THU, 10 JAN 2002 10:03:52 GMT
Albania's passport scandal and anticorruption fight
An alleged scandal with the passport tendering is delaying their
supply to Albanians and has also taken the government to court. But
meanwhile it might also take to a government reshuffle.
AIM TIRANA, JANUARY 10, 2002
The recent fight between the ruling Socialist leader Fatos Nano and
Premier Ilir Meta, continuing for almost three months now, is
bringing some good things for the common Albanians and to Albania.
The first will very likely be free, at last, to have passports they
are asking as a normal citizen of the entire world. While the tiny
Balkan country, the poorest in Europe, with its shining tourism
spots and all the necessary natural wealth in a spot, with a long
post-communist transition (phrases generally used for Albania) is
starting a new road, at least against corruption, a plague leaving
Albania in dangerous lists of the world and damaging its image. It
has already started its fight against corruption and this time for
real, as it seems.
Following long lasting tit-for-tat between Nano and Meta the state
minister against corruption Ndre Legisi came out and made known the
firing of two middle-level official involved in an affair of
passports' tender. Both of them, Arben Prifti, head of the public
procurement agency, and Artan Gjylbegu, head of the government
control department, could be considered as the Albanian saying says
"Turkish heads" (someone to blame when finding yourself in a bad
situation). They were also offered by the top government
headquarters as a sign that the fight is really real.
The same trend was followed by the health ministers who either fired
or fined senior officials of the institution.
But that is not easy. This time Meta found it not that difficult to
appease the opposition Democratic Party of the former president Sali
Berisha when adopting the whole anti-corruption platform with 11
issues. Two more issues were added and now experts are working to
clarify how it is going to be applied, a very tough, why not say
impossible thing to do in this country. But that is good and might
be the launch of a joint effort between the country's political
parties to take it towards its integration with the European Union
and the West.
Opposition, this time, came from the government itself. The interior
minister Ilir Gjoni doubts that this is "something orchestrated for
other purposes." He declined to continue the firing of officials
just for the sake of it, alleging that government officials should
not be used to cover other affairs. In a counterattack he told the
journalists that he had told Meta "he would let him know, within the
legal context, any police information involving politicians,
statesmen or public persons." That might be translated that other
officials, closer or not that near Meta might also be involved in
nasty affairs. These exchange of force to different groupings
between the political groupings, but this time within the ruling
political force, will for sure bring something better to the general
Speaking more concretely they are bringing passports to the hands of
the population, lacking them for a year and just listening to money
affairs, exchange of accusations, a lot of good material for the
media to cover its news, but nothing good to the immigrants looking
for a passport for themselves or their children, and going back in
their living countries worried that could turn into the reason why
they could be deported back to their country.
What is this passport issue, or better call it scandal?
After long queues >from immigrated Albanians during end of summer
time in search of new passports there are still people walking
around police offices asking for a new passport, another pain for
the people of Europe's tiny and poor country where getting a visa
becomes a history.
"We heard in the news they will start in January to provide new
passports and we don't trust such a thing. I want to have a new
passport and renew my visa to Greece because this one has expired,"
says Milto, a desperate middle-aged Albanian.
Since June police does not issue passports waiting for a new
production. But this crisis had started since earlier this year.
Police head Colonel Bilbil Mema had ordered that only persons with
health problems would be given new passports. Five months after this
order there are no more passports even for them. "We do not think
their supply will start soon," he said.
Besides the havoc among the population that has been an issue that
has promoted corruption and a scandal. In mid-November a chief
policeman in southern town of Berat was arrested for 'selling'
passports with $500. Scores of policemen around the country have
been fired because of this corruption case, police sources added.
What makes the issue more tragic for Albanians is that for some more
months they should not hope to have passports but they will only
listen to the development of this big enigma, rumours, accusation to
the government and a general unclearness surrounding the issue of
the winning company of the tender procedure.
The German company "Brundes DuckereI", winner of the tender since
last August, has yet to present its readiness it will provide
passports in time for Albanians. It said it would present a copy to
the authorities in November, but nothing has been reported so far,
thus making its promise to offer them to the Albanian in January
The tender procedure was a history in itself. The former five-year
contract with the Canadian company was over in December 2000.
Consequently procurement for the new tender should have started
before that. It was only in March when the government, threatened by
a passport crisis, ordered its Entity of Procurement to make the
quotation recommending four companies specialized in passport
production - EuroGet from the United States, De la Rue from Britain,
"Bundes Druckerei" from Germany and "E F T S F" from France.
Its procurement process turned into a marathon. It started in April
but it was postponed for a week because the German company was
missing, according to some sources >from the tendering commission. A
week later it was postponed for an undefined date. Four weeks later
the head of the tendering commission was changed and replaced with
the deputy interior minister Bujar Himçi.
A quarrel started at the same ministry. Police officials opposed the
public order ministry officials. The latter said police and not the
interior ministry that on such issues are considered two separate
institutions should have conducted the tender. "Passports are
documents of identification and a valuable document, two criteria
that show why it had to be held by the police," Mema said. Four days
later the commission made public the winner - the German company
"Bundes Druckerei" though it was said it had brought the highest
Not only the Albanian public opinion but the American embassy in
Tirana also reacted nervously to such an anomaly sending a protest
note by the end of August asking the government's anti-corruption
minister Ndre Legisi to officially investigate on such an issue
"aiming at repeating the tender." (It seems Legisi carefully
listened to that. And just for curiosity the local media reported
that after Legisi's announcement of the sacking of two senior
officials the U.S. deputy ambassador was seen climbing stairs to his
office. It could have been a normal procedure, meting, but Albanians
like to further process their ideas.)
"The U.S. Embassy is very concerned with the tender's transparency
and fairness. We believe that EuroGet, a U.S. company, was unfairly
excluded from this tender despite having the lowest bid and relevant
experience. We fear that the manner in which the tender was handled
will discourage other U.S. firms from entering the Albanian market,"
said the embassy note.
Counterattacking the reasons why the American company was excluded
the note added that the company's attorney had "refuted these
contentions and points out serious shortcomings in the tender." It
went on accusing ministry official of bias as "the tender
requirements were drafted with the explicit intention to assist one
company to prevail," and of offering undisclosed information to some
bidders that the others did not have access. It opposed the tender's
"unrealistic time frame that created confusion and problems
throughout the process." "Two of the world's most respected
companies in the field of passport production, EuroGet and De La
Rue, were ultimately disqualified from the tender," it complained.
Concluding the note disputed that the winning bid was increased form
the first to the second round. "The winning bid is more than USD 1.8
million higher than the lowest bid." The embassy requested that the
government organize a new tender. "A new, impartial and transparent
tender will help restore the international community's faith in the
GOA's (government of Albania) tender procedures."
The interior ministry, on its part, turned down any accusation for
the tender inviting everyone to verify its transparency and also
promising that passport would be produced by January.
Meanwhile the U.S. company EuroGet has sued the government since
august. "We were surprised because my client was disqualified as it
was not specialized in producing passports at a time when it was
announced by the ministry itself to take part in the tender. The
four companies were recommended by the government as specialized in
producing passports," says Kalo.
The court also proceeded slowly in the case but the lawyer is
determined that the case will be won and the tender will be
repeated. "According to my sources, the Albanian government has
asked the Canadian company to bring 200,000 more passports to
overcome the crisis. That may be exploited in favour of repeating
the tender," the lawyer concluded.
There are even voices saying there could be a repeat of the tender,
hard to believe at a time when the German company is normally
proceeding with the project.
A representative of the German company came out in the television
stations saying that everything was going based on the procedures
and new passports would be offered in January. Some experts of the
ministry, however, say that that is hardly to happen because there
is not much time to prepare them.
It seems very likely. Minister Gjoni said that, according to his
information, Albanians could start having new passports by the end
of January. The German company has brought part of its equipment
and still bringing others completing the whole necessary
infrastructure by mid-January. They have also trained Albanian staff
dealing with the issue.
If started Albanians will soon forget the whole issue, delay, or
just remember passports as something linked with the start of the
anti-corruption fight in the country, or with the fight between Nano
and Meta and the following accusation to lower officials, or with
the first step in the cooperation between the two main political
Whatever it is for common Albanians it means they will not form long
queues again for passports in the next eight years, the time period
planned with this very disputed passport project.