MY HOME, online platform for earthquake-affected citizens

Prime Minister Edi Rama’s remarks at launch of web platform available to quake-affected families and individuals eligible to benefiting under the National Rebuilding Program:

Thank you for attending the today’s meeting, especially on your day off today! I recall that two months ago today, the tragedy struck. Sixty days’ time, including the end-of-the-year holiday season – which is not a very long time, on the contrary it is a brief time period – we have carried out a large volume of work, because we are quite aware that this is an extremely important and vital moment for thousands of affected families, but also an historic moment for our country and our government in terms of attention and ability to give a fresh concrete perspective to all those who lost their homes in less than one minute, lost their entire lifetime investment in less than a minute.

Availing myself of this opportunity, I would like to touch upon several aspects in view of informing the citizens, who are certainly watching us now, in a bid to explain them that we are not standing by idly while I or we ask them to be patient. Quite the contrary, we are working around the clock to complete pretty much complex processes quickly and in the shortest time possible. Seeing it from a distance, this may sound as a story about a collapsed home that needs to be built. Though when viewed up close, this is a story containing many chapters in between, starting with the legal chapter, about which we had to draft a series of acts in record time, from the Council of Ministers’ Normative Act, or the basic law, to a significant number of bylaws on organizing the entire process. The process includes a series of elements that need to combine in order to advance and arrive at the desired moment, that of handing over the keys to the new homes of all of those who have lost their houses. But the program will seek to tackle not only the plight of those who lost their homes, but also the problem of the families whose homes have been damaged to a certain extent by the devastating earthquake and, depending on the level of damage that has been determined in collaboration with the international experts and in line with the other countries’ experience, they will all benefit a certain amount of compensation.

We want support each and every one of those who have been lightly or severely affected by the earthquake in terms of housing.

The legal aspect has now been fully addressed and all processes are already underway, which means that nobody would be able to act just like those who built illegally their buildings in the past, that is, we need to plan not just in compliance with the law, but also in line with all technical components. We need that if we are to build in the village of Thumane or in the town of Laç, where construction projects have already advanced together with other areas, we need first to carry out a geological survey of the area first. Everything should start with the geological survey to go on then with all required technical standards that should be met in order to plan or develop masterplans and move then to the project execution stage.

I am pleased to affirm that in sixty days only, we have completed a workload which is exemplary when compared to the experience of other countries we have looked into. I am saying this not to brag about, nor to say we are working magic others haven’t done, but experience in other countries offers several aspects, even within a single country. Neighboring Italy, one of the world’s most industrialized nations, offers even today examples of a qualitative leap in the post-earthquake rebuilding process by creating much better conditions for the affected citizens, but it also offers other examples that people should bear in mind as there are still families living in makeshift homes while waiting for their new houses to be rebuilt 10, 12, 15, 17 after the earthquake. This is not going to be the case here, but I am providing this example to illustrate how complex the process is. This is not a process one can trace from a coffee bar.

The process is running in tandem with the feasibility studies and the relevant plans, as the areas for the rebuilding program have been identified in a record time, because we are seeking not embark on a rebuilding program which would create the situation that used to prevail prior to the earthquake. We want to embark on a rebuilding program aimed at creating a whole new situation in all aspects, starting with the aspect of the affected families who will be housed in much better homes than they used to live in previously. We don’t want to let the crisis without taking advantage of the opportunities so that instead of building in widely scattered sites, just like it is the case of Albania’s random and chaotic development following the country’s transition into a democratic process, but we are seeking to create communities. To this end, an intensive communication and collaboration with the local government authorities has taken place, so that they explain to the quake-affected citizens in the rural areas why creating larger communities in new residential neighbourhoods provides greater advantages not only to the community as a whole, but also to each family individually. This also means something else, that the property where their now-damaged homes are built will remain theirs, while they will benefit brand new and safe homes in an other than their property. In this simply practical aspect too they will gain a new property. And not only that, they are set to benefit in every aspect, as they will move closer to the public services, including school, health care and other public utilities. On the other hand, by removing the ruins of the damaged houses, the agricultural land area will expand further and farmers will be able to cultivate more and increase their locally grown produce. And this is not about one family only, but about thousands of families. This is, I believe, a clear concept.

A commendable hard work has been also done to identify the sites where the new residential neighbourhoods will be built, trying to avoid the private owned lands and pick the state-owned areas instead so that a land or property compensation and restitution process is ultimately avoided. And it has been a rather difficult process to identify the pseudo land owners.

In addition to the legal and planning aspects, the process includes the aspect of safeguarding all building standards and parameters. We must and we will guarantee that the construction standards are unquestionable. The new houses due to be built in the rural areas will be seismic-proof structures sot that, if (God forbids it) another powerful earthquake takes place in the future, these houses are much solid and resistant ones, providing at the same time much better living conditions. This would be the case in the urban areas too, where new residential areas and apartment buildings due to be constructed will be a role model in terms of safety and seismic-proof structures.

It’s of course easier said than done. A whole laborious process has taken place and, as the Minister noted, the development models will be ready soon, which will include the typology of homes due to be built in the rural areas in accordance with the number of family members and according to the projected architectonic volumes in order to make sure that the new houses will be safer and much better ones.

We come now to the aspect we are discussing today and which is the scheduling aspect and which has to do with the transparency and ensuring justice for everyone and preventing the process from degrading into embarrassing racketeering situations. We have looked into the experiences of other countries in every aspect. Various examples have been identified in this aspect too, showing how the rebuilding has become a refreshing and recovery process and have taken the country to a new level of development. Yet, there are other examples showing how the rebuilding processes have degenerated into judicial, criminal and shameful stories.

In order to avoid this, as well as to make sure that not a single citizen is left alone, we have developed this transparency platform, with municipalities set to have their electronic register of every family in need for support and compensation under the Rebuilding Program and with every affected family being granted individual access to trace the entire process. Suffice it for every affected family to make the online application and receive a code on the smartphone and they will be able to trace the procedure and the process on daily basis.

The program that would complete the platform would allow everyone to trace the process visually too. For example, if you wish to see what is going on in the village of Bubq, you will be granted access to trace each phase of the rebuilding process in this village. And if you wish to check individually the work to construct you own house, you should merely access the platform and you can check the process. Do you want to check the compensation process for damages you house has sustained and you have been qualified eligible to benefit a compensation ranging from one million lek in compensation for minor damages to around 5 million lek for more serious damages? Then you should just access the platform and learn about the entire process. In this way we make sure that no government offices, both at local and central level, avoid responsibility, because it is not only the relevant authority and the applicants, but the entire state is monitoring the process. The surveillance monitors have been installed on the second floor of the Prime Minister’s office to provide real time tracing of the whole process. In the meantime, a team of the co-governance platform has been mobilized to monitor and trace any possible delay or the complaints filed by the citizens. In other words, the implementing teams or the teams processing the applications stand no chance of hiding and telling people to report a day later or finding an excuse that his or her application is not being found or has been lost. This is because every procedure and every step are transparent. This will also make sure that the process is closely monitored.

I would like to make it clear to each and every one of those who will deal with this process. Any wrongdoing will be punished. Whoever found responsible for unlawfully including in the compensation process families that are not entitled to compensation will face criminal charges and their case will be referred to the court. This is not a process to provide house to people who are actually homeless, but who haven’t sustained any earthquake-related damage. This is a process exclusively for the earthquake-affected families only.

Another important aspect is that of financing. How are we going to provide funding for this colossal and seemingly impossible undertaking? We have been working with the European Union, the United Nations and the World Bank and a damage assessment report is about to finalize. The data suggest that the earthquake damage losses are estimated at over 1 billion euros. The final report will be unveiled as scheduled on February 4.

Of course, the costs included in this report do not include the damages to houses only. I want to make it clear as recent media comments suggest that damage to houses alone is estimated at around one billion. This is not the case because we have done a 360-degree overview of the damages according to the international standard, certainly prioritizing the direct damages to families. But we have also estimated the damages that certain sectors of the economy have sustained and what is the extend of earthquake damages and their impact on slowing a certain sector of the economy.

In this aspect, everyone should clearly know that the amount of funding we have to guarantee to the citizens is less than 1 billion euros, yet it is a high amount that exceeds our capabilities and therefore, we have focused our attention on three directions.

One is raising a considerable part of the funding to support rebuilding program through the state budget. To this end, we have worked out a series of financing schemes by taking advantage of the country’s solid macroeconomic basis, bearing in mind that in few months’ time the country will address the international financial markets and it should be solid. The country’s deficit or debt rate should not be infringed again by actions that could trouble the country’s macroeconomic equilibrium state. This is the time to tell all of those who rightly translate the country’s economy into the amount of money they have in their pockets. This is the moment to tell people that if it was not for the reforms we have implemented, and if the previous government was still in office and if the earthquake was to hit the country back in 2012, the state budget would have been today unable to afford even one tenth of what we plan to earmark for the rebuilding program.

The state budget can afford today earmarking a significant amount of funding to support the country’s rebuilding program without affecting not only the macroeconomic equilibrium, but also other priority programs and major investment projects, without affected other crucial services, including the health check-up program, which for those accusing us is a story of oligarchs, while for us it is the story of a free health service provided to over half a million of people every year, who undergo health checks in order to detect and prevent serious illnesses; without affecting the care service provided to patients who undergo the dialysis under optimum conditions today; without affecting whole care service provided in hospitals for surgeons to perform surgical interventions with state-of-the-art instruments and sterilize up to all international standards. We can afford funding the program without affecting any of this programs, because it would mean directly affecting the citizens’ health, and not the oligarchs’ pockets, as some like to name it.

The second pillar comprises the international funding. We are intensively working on this. I am personally engaged in this process in order to make sure that we gain a significant financial support from the Donors’ Conference on Feb 17. However, we know pretty well that the Donors’ Conference, if turns out to be a success, this doesn’t mean it will meet all the needs, but it will cover a part of them. We don’t expect the Donors’ Conference to provide billions in financial support, as this has never been the case in other countries too, but we expect to provide an additional volume to support the rebuilding program.

Third, we are also working on a series of new initiatives, which I can discuss publicly today, as they are still being explored. It is about new political initiatives and other financial operations that will give us an upper hand in delivering on our promise to allow residents in the urban areas move into their new homes within 2020, allow schoolchildren and student return to their new school buildings this year, precisely in the next academic year, to make sure that health care personnel in the regional hospital in Laç or other health care centres return to provide their service in much better centres and then accommodate all affected residents in the urban areas, since the rebuilding projects in urban areas are much more complex as they include construction of apartment buildings and new residential neighbourhoods. They will all move into their new houses within 2021.

This is what we want to do.

And not only that, but when people would see for themselves, we are going to remind all this, because most bad things are forgotten over time, just it has been always the case. Because a lot is being said about services and corrupt practices in state offices, but people tend to forget that state offices didn’t exist at all just four or five years ago, with people staying in long queues just to pay the electricity bill or to obtain a document. Of course, people still stay in long queues, they still may pay bribes, but we have given a totally different dimension to the public service delivery and people will no longer be forced to stay in queues or pay bribes within 2020. This because thanks to the digital revolution, Albania will build the most modern public service delivery system in the Balkans.

Bad things are mostly forgotten quickly, but we will remind people by showing the degraded and destroyed Thumane village, even prior to the devastating earthquake and they will see for themselves the rebuilt Thumane, Laç, Shijak and other quake-hit areas. This is the difference we want to make and we will definitely do it.

Once again, I want to tell you, because you are the key people in this process, please do not deny the right to anyone, do not sin, but do this job just as if it were you the ones who are made homeless. Do not take individual initiatives to register as homeless people who have sustained the slightest damage by the earthquake, because you will face penalty.

I would like to thank mayors for the commendable job they have done to date, as they have been forced to deal with the earthquake aftermath along with other daily problems they have to address in the municipalities on the daily basis. You have dealt with situation with dignity and strong will, yet you should continue to head this process, because it is important for the electronic register of the affected families to be an exemplary one and make sure it includes all those who really need help. Mayors should also take care to make determine the level of damage to every family fairly so that those suffering minor damages are not included in the list of those who have sustained serious damages.

We have established a team tasked with monitoring the process only and who will test the integrity of every individual involved in the post-earthquake rebuilding process. I would also invite the opposition to report any suspected case of individual speculation. Of course, this doesn’t mean I am inviting them to deafen us by telling lies and making slanderous remarks, but amid numerous slander, as it has been the case in the past, we will be able to identify some truth. But in this case, I am very willing to face an extra frenzy of slander, even for a single case of an individual or a family that has been neglected, left out, or mistreated by not being included on the list of those affected by the earthquake.

Thank you very much!