Remarks at fourth meeting of the National Rebuilding Committee:
PM Edi Rama: Thank you so much for coming and attending this meeting!
We are holding this regular meeting of the National Rebuilding Committee to take stock of the rebuilding process in its all components and aspects. What I would like to highlight first is the fact that the final the Post Disaster Needs assessment for Albania recovery has completed and it has been drafted in collaboration with the European Union and the United Nations experts. The report forms the basis for the Donors’ Conference in Brussels, and it will provide a clear picture of all aspects we need to consider during the process.
Secondly, we have also determined the locations and areas up for development and a considerable part of the rebuilding and development plans, including the advanced plans for reconstruction of the hardest-hit towns of Laç, Thumane and Shijak, the three areas where rebuilding process is set to start earlier than the other affected areas. We have already developed the confirmed designs of the private homes according to their typologies. These all mean that in the next few days we will be ready to launch the open international competition to invite companies that can offer support for construction of the private homes. In the meantime, we have also gathered data on the education and health institutions that would allow us to commence the designing process in order to ensure that the competition procedures and the reconstruction process begin as soon as possible.
The planning and designing phase has advanced a lot faster than the normal process, but, on the other hand, we are all aware that people ask every hour when are they supposed to return to their homes and I would humbly call on them to show more patience. We are doing utmost efforts and we want to carry out a rebuilding process with everything meets highest standards, everything provides optimal conditions for the category of buildings included in the process, so that everyone moves into a much better home they used to have prior to the devastating earthquake. Therefore, a bit more patience is needed.
I regret that disinformation has prevailed in certain cases, with certain people seeking to stain the process, including our international friends and the charity organizations, which I would like to specifically appreciate for their cooperation, patience and for the fact that they not only have figured out, but they have supported it to make sure this is a joint and integrated process, thus helping to avoid confusion and chaos.
This is the part that deserves appreciation. Expressing my solidarity to the friends on both my sides and in front of me for the scandalous assaults that have nothing to do with their position and commitment, alleging they are doing nothing and that nobody knows where the donations end up, but I want to assure everyone that every single penny donated by the public will be used to support the rebuilding program. The projects implementation will take some more time to begin, as projects need their time.
Minister of State for Reconstruction Arben Ahmetaj: Thank you Prime Minister!
The today’s meeting will focus on the progress of the process, the new development areas, developing detailed local plans, the expropriation process, the buildings’ model, the final damages and needs report and the joint rebuilding project with the Housing Development Administration of the Republic of Turkey.
As many as 51, 026 buildings have been inspected and checked for damages. I would like to underline that around 8 925 buildings and homes have been declared uninhabitable, whereas an in-depth assessment of the damaged buildings is being carried out through the assistance of the Municipality of Tirana and the Construction Institute that has accelerated the assessment process. As many as 357 apartment buildings have been thoroughly inspected, with 115 of them being scheduled to be demolished under a detailed demolition procedure in the presence of several institutions. Some 242 apartment buildings need to undergo repair works, while 1523 private homes are set to be demolished and the damage assessment process goes on.
The in-depth assessment report shows that 79 school buildings have been inspected, 62 of them will undergo reconstruction and 17 other buildings will be repaired, while assessment process continues. Soon we will move on to the second phase of planning and designing detailed school projects. The same is true for health centers in cooperation with the Ministry of Health.
PM Edi Rama: I am sorry, does reconstruction mean building them from scratch?
Minister for Reconstruction Arben Ahmetaj: Yes, many of them following the outcome of the in-depth assessment process.
The in-depth assessment process and the detailed reports will complete by end of March or early April.
As many as 88 buildings have been demolished in various districts to date. Around 10, 023 citizens have been temporarily housed in tents. The rental bonuses are being provided to around 12, 000 affected families in accordance with the Council of Ministers’ decision. Meanwhile, the process of issuing construction permits is running on schedule in the three worst-hit districts. As many as 1455 construction permits have been issued under accelerated procedures.
“My Home” is the web platform and it is a legal necessity, since it is the first legal document containing a full inventory of households, the entire section associated with the application and the legal file that makes applicants eligible in accordance to the degree of damage to the property, both financially and in terms of the size of the property.
More than 14, 000 applications have been made by far. As many as 264 specialists have been hired in every administrative unit to handle and process the applications. The process started with 100 applications a day, whereas the number of applications has jumped to over 2000 a day.
In terms of the budget procedure, the donations are verifiable, while payments have been done either via e-albania web platform, or through direct transactions to the treasury through the donors’ bank accounts.
The unique web platform is now operational, yet it is a work in process. We will practically be able to provide full and complete information on the reconstruction of every house and apartment building in each affected area. A specifically established structure within the Prime Minister’s office is tasked with running the web platform, while it will be administered by the National Agency for Information Society (AKSHI). We invite all organizations to provide whole information that will be processed according to a regulation in order to make sure that citizens can check and monitor via internet every step we undertake during the rebuilding process.
We have determined 24 plus one new areas for development. By “plus 1” I am referring to the interventions set to take place in the territory. An entire legal and technical procedure is in place, which provides that the building process is not chaotic. The Housing Development Administration of Turkey will build two areas in the district of Laç, while the reconstruction and infrastructure development projects in the remaining part will be implemented by the Albanian Development Fund. The same goes for Thumane, where the mandatory local plan has been announced and is set to complete by Feb 26. It is one of the areas where rebuilding plans have advanced faster, because Thumane was one of the hardest-hit areas by the Nov 26 deadly earthquake.
Shijaku is also part of the urban area and the rebuilding plan will complete by 26. The plan envisages not merely a reconstruction and rebuilding project, but also reorganization under an urban and modern economy logic. The total number of the affected families there stands at 1142 that will be housed in much better homes.
The mandatory local development plan in Fushe Kruja and in the village of Bubq is scheduled to complete on March 6. It is not a coincidence I am referring to the deadlines for completion of the local development plans, since we have discussed the matter with all NGOs and organizations that are interested in participating and have expressed readiness to contribute to the process. Implementation of projects will begin shortly after.
The town of Vora will undergo serious changes and the mandatory local plan is set to complete on March 6.
The local development plan in Durres includes an area of over 10 hectares and it should complete on March 6. The rebuilding program in Durres includes two other areas that we have named as dotted interventions that are expected to kick off much earlier than the rest.
The case in the town of Kavaja is somehow more specific, as 10 apartment buildings are set to be demolished, which is a lot considering the construction density and the population. The mandatory local development plan should also complete on March 6.
Two development areas have been determined in the district of Lezha. Lezha Municipality has a more positive trend that would allow a much broader intervention than the rebuilding alone. The government will provide support as part of the rebuilding program. The local plan is set to complete on Feb 18.
The intervention in the town of Kruja is quite a specific one as it projects accommodation of the town’s entire urban profile. The process to design the local development plan will begin on Feb 18 and is set to complete on March 18.
A series of interventions are projected to take place in the area of Golem, Durres Municipality, where a number of apartment buildings have either sustained serious damages or have collapsed. The local plan is set to complete on March 18.
The areas selected to host development projects in Tirana include the area of the Agricultural University, where the student dormitory buildings will undergo not merely reconstruction projects, but a student campus and a centre of gravity for economic development on the area will be built. The local development plan will complete on March 17.
The same logic will be applied to the May 5 area in Tirana, where the local plan is set to complete on March 17. The development plan will combine rebuilding and urban and economic development projects in collaboration with private partners. These projects will extend beyond the rebuilding program. I would like to reiterate that the rebuilding fund will cover only construction projects to provide new housing for the quake-affected families, while it is up to Tirana Municipality to develop the rest of the plans through its instruments in accordance with the special law.
Same philosophy will be applied to the area of Kombinat, where the mandatory local development plan will complete on March 17. The Shkoza and the former Auto-Tractors area will also see development projects that combine rebuilding and economic and urban development. Local plan is set to complete on March 17. The projects’ implementation is expected to kick off in May.
What I would like to highlight is that Tirana Municipality and the central government, after consultations with the local communities in rural areas, plan to build rural residential neighborhoods instead of scattered single houses on large parcels, concentrating rural community into larger urbanized centers in these administrative units.
The mandatory local development plans will complete mainly between March 17, 18, 20 under accelerated procedures.
The expropriation process is already underway. Based on the government decision, owners of the areas picked as sites to host the new rebuilding and development projects are entitled to 100% compensation based on market value.
Meanwhile, the two implementing agencies, namely the Albanian Development Fund and the Municipality of Tirana, have launched work on the ground to carry out the physical verification of land properties in areas where the development projects will be implemented.
The Special Commission at the Ministry of Infrastructure has embarked on an intense work and process has practically advanced in Laç region, where the Turkish Housing Authority will develop its project. The process is slated to complete by Feb 25. A day ago, the National Housing Authority has officially received the new house designs based on the new modular housing technology. According to the law, the new buildings are 1 + 1, 2+1, 3+1 bedroom-houses. The construction price is the reference price set by the National Housing Authority. Modern technology will be employed for construction of the new houses and buildings, including the seismic proof constructions up to the highest European standards. Once the Institute completes and technical assessment of the new designs by next Monday, these designs will be immediately forwarded to two implementing agencies so that they can launch the international procurement process.
I would like to share with the public the total damage cost and needs assessment.
The cost of damage to both public and private properties is estimated at 985 million euros.
Damages are classified according to sectors, with housing accounting for the largest share of damages and losses followed by the critical community infrastructure and the sectoral damages.
The damages according to the municipalities and sectors; the Municipality of Durres has sustained the biggest damages, while Tirana Municipality has suffered the biggest losses in nominal value.
The cost of damages in Durres is estimated at 310 million euros and at 303 million euros in Tirana.
As many as 111 cultural monuments have sustained damages and need repair. The procedure for the damaged cultural sites will be launched next week.
Effects to the Gross Domestic Product; The earthquake is estimated to have caused effects that are equivalent to 6.4% of the 2018 GDP in damages and to 985 million euros or 1.1% of GDP in losses. The earthquake effects are expected to slow down the country’s economic growth. As a result, the economy is projected to grow by an estimated 2.4% in 2019, and 3.2% in 2020 from a pre-earthquake baseline estimated growth of 2.9% and 3.5%, respectively. The growth slowdown is expected by 0.5% in 2019 and around 0.3% in 2020.
The recovery and the reconstruction cost according to sectors is estimated at around 1.73 billion euros, in a detailed figure according to the abovementioned methodology.
Needs in the housing sector alone are 802.86 million EUR, which represents 74.81% of all needs. Once the project by the Housing Development Administration of the Republic of Turkey completes, around 500 houses, an integrated school building and the new municipality building will be constructed. The expropriation process is set to complete on Feb 25. The works to construct the 500 new homes are projected to complete within six months, as the Turkish Minister of Environment and Urbanization Ministry has confirmed.
PM Edi Rama: I would like to further elaborate on this issue for all the interested citizens in rural areas of Durres, namely in Ishem and other affected rural areas there, that have not been included in this presentation should understand that the presentation includes the integrated areas, whereas the private homes will be all built totally from scratch. So, the presentation doesn’t include the private homes as it is taken for granted that they will be built from scratch. This is all about the construction zones only, which means groups of homes and apartment buildings in residential neighborhoods, just like it is the case in the town of Thumane, in areas of Tirana and other affected areas, where work and efforts are underway to reach a consensus with the affected residents.
Marin Mema: We have been given the opportunity to meet the Minister of State for the Reconstruction and put forward a proposal concerning the area of the village of Ishem. The proposal envisages construction of a centre that respect all required standards that would allow the area to develop tourism and local economy in the future. With the work to construct four new homes in the area, the issue of the Value Added Tax on the construction materials is another matter of concern. At the previous meeting of the National Rebuilding Council, it was pledged that VAT rate on the construction materials will be removed. However, it turns out that VAT has yet to be removed and this is a major matter of concern for us, since we plan to hand over the initial new homes in the next three weeks, but with the VAT still in place we can build only three new homes instead of four.
PM Edi Rama: I don’t welcome the beginning of works ahead of schedule, because we have all clearly said that it is not a matter of who will begin the construction process first. This is all about completing all rebuilding projects within an integrated plan. This is the reason why we have agreed on refraining from rushing to start the rebuilding process. Starting it early in time may trigger problems in terms of the design of the new houses. The designs we have prepared and adopted meet all the required parameters, allowing us at the same time to coordinate efforts in order to make sure that we build as many houses as possible.
The Minister of State for Reconstruction Arben Ahmetaj: The law on excluding the imported construction materials from having to pay VAT has been adopted by the parliamentary committees and the parliament since December. Drafting the Council of Ministers’ decision and the respective directive at the Ministry of Finance has taken its time, while the government will adopt in its tomorrow’s regular meeting the final decision that addresses entire process of removing VAT, the customs tax and the infrastructure tax in order to avoid any possible confusion. The law’s effect will be felt starting tomorrow. The law has been approved.
Marin Mema: Since this was mentioned a month ago, the process should have completed by now, because it was seen as an element that needed to be adopted immediately. We have embarked on no race in the process of building the new houses, but we are helping as much as we can some affected families that have been living in extreme conditions. We have helped this category of families anytime we could do so and I see nothing wrong in this aspect. Quite the contrary, the faster we try to help people, even by avoiding certain procedures, the better for the affected families. People desperately need this process.
PM Edi Rama: By the way, have you built these homes legally, or illegally?
Marin Mema: All new houses have been done legally through a due construction permit and I take this opportunity to express my appreciation to the local government authorities in the municipalities of Shijak and Kruja for speeding up the procedures. We will never build an illegal construction.
PM Edi Rama: I don’t think we should operate this way. If we are all together around this table, then we should respect the decisions we make here, because if we were to consider the people’s needs, one should know their needs are much higher than that. We have certainly done our best to address the families’ immediate needs by granting them the rental bonus, providing them decent temporary housing and accommodating them in hotels. We of course welcome the assistance from whoever provides it. The main reason we have asked for coordination of efforts and actions in this process is because we don’t want to do things hastily today and let the people pay the price in the future. It would have been easier for every one of us to kick off a chaotic process, but we wouldn’t be able to do what we are doing right now. What we are doing now is that all models and designs are structured, approved and developed up to best parameters and we want the entire process to proceed this way. Without casting any doubt on the good intentions of everyone, I think the process should not go on individually. We all share common goal and target. We all want to do things as quickly as possible, but speed has a limit, because if no limit was to be applied, then damages of other nature may take place.
Elvis Naçi: There is a legitimate concern over the solidity and quality of the private homes. Hoping for the best in pressing ahead with the rebuilding process, the truth is that our foundations and we as individuals cannot pretend to ultimately tackle the serious problem that has befallen us, but we sought to light a candle of hope amid the deep darkness brought about the earthquake. Which are the elements that would assure us that people will feel safer and more comfortable in the new houses.
Elva Margariti: It is understandable to see the affected residents worry, especially those living in rural areas who are closely related to their land and their way of life and without having direct information about the new dwellings. The new houses meet the highest safety standards, because seismic and fire-proof technologies are applied for their construction. The comfort and the size of the living spaces is larger than they had in the previous damaged homes. The new houses are designed to provide best living and safety standards, starting with their construction. The project includes concrete foundations and platform, and everybody knows concrete is a safe material, a metallic structure and prefabricated walls built with resistant and certified materials. We even have picked the color of paint, healthy and resistant paint pigments to be used in the new houses. Everything has been designed to provide higher living standards.
PM Edi Rama: I am confident that the doubts about the designs and solidity of the new homes will fade away soon, because it is all about new houses and buildings that meet much higher standards compared to the existing ones. From a seismic, eco-friendly and energy efficiency standpoint, buildings are consolidated and confirmed models used in all developed countries. In a discussion I had with the Minister of Urban Planning of Turkey, who was here to follow the process and situation in the area of Lac, where they will implement the construction project, he told me exactly this: Same debate goes on in Turkey too, but then when the earthquakes hit, people opt to find shelter in this kind of homes. As soon as they forget the earthquake, they still want bricks and mortar, because it looks like status. We’re increasingly going beyond that, because now technology has improved a lot and standards have improved a lot and these are much more efficient buildings than brick-and-mortar buildings. This is understandable when it comes to normal costs, because you can also build at a cost of 1,000 euros per square meter and that’s another story, we’re talking about buildings that provide normal living conditions.