania’s authorities while both companies are under investigation in the US state of Delaware and in Albania for fraudulent practices.

The opposition has accused Mr. Rama’s socialists of coming to power through links to organized crime and corruption, however, it has been unable to mobilize sufficient numbers of supporters to force a resignation of Mr. Rama or early elections.

Albania hopes to formally open membership talks with the European Union this year following a positive recommendation last year by the European Commission. However, member states have conditioned the opening of negotiations on a tougher fight against endemic corruption and organized crime in the country as well as with a tangible implementation of the justice system reform.

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