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  • Posted by franksupa on December 28, 2008

    I came across a great post from at .dailycamera.com about albania and it really amazed me how other people describe albania.

    Below is the blog article:

    ” After some time wandering around in Skopje, Macedonia, a gritty, communist-block like city that seems to be trying valiantly to redefine itself, I found myself stepping onto yet another bus into the night towards Albania. This was another country I was a bit nervous about, mostly because every single person I had spoken to told me not to go. To be fair, none of them had been there which is how I rationalized going despite the warnings.
    Albania has long been a traveler’s blacklisted country and it is only recently that it has opened up its borders. Like for Kosovo, I wanted to be one of the first let into a country with such a torrid reputation. I was a little apprehensive on the bus because it was just two men (the drivers) and me. But it turned out to be great. I was able to spread out and sleep in the isle, and the men were really nice and despite not speaking any English, their hospitality was impeccable. They tried to buy me coffee or food at every stop and just seemed to look out for me.
    I got off the bus dazed at 5 a.m. in Tirana, the capital. I had no idea where I was. Like Macedonia, Albania is trying to give itself a face lift by painting every single building a different color. We are talking Easter egg colors here by the way. It was the full giant Crayola pack, not the small one. Knowing very little English would be spoken, I had armed myself with as many Albanian phrases as I could manage. I certainly attracted stares walking down the street with my backpack, but I felt very welcome.
    Transportation in Albania is absurd. There are no bus stops, just plots of dirt throughout the city where buses sometimes stop. They leave haphazardly and just to make it a little more fun, they like to mix it up by constantly switching the plot from which certain destinations will depart from. I asked a girl in Albanian where the bus to Saranda would be. She laughed at my awful Albanian then dropped everything, got out of line for the bus she was waiting to board, took my hand, and led me along the street. She spoke maybe 10 words of English, to my 10 of Albanian but we babbled at each other. It should have been awkward but wasn’t at all because of her warmth. Apparently the Saranda bus plot had changed recently. We got to where she thought it was and had to ask someone else. He promptly dropped everything to walk us to the new plot. Soon we had a whole crew of Albanians joining out team and detouring from their day on a mission to help me find the right bus. When we finally did they all shook my hand or hugged me goodbye. The bus driver took out his wallet to show me how much money I was to pay and he didn’t even try to cheat me. I went across the street to get some coffee while we were waiting for the bus to fill. The waitress patiently held up each kind of coffee and milk for me to make sure I got just what I wanted with unending precision. On the bus the only other English speaker, a 10 year-old girl with great English sat next to me. We chatted about things you could talk about with a 10 year-old, sweet Albanian girl. Each time the bus stopped people would try to buy me food. I decided I never wanted to leave Albania.
    There might not be much English spoken but that was the adventure of it. I got by through hand gestures and writing down numbers or showing money or just blindly guessing, it was all tremendous fun. I thought it would be frustrating but it never was. People could see I was a foreigner and wherever I was, they would buy me coffee and try to communicate in any way that we could, or just stop to say hello and shake my hand.
    Sadly, for all the kindness of Albanians, the majority of the countryside I was was not nice. All the old cars that didn’t make it to Kosovo wound up in Albania. The communist urban sprawl is appalling and even the rivers had the glazed sheen of oil coating them.
    Also disturbing are the 700,000 concrete bunkers that are scattered everywhere. They are in front yards, fields, mountain sides, everywhere.
    Later, an Albanian that had lived in Canada so he spoke English told me that the government had convinced them that the entire world was against them so they built all the bunkers. He said that the cost of building one bunker is equivalent to the cost of building a one-bedroom apartment. That’s a lot for a poor country.
    The whole time I was in Albania, the hospitality was unending. Anyone who spoke any English at all wanted to come talk to me and seemed genuinely happy to share their country with me. Despite the challenge, or maybe because of it, Albania was one of the most rewarding places I have ever been. “

    Posted in News Albania | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

    former Serbian province of Kosovo

    Posted by franksupa on December 28, 2008

    Two events got 2008 off to a running start in the Balkans.

    The first was the narrow victory of Serbia’s pro-democratic president, Boris Tadic, in early elections against an ultranationalist rival, Tomislav Nikolic.

    The second was an independence declaration by the former Serbian province of Kosovo, where 1.8 million ethnic Albanians celebrated the end of their long wait for statehood.

    Together, those February events appeared to mark a turning point for the former Yugoslavia — a break from the ethnically driven politics of the past, and a step toward greater integration with the West.

    There were other signs of a growing political maturity, as well.

    Slovenia, the EU’s only Balkan member, assumed the rotating EU presidency at the start of the year pledging a smooth transition for Kosovo and improved ties between Brussels and Belgrade.

    In April, Croatia and Albania received invitations to join the NATO military alliance. (A third country, Macedonia, had its invitation blocked by Greece amid a lingering dispute over its name.)

    And Radovan Karadzic — the former Bosnian Serb leader seen as an architect of the Srebrenica massacre and the siege of Sarajevo during the 1992-95 Bosnian war — was arrested in Serbia in July, after 13 years in hiding.

    The so-called “Butcher of Bosnia” will now be tried at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. It’s a move some hope may bring a sense of closure to one of the grimmest chapters in the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

    “His arrest is very important for the victims of the war and genocide in Bosnia,” says Senad Pecanin, the editor in chief of “Dani,” an independent Sarajevo weekly. “It obviously brings a kind of relief for them and their expectations of justice. It was late — his arrest was expected much earlier. But it was still a very important moment in the current history of Bosnia.”

    Kosovo Fallout

    As 2008 comes to a close, however, any steps toward reconciliation and stability seen in those early months have given way to a more muddled and volatile picture.

    The focus of Kosovo’s debut as an independent state quickly shifted from the fireworks and jubilation in Pristina to mounting anger in Serbia, where officials refused to acknowledge the loss of a territory they consider the cradle of Serbian civilization.

    Just days after the Kosovo declaration, Serb protesters angered by Western support for Pristina’s independence mobbed the streets of Belgrade, setting fire to the U.S. Embassy and attacking other diplomatic buildings.

    Boris Tadic

    The violence soon dissipated, only to be replaced by a bureaucratic affront, with Serbia blocking for nearly six months the transfer of administrative powers in Kosovo from the existing mission of the United Nations to EULEX, the new team run by the European Union.

    Tiny Kosovo ends 2008 with dangerous divisions remaining between the Albanian majority and its Belgrade-backed Serb minority. A defiant cluster of EU states — Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Slovakia, and Romania — have yet to recognize the Pristina declaration, complicating efforts by Brussels to address the Kosovo issue with one voice.

    Still, Peter Palmer, the Balkans project director for the International Crisis Group, says from Pristina that the transition is going “more smoothly than anyone would have dared to hope.”

    “This is irreversible. There are those, of course, in Belgrade but also nonrecognizing states — Russia and five EU members — who have not accepted it. But no one else has put forward a viable alternative to Kosovo independence,” says Palmer. “It’s certainly true that things have not gone exactly as the recognizing states and Kosovo itself would have hoped. It’s not an ideal situation. But nevertheless, Kosovo independence is a reality.”

    The Kosovo declaration had far-ranging ramifications, most notably in Georgia, where separatists in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia cited Pristina’s example in making their own independence bids with full recognition from Moscow.

    Within the Balkans, Kosovo’s independence was seen as reigniting old tensions. A number of ex-Yugoslav states stepped forward to recognize Pristina’s independence, to Serbia’s mounting displeasure. When Macedonia and Montenegro became the 50th and 51st states to recognize Kosovo, Belgrade denounced the move as a betrayal and expelled both countries’ ambassadors.

    In Bosnia, Simmering Unrest

    Bosnia-Herzegovina was the one state besides Serbia not to recognize Kosovo. That, however, did not prevent Milorad Dodik, the voluble prime minister of Bosnia’s Serb entity of Republika Srpska, from using Kosovo as a precedent he said could clear the way for a theoretical secession from Sarajevo.

    That threat is part of a running nationalist feud between Dodik and his Bosniak rival, Haris Silajdzic, the Muslim member of the country’s tripartite presidency, who himself has called for the abolition of Republika Srpska.

    The fragility of Bosnia’s power-sharing agreement, brokered by the international community in the Dayton peace accords in 1995, is serving as a reminder in Kosovo that Western-imposed solutions are not necessarily a fail-safe guarantee against ethnic discord — particularly in instances where Belgrade is intent on protecting the interests of the region’s Serbs.

    The rising tensions have also sparked fears of a new regional war in multiethnic Bosnia — fears that James Lyon, a Balkans expert with the Democratization Policy Council, says the West should move quickly to counteract.

    “If we see violations of Dayton, we may be seeing first and foremost violations of what is primarily a cease-fire, with the implications for that,” Lyon says. “Both sides are now accusing the other of re-arming. And if the Serbs are accusing the Bosniaks and the Bosniaks are accusing the Serbs of re-arming, then there’s probably a good reason to believe that there’s a grain of truth to the complaints of both sides.”

    Lyon says part of the problem lies in the fact that the international community — and the EU in particular — has allowed Serbia to pursue with impunity its policy interests in neighboring states, often at the expense of regional stability.

    Brussels is eager to bring Serbia — the biggest and most obstinate of the former Yugoslav states — into the EU fold. The result, says Lyon, is a kind of “Serbian exceptionalism” in the EU’s Balkans policy, whereby Belgrade is offered sweeter incentives and milder penalties than other countries making steadier progress toward EU membership.

    Managing Belgrade

    Brussels this year offered Serbia a Stabilization and Association Agreement, or SAA — a deal seen as a key step toward EU membership. Although Belgrade was not seen as falling short on some reforms required for an SAA, the offer was seen as placating Serbia for the EU’s nearly unanimous backing of Kosovo’s independence declaration.

    Radovan Karadzic faces the UN court in The Hague on August 29.

    Belgrade, in turn, handed over Karadzic, in a move that earned it near-instant praise from Hague and EU officials. But a handful of EU countries, particularly the Netherlands, say no more concessions will be forthcoming until Serbia arrests Ratko Mladic, Karadzic’s army commander during the Bosnian war and the top remaining Hague suspect still at large.

    Serbia is not considered likely to produce such an arrest, however. Mladic enjoys the continued loyalty and protection of the Serbian Army. His testimony, moreover, could potentially reveal lines of command in operations like the Srebrenica massacre — something that could ultimately prove deeply damaging to the political and military elite in Belgrade.

    There are high-profile issues, like Mladic, that demonstrate Serbia’s limitations as a viable EU partner. There are also more mundane ones, like Belgrade’s continued failure to bring its laws in line with Schengen visa standards that are highly desired by the Balkan public.

    Then there is Tadic, whose Western backers watched with disappointment as his Democratic Party struck a coalition deal with the Socialists, the former party of deceased Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, after parliamentary elections in the spring.

    “Tadic’s choice of coalition partner indicates very clearly that European integration is not necessarily as strong as he would like the West to believe it is in terms of his government’s priorities,” says Lyon. “He chose a very, very right-of-center party that is the party of Slobodan Milosevic. It’s a party that no one in their wildest dreams here in Serbia today would associate with being pro-European.”

    Europe, of course, is not the only player in the Balkans. Many in the region hope the United States, preoccupied under the Bush administration by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, may redirect some of its attention to the former Yugoslavia when Barack Obama enters office in January, bringing with him a vice president and cabinet members who are well-versed on Balkan issues.

    Challenges Ahead

    And then there is Moscow, which in 2008 continued to wield considerable influence over the Balkans, serving as a kind of counterbalance to the West. Russia acted as Serbia’s booster in UN Security Council debates on Kosovo and continued a regional energy-driven spending spree.

    But while Russia’s patronage has been largely welcome, some of the deals have sparked controversy in the Serbian government. Moscow’s plan to purchase NIS, Serbia’s state energy company, has divided lawmakers because the deal fails to guarantee an initial promise by Russia that its strategic South Stream pipeline would run through Serbia. Refusal to proceed, however, would almost certainly mean an abrupt end to Moscow’s support on Kosovo and other issues.

    The question, however, may become moot if the global financial crisis ultimately sets back the Kremlin’s energy-expansion plans.

    If 2008 was the year of Kosovo and Karadzic, 2009 may easily prove the year of economic meltdown in a region that still has some of the highest unemployment and poverty figures in Europe.

    Adding financial instability to a region already riven by rising ethnic tensions may see the Balkans putting aside a vision of the future and returning to the problems of the past.

    Posted in News Albania | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    Russia and Albania in the early 1990s

    Posted by franksupa on December 28, 2008

    Dec. 26 (Bloomberg) — Post-Communist capitalism was a rough business in places like Russia and Albania in the early 1990s, a Wild East where fraudsters and scam artists danced circles around the poor and the naive — the rest of the population.

    Millions of people, many of them little old ladies, or “babushki’ in Russian, were bilked of their privatization vouchers, savings accounts and whatever cash they had stashed in pillows as a hedge against annual inflation rates of 1,000 percent or more.

    Now, in the post-Bernard Madoff era, it is clear that financially uneducated Russians and Albanians have a lot in common with millionaires like filmmaker Steven Spielberg, whose Wunderkinder Foundation lost money in the New York financier’s alleged pyramid scheme.

    As it turns out, poverty, ignorance and isolation aren’t prerequisites for falling victim to a pyramid, or Ponzi, scheme. All you need is to believe someone when they tell you they can double your money.

    Who would know better than Sergei Mavrodi, the man behind MMM, Russia’s biggest investment pyramid scheme which collapsed in 1994, costing some 2 million Russians an estimated $1.5 billion?

    Interviewed on Russia Today, a TV news channel, on July 11, 2007, after his release from four years in prison, Mavrodi scoffed at the idea that his scheme never would have worked in western Europe.

    “Of course, it would work not only in Russia, but in any country,” he said. “If you give money away, who is not going to take it?”

    Easier Pickings

    The interviewer pressed on, noting that in France, or Belgium, systems are in place to stop such things. “Let me assure you, in Belgium, it would be even easier than here,” said Mavrodi. “Here in Russia, people are illiterate; it is difficult to explain things to them. People there understand things. I managed to do it, but I don’t know why nobody there does it.”

    Well, it turns out they did do it in the West, right on Park Avenue. And as Mavrodi said, it worked even better with the financially savvy than it did with people struggling to stay afloat in a transition economy. Madoff has confessed that his “giant Ponzi scheme” may have cost clients as much as $50 billion, according to a Federal Bureau of Investigations complaint.

    No-Frills Pyramid

    The MMM scheme in Russia was more modest, although at its peak in 1994, it was considered the most brazen of its time. It ran an aggressive advertising campaign on television, featuring a character named Lyonya Golubkov, a bulldozer operator, who pitched the deal with a simple phrase, “Eto Prosto Yo-Moyo,” roughly translated as “It’s simply frigging awesome.”

    This was a no-frills pyramid: those buying in were paying off those who were getting out, a loop that works as long as more gullible people join up.

    There were dozens of such schemes, as Russians tried to figure out what to do with their privatization vouchers — a piece of paper representing their share of the national wealth, issued in October 1991 to 150 million people at a face value of 10,000 rubles, or about $25. A voucher’s worth plummeted almost immediately, as inflation took off, eating away at the value of the ruble and at people’s trust in the new capitalist era.

    So it’s no wonder people went running after MMM, and other flim-flam investment schemes with names such as Revenge, or NeftAlmazInvest, literally translated as OilDiamondInvest, which as it turned out, had no investments in either.

    Sude the Gypsy

    In Albania, the pyramids appeared later, with even more devastating consequences for the national economy. By 1997, the amount taken from Albanians by at least 10 separate schemes had reached almost $1 billion, roughly two-thirds of the gross domestic product.

    The meltdown began in November 1997 when a fund run by a 30 year-old former worker at a shoe factory, known only as Sude the Gypsy, stopped making payments. Other funds collapsed in rapid succession, rioting broke out, and the government collapsed.

    Writing in 2000, Christopher Jarvis, then a senior economist with the International Monetary Fund, attributed the appeal of Albania’s schemes to “unfamiliarity with financial markets, the deficiencies of the country’s formal financial system.”

    That’s not something Madoff’s investors can claim as an excuse. “In the end the best protection is just good judgment,” says Jarvis, now an adviser at the IMF. “If someone makes an offer that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

    The solution? Jarvis says the Madoff case, like the one in Albania, proves the need for constant vigilance and aggressive regulatory supervision.

    So maybe the U.S. should check out how Albania got out of its mess.

    This article was from : http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601039&refer=columnist_bohlen&sid=awhS9sW3.FtA

    Posted in Albania | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

    Albania hunger strikers

    Posted by franksupa on November 19, 2008

    More than 3,000 people protested in front of Albania’s parliament Monday, in support of 10 lawmakers on hunger strike in opposition to a draft election law.

    The deputies have been on a weeklong hunger strike since last Monday to protest the election law changes which they say will keep small parties out of parliament.

    Protesters at the rally chanted “This won’t pass” as they waved Albanian flags and held up protest banners.

    The rally ended peacefully. Protest organizers called on the crowd to repeat the rallies in front of parliament every day.

    “No one will force them stop their hunger strike and their defense of our right of the vote,” said Ilir Meta of the opposition party, Socialist Movement for Integration.

    The hunger strikers remain in parliament. Supporters said they are becoming frail and expressed concern for one elderly lawmaker who suffers from diabetes.

    Albania was invited to join NATO earlier this year and is keen to press ahead with voting reforms that are seen as necessary to further integration with the European Union.

    But Albanians are also highly sensitive to changes in voting rules after enduring decades of oppressive Communist rule.

    Small parties argue the proposed changes would exclude them from parliament by introducing a region-based voting system.

    Several of the hunger strikers are members of a small Christian Democrat party that is in Prime Minister Sali Berisha’s governing conservative coalition.

    Albania elects its deputies to the 140-seat parliament using a partial majority system. General elections are due next year.

    Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitors democratic reforms in many former Communist countries, expressed mixed views over the proposed voting changes.

    The OSCE in the past has criticized Albania for failing to hold elections that meet international standards. It said the new law requires “fine tuning.

    source:emportal.co.yu

    Posted in Albania, albania news, albania today | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

    Albania passes the new election law

    Posted by franksupa on November 19, 2008

    Albania’s two main parties passed an election code that they said would ensure the holding of free and fair elections next year, but minor parties complained it would work against them.

    Deputies of the ruling Democratic Party and the main opposition Socialists cast 112 votes for the measure in the 140-seat parliament where 10 opposition politicians had staged an eight-day hunger strike to prevent its passage.

    The European Union has made it clear to ex-communist Albania, which has yet to hold elections that meet international standards, that next year’s vote must be above criticism if it wants to join the 27-member bloc.

    “This code will be remembered not only because it will ensure free and fair elections, but as a great example of political cooperation,” said Ilir Rusmali, a Democrat who was co-chairman of the commission that drafted the code.

    The Democrats and Socialists said they had written a code based on the best European models without foreign tutorship well ahead of the election, a milestone for Albania’s 17-year-old democracy.

    But minor parties believe the new regional system of proportional representation will greatly reduce their number of seats at next year’s general election.

    After the law passed, Ilir Meta, one of the hunger strikers, warned of escalating the protest to restore the “sanctity of the vote”.

    “This is a crime against the constitution and democracy,” Meta, unshaven and looking tired, told a crowd of protesters who chanted “Shame” outside the parliament building.

    “You are approving the code of theft and are undermining the 2009 elections,” Nard Ndoka, a former ally of Prime Minister Sali Berisha, told parliament before ending his hunger strike.

    In a rare show of consensus in April, the two main parties agreed to change an electoral system tainted by allegations of fraud.

    Democrats and Socialists alike had been accused of fraud and exaggerated use of tactical voting under the previous system, usually aimed at boosting the seats of their small-party allies so they ended up with more powerful coalitions.

    But the practice often backfired and led to instability, as small parties bargained for favours and slowed the pace of reforms, or switched allegiances in return for official posts.

    “This code … can erase from memory the dark stories of vote trafficking that produced weak governments, which could be easily blackmailed,” Socialist deputy Fatmir Xhafaj said.

    source:tvnz.co.nz

    Posted in Albania, albania news, albania today | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

    Albania Study Tour

    Posted by franksupa on November 15, 2008

    SNV/Albania Study Tour

    SNV/Albania Study Tour

    Peshkopi Municipality:

    Tax Office, Public Information Office and Advisory Commission

    Background

    SNV/Albania, Diber Team has a contract with the Municipality of Peshkopi to provide a number of advisory services. Specifically, two advisory service objectives were drivers for this study tour: 1) establishing citizen advisory commissions on a neighborhood level; and 2) improvement of tax management system: collection, transparency and communication with citizens. Within these objectives a number of specific activities were planned; but in neither case, was a study tour initially incorporated into the activity work plan. As implementation of the work plans have occurred, adjustments have been made based on new opportunities and new insights gained from implementing a prior activity.

    In this case, as the tax management objective/project was being implemented, we hired a consultant to assist on the technical and legal specifics of tax forecasting, collections, management and monitoring, enforcement, etc. Two interesting developments emerged from this activity. First, the consultant(s) were a team of experts. One from a municipality with very practical knowledge and experience.1 The other is an attorney from the Albanian Association of Municipalities, a national capacity building and lobbying organization for local municipalities. We found that by working together with this specific client (i.e.: Municipality of Peshkopi) that we could likely develop complimentary2 and replicable advisory services, for other municipality tax offices throughout Albania.

    The second development was that in Kucove, the municipality of one of our consultants, there is a very active Advisory Commission. This Commission has been involved in providing input on their taxes and budget. The consultant invited the Peshkopi tax office staff to come and see his operations in Kucove in more detail; and, he invited us to bring advisory commissioners along and he would ensure that they met some Kucove commissioners too. This second development is where the study tour idea began.

    Another development arose independent of the above, from the networking that was taking place within AAM and the motivation of the Mayors of Peshkopi and Saranda. The Mayor of the Municipality of Saranda, invited the Peshkopi tour group to come and be guests in his town and to share with his staff our experiences with the Advisory Commission. (Saranda does not have a citizen advisory group.) In exchange, he and his staff would share their experiences/successes with tourism, a development area that Peshkopi wants to grow. t

    1 This expert, the Tax Director from the Municipality of Kucove, is “heads above” all others in Albania. He is used by the U.S. Urban Institute as a consultant. Through his leadership and management, his office has increased tax revenue in Kucove by five times in approximately four years.

    2 Complimentary service: SNV advisors attend to process issues and community transparency. We also initiate the work based on demand and need known fromour local government networks and we can provide on-going support/advice in areas tha we have teams. The AAM provides the legal expertise and training. They also partner with us in terms of LGt networking. Finally, the Kucove expert offers the hands-on knowledge and various technical mechanisms to make tax office/administrative improvements.

    1

    We confirmed the goals of the study tour with our client and agreements were made about sharing financial and logistical responsibilities of the tour. The goals were as follows:

    1. To learn about how the municipality of Saranda developed a tourism office and how they are making progress.

    2. To learn from the experiences of the Kucove municipality regarding taxes, tax systems, and how they made the changes. And, how the advisory commission participates.

    3. To observe and learn about specific tax system administrative mechanisms, including software, forms and files.

    4. To share and learn from the experiences of both municipalities (Peshkopi and Kucove) about the value and functioning of citizen advisory commissions.

    General Description

    The tour included two female advisors from SNV, the mayor of Peshkopi, Director of the Public Information Office, Director and Inspector of the Tax Office; and, 7 members of the Advisory Commission(s).3 Except for SNV advisors, all participants were male. One female commissioner declined the day before. We traveled in one mini-bus and the municipality car, with two drivers.

    The trip started at 4 a.m. from Peshkopi and began fairly uneventfully, making good time toward our first destination in Saranda. Just after the national park in Llogara, complete with photo opportunities with the tame deer/fauna, the mini-bus broke down. From this point on, we were continually behind on our schedule, about a half a day.

    In Saranda, there was a dinner (hosted by the Saranda mayor & staff) and staff briefings from their mayor, Tax Director and Tourism Director. The location of the formal briefings were changed to the informal dinner setting, due to our delays and a power outage in Saranda just as we arrived at the Bashki. Much of the learning happened through dialogues and conversations around the table. Saranda had an equal number of staff participating in the dinner as we brought along and each sat directly across the table from one of us (even the English speaker, was across the table for Fuji.)

    The following day, we toured the archeological site at Butrint and stopped briefly at the castle. The night before, at the dinner, the Mayor of Saranda was fairly insistent that we “take in” at least one of their tourist attractions before leaving. The group chose Butrint, which was not difficult since the Mayor arranged a private tour guide for us. Consequently, we missed our 3:00 meeting in Kucove that day but easily re-scheduled it for 8 a.m. the following morning.

    In Kucove, we were greeted by the Deputy Mayor, the entire staff of the tax office and the Chairman of their Advisory Commission. Over coffee, we learned about the progress in Kucove over the past few years, including the changes in the tax system and the market. Back at the Bashki, the Mayor joined us and we moved to the City Council Chambers for our meeting. The meeting with the mayor focused on the Advisory Commissions, their role and value to democratic processes, and transparency.

    After the meeting, we split up: the mayors met together, the tax office folks went to the tax office, and the others toured Kucove and went to the market. We all met at the market about an hour later. Here we got a tour and description of the changes there and spent time in the satellite tax office at the market.

    3 At this point, there are 10 neighborhood advisory commissions. Each has about 3 leaders (chair, vice and secretary-although not formally). Together, they make up about 30 members for the city-wide “advisory commission.” However, a city-wide structure has not been formally recommended or adopted.

    2

    Photos were taken and gratitude exchanged (as occurred in Saranda too) and the trip rolled-on to Peshkopi, dropping off the SNV advisors in Fier. We needed to attend an SNV meeting.

    Highlights of the Trip

    Overall, the goals of the study tour were met. And where we may have fell short in terms of the time lost in actual meetings (particularly, in Kucova), was made up by other experiences, learnings, and professional growth!

    Highlights from Saranda included:

    􀂃 The professionalism of the municipality staff. The Peshkopi folks were very impressed by this and are still talking about it. We believe that they were role models for how people in public service can perform. Their pride in their community and their knowledge of their topics shined through in all of their conversations-they were great “ambassadors” for their community.

    􀂃 The gender balance/statistics in Saranda municipality were also impressive. 45% of the staff are women, including the Chief of Staff, Director of the Tax Office and Director of the Tourism Office. The City Council is represented by 33% women and the Secretary of the Council is a woman.

    􀂃 Peshkopi participants, particularly the advisory commissioners, were very honored by the Saranda mayor and staff. This increased their confidence and pride. Throughout the conversations, they listened to Saranda staff speculating and conceptualizing how to use an advisory group for their work in Saranda. (In the past, they have used experts in particular fields in ad hoc committees for advice.) We found this dynamic very interesting because it seemed that our Peshkopi commissioners were actually increasing their own understanding about their role, as Saranda folks speculated.

    Highlights from Kucove:

    􀂃 Here, our group heard very specific stories about citizen advisory commissions and they received advice. In many ways it was good that they already had their role “built up” in Saranda, because they engaged in rich dialogue with the mayor, deputy mayor and chairman of the Kucove Advisory Commission. They heard stories of how the Kucove commission evolved and matured over time, which is good ‘realistic-grounding’ for our members.

    o They learned how they can and should gather input from citizens and give input to the municipality (both administration and council) on topics such as taxes and the budget.

    o They were told that they need to go to the city council meetings and listen and learn or they will never start making an impact there. And that their role could and should evolve into being of value to the entire municipality and not just the mayor and his staff.

    o They heard the mayor say that he listens to his commission and almost always does what they say-but not 100% of the time. However, he said that he knows that he cannot go against their opinions too often or he would be out of a job. Our members were impressed to hear such things.

    o They discussed difficult things too, such as how to handle conflict within the community. Specific to Peshkopi’s current conflict, the mayor advised them to “make the issue more public.” He encouraged them to speak up and speak out about difficult topics and issues and to not shy away from conflicts. It was their role to ask the tough questions and demand transparency.

    􀂃 The City Council Chambers/meeting room included chairs for the public (accommodating about a 30 person audience.) This generated a number of comments and ideas from our group.

    􀂃 An unexpected highlight, for everyone, was the public market. They have a satellite tax office inside the market so the vendors can pay their tax conveniently and the inspectors can

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    directly track/monitor as well. They showed us their impressive data related to tax collection and compliance, since they moved into the market.

    􀂃 The market itself was also a source of pride for Kucove, and it gave a long-range vision to the tour group. It was clean, secure (locks for individual merchants well as the whole market,) and organized and consolidated in one location.

    Overall:

    􀂃 A major indictor of change and success, in our opinion, were two “speeches” from one of the more skeptical and extreme advisory commissioners. In Saranda, he “announced” to the entire group at the end of the dinner, that he was not of the same party as the mayor; but from what he heard so far, he was agreeable to keeping an open mind and he would try to understand what the mayor was trying to accomplish. At the end of the meeting in Kucova, he promised to the whole group, that when he returned to Peshkopi, that he would talk to his fellow opposition party members and try and get them to understand and support the establishment of the advisory commissions.

    􀂃 On the return trip, the advisory commission concluded that it might be helpful if they added some members with some specific expertise. This could help with the quality of their advice and increase their overall knowledge. They discussed/are aware that there are many ways they could structure themselves in the future. Any new experts could be part of them (as members), or an appointed and specialized group(s) as needed. The mayor has given them the “freedom to choose,” (as this is still a mayor-initiated pilot). They decided to try and recruit new and motivated members and not to form “expert-only” types of groups because they believe that they have something very unique/important in the way they are organized as “average citizens from the neighborhoods.”

    􀂃 In terms of taxes and tax management, there are so many things that could be implemented similar to Kucove. Any one of them would be an improvement. Our fear is that the changes needed are quite large and that Peshkopi’s tax office staff might try to do all of them and become overwhelmed. This is where our on-going coaching and advice is needed. Our continued workplan for “tax management improvement,” includes technical assistance for the tax office and also the community participation piece. With the latter piece, we will likely braid it with the advisory commission’s development, assuming that the advisory commission development remains on our long-term contract with the Peshkopi Municipality.

    􀂃 We need to anticipate that tourism and economic development initiatives on the part of this client are “just around the corner.” The mayor was very excited about Saranda’s accomplishments and the advisory commissioners got a glimpse of what tourism can do for an area. We have opportunities to approach this in a manner that involves actors from all sectors. We need to capitalize on this opportunity because the community lacks experience in working together.

    Recommendations for Future Tours:

    􀂃 Do It! If you think that it might not be worth the effort, think again. Peer to peer exchange of information and knowledge is one of the best ways that humans learn. Also, the “unexpected” can occur and it may springboard the group toward their next/future goals. Finally, you don’t have to travel too far from home to learn from experiential stories and gain new ideas.

    􀂃 Before the trip, have a “preparation meeting.” Review the learning objectives, discuss what you may see and hear, brainstorm some key questions, and recommend that participants consult others who may not be going on the trip to generate more specific questions.

    􀂃 At the preparatory meeting, assign each participant a “job.” For example, to take notes; to summarize what they heard/saw (maybe during the bus ride between stops); to prepare for the next stop by reminding folks about who they will see, the questions they generated, how much time they have, etc.(the agenda keeper); to write a report afterwards; to give a

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    verbal report upon returning; or others. Or similarly, assign each person a meeting or part of the trip/tour to document (take the notes for the group). This is an example from another SNV study tour.

    􀂃 Schedule a “return meeting” before leaving on the trip. This meeting can be somewhat social, maybe with picture sharing, etc. But, the main objective is to reflect and discuss learnings; to document the learnings; and to make decisions about what to do next. Next steps could include: preparing a more formal report to a larger audience; generating specific recommendations to another entity; taking actual action steps; or other. Since we did not have one of these scheduled, we are having many delays in trying to schedule one.

    􀂃 Stay with the group all the way home. Of course you cannot always have the ideal calendar or schedule. But, another 7 hours together in a vehicle would have allowed more time to debrief the observations, reflect and process the learnings. This opportunity was missed by the SNV advisors; however, we trust/heard that some of this did occur.

    􀂃 Anticipate that things take longer in a large group. Regardless of the breakdowns during our trip, everything (e.g.: lunch break) seems to take longer.

    source:portal.snvworld.org

    Posted in Albania, Albania Economy, albania today | Leave a Comment »

    Albanian building collapse

    Posted by franksupa on November 11, 2008

    The first victim, a 65-year-old woman was pulled out on Monday morning.

    According to the Ministry of Interior, a woman and her 12-year-old daughter are still believed to be under the debris.

    Emergency crews, firefighters and police launched a rescue mission after an apartment building where 30 families lived collapsed on Sunday.
    So far four people have been taken to the local hospital.

    “There is still hope that someone will be found alive,” said Alfred Olli, Albania’s head of Civil Emergencies Agency.

    According to the Ministry of Interior, construction work on a new building at the base of the hill – where the apartment block is located – may have caused the collapse. The owners of the construction firm have been placed under arrest.

    Speaking at the scene after arriving from Tirana, Prime Minister Sali Berisha asked for a thorough investigation.

    “Those responsible should be brought to justice,” said Berisha, adding that for now the authorities were concentrating on the rescue operation.

    Real estate has been booming in Albania for a decade. Price increases were fuelled by strong domestic demand, availability of mortgage loans, fast-flowing remittances from family members working abroad and a strong migratory trend from rural to urban areas.

    Nowhere domestically has the economic buoyancy yielded greater change than in the property market, with the construction industry accounting for 47 per cent of overall economic activity in 2006.

    However, the fast pace of growth, coupled with weak state institutions and corruption, has reduced oversight on constriction sites.

    The local office of the watchdog group Transparency International stated on Sunday that the incident was the result of lack of regulations and weak enforcement of existing rules in the construction industry because of corruption.

    The local media reported that the inhabitants of the collapsed building had continually complained about the construction and had even had filed a suit against the developers of the new building.

    Morning shows in TV stations were filled with calls from people reporting similar situations.

    Original article on Read more: http://balkaninsight.com/en/main/news/14651/

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    Three killed in Albania’s apartment building collapse

    Posted by franksupa on November 11, 2008

    TIRANA, Nov. 10 (Xinhua) — Three people were killed in Sunday’s apartment building collapse in a southern Albanian city, local media reported on Monday.

    Rescue workers on Monday dug out three bodies from the rubble of the collapsed building in Gjirokastra, 225 kilometers south of the capital city of Tirana.

    The victims are a 65-year-old woman, a little girl aged 13 and her 38-year-old mother, Albania’s TV network News 24 said.

    The five-story building partially collapsed on Sunday morning. More than 20 people have also been injured in the collapse.

    It was believed that the collapse have been caused by construction work on an adjacent apartment building. The chief of Gjirokastra’s city planning office and four people from the construction company have been detained in the case, police said.

    source:news.xinhuanet.com

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    Albania pyramid schemes in 1997 scenario

    Posted by franksupa on October 22, 2008

    States throughout the Balkans are taking measures to reassure citizens that their bank deposits are safe amid fearful memories of the 1990s collapse of banking systems or failure of so-called pyramid schemes.

    In response to growing tensions following the world financial crisis, the Serbian government announced on Monday it would guarantee deposits up to 50,000 euros (40,250 dollars), comparing to 3,000 euros until now.

    Belgrade officials argue that Serbia has been largely preserved from any devastating effects of the world crisis.

    Analyst Nebojsa Savic said it was good that the Serbian authorities reacted quickly and urged them to do their utmost to ‘calm down instability and prevent panic.’

    ‘Even the best financial systems would suffer serious problems if all clients withdrew their deposits at the same time,’ Savic said.

    The Serbian government also decided to abolish tax on interest rate income until the end of 2009, as well as gains on shares and bonds until 2012. Croatia has taken similar measures last week, increasing banking deposit guarantee from 19,000 to 56,000 euros.

    In Bosnia, the Central bank demanded the authorities to double a limit for the guarantee to 7,700 euros in a bid to win again the savers’ confidence in the local banking system.

    In most of the countries emerging after the break up of former Yugoslavia, citizens were deprived from their deposits in early 1990s following the collapse of banking system.

    Ever since the removal of the autocratic regime of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, Serbia has been repaying the debt to its citizens in annual instalments.

    Acknowledging that people are worried, Serbian Central bank governor Radovan Jelasic described as ‘irresponsible’ those who tried ‘to compare the banking system in Serbia nowadays with the one in 1990s that took away savings from citizens.’

    He said: ‘At the time, those were state-owned banks in which the government appointed its own people, decided on investments and has played with somebody else’s money, while today the banks in Serbia are owned by first-class investors who can not be ordered by the state where to invest the money.’

    The governor insisted that the banks in Serbia ‘stand’ behind citizens’ savings, insisting that they were ‘liquid and solvent.’

    He said: ‘Second in line is the central bank, which keeps 40 percent of all deposits, more than in any other state in Europe, and finally the state, which pays back old deposits and (gives) guarantee for new ones up to 50,000 euros.’

    The governor urged the citizens ‘not to trust those who are playing with their emotions and memories of the past.’

    In Montenegro, Serbia’s former federation partner which had seceded in 2006, the local press has given widespread coverage to people’s concerns about the latest financial crisis, remembering the collapse in the 1990s.

    The authorities want urgently to pass a law that would guarantee both individual and enterprises’ banking deposits. The state will also guarantee inter-banking loans, Financial Minister Igor Luksic said.

    In Albania, where collapse of pyramid schemes in 1997 led to an armed rebellion, Prime Minister Sali Berisha told AFP that the ‘deposits of the Albanians in banks working in Albania are safe.’

    Pyramid schemes are investment or saving plans which offer high returns. But the returns are largely funded by newly deposited money. The schemes therefore depend on attracting ever more depositors and are unsustainable.

    The International Monetary Fund’s office in Tirana said ‘there is not a single worrying sign at this stage’ in the banking sector.

    The country was less integrated to the world’s economy and therefore ‘somehow a bit protected’ from the ongoing financial crisis, it said.

    In Macedonia, Deputy Prime Minister Zoran Stavrevski urged citizens ‘not to be afraid’ as banks based in Skopje were ‘only a little’ affected by the world crisis.

    source:thanks to business.asiaone.com

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    Albania looks to institutionalize key reforms

    Posted by franksupa on October 22, 2008

    At a ceremony today in Tirana, Albanian Minister of Finance Ridvan Bode and Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Deputy Vice President for Policy and International Relations Sherri Kraham officiated at a ceremony celebrating the signing of Albania’s second MCC threshold program worth over $15.7 million. This second, or Stage II, program builds upon the significant successes of MCC’s first threshold program with Albania and looks to institutionalize key reforms in public administration and judicial capacity building and to support anticorruption activities. Albania’s Prime Minister Sali Berisha, United States Ambassador to Albania John Withers and United States Agency for International Development Mission Director Roberta Mahoney also participated in the ceremony.

    “It is a great pleasure to celebrate progress underway here in Albania, as we mark the successes of Albania’s first threshold program and the start of its second,” stated Ms. Kraham. “MCC is proud to sign its first Stage II program with the government of Albania and looks forward to creating a strong foundation for fighting poverty and stimulating economic growth,” Ms. Kraham added.

    MCC’s threshold programs are designed to assist countries that are on the “threshold” of eligibility for the larger, longer-term Millennium Challenge Account grants, or compacts. Threshold program assistance is used to help countries address the specific policy areas for improvement indicated by their scores on 17 independent policy indicators in three categories — Ruling Justly, Investing in People, and Encouraging Economic Freedom. These policy indicators are central to the criteria and methodology for compact eligibility and are based upon reports by a wide range of respected international institutions and national data. Each indicator was selected based on its relationship to growth and poverty reduction, the number of countries it covers, its transparency and availability, its analytical rigor, and its objectivity.

    MCC’s threshold program assistance signed to date totals $440 million in 19 countries: Albania, Burkina Faso, Guyana, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyz Republic, Malawi, Moldova, Niger, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Tanzania, Uganda, Ukraine and Zambia.

    source : thanks to .isria.info

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