Reconstruction, a financial “black hole” in Kavaja, Durrës and Shijak

  • Shqip
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  • Although money and time were not lacking, the “reconstruction” still seems far from completion. Durrës is still an open construction site, while dozens of families in Kavaja and Shijak testify with disappointment how the deadlines given for the reconstruction of houses expire one after another.

     

    Authors: Klementina Cenkollari, Andrea Danglli and Dafina Kola

    Vali Nelka has greater dissatisfaction with local government services than desperation for the uninhabited house. She has been living for years in a small apartment with her ailing husband. The long wait for intervention in the earthquake-damaged house has dashed her hopes.

    “When I come home, I’m scared and I can not sleep. We come, we eat bread and in the evening we go and we pay somewhere else to sleep. The damage is really large”, – Vali Nelka tells Investigative Network Albania .

    “I am interested in going to live in my house, because I live with a sick man”, – says the nervous resident, who sees how her apartment degrades day by day.

    Sheltered in one of the apartments near the so-called “Prison Palace”, Vali Nelka is not the only one who is dissatisfied with the reconstruction. Vali confesses that the municipality has promised to intervene inside and outside the apartments, but so far there have been only words.

    Dozens of families in Kavaja testify with disappointment how the deadlines given for the reconstruction of houses expire one after the other, while they have started the work for repairing the damages with personal finances. Dissatisfied are also those who have received funding for repairing the damage, as the amounts are too modest to close all the necessary works. They claim that the compensation measure for the DS1, DS2 and DS3 scale is too small and makes the necessary repairs impossible. Many of them say that with the amount of 100 thousand ALL, given by the local government, no company undertakes the complete repair of damages.

    “We were assigned DS1, 1 million ALL. I have 1 million lekë, because I did not use it, but no worker takes  it over and the whole cost is at least three times higher than what they gave us. The neighbors have fixed it with their own money, I don’t have it and I left it, as the earthquake did “, – says the resident Refo Bido, who says that every time she hears about the earthquake in Greece, she takes the boys out of the house of fear.

    But, quite unlike the residents, the mayor, Redian Krali is optimistic about the pace of reconstruction.

    “There are 260 new apartments and all family members will be accommodated in apartments, while about 400 families are living with rent bonus”, – says Krali.

    Mayor Krali himself says that the complaints are very few and they have set up verification groups.

    “We have set up working groups and we look at them carefully. “If we have seen any small irregularities, we have documented it and sent it to the Albanian Development Fund for individual houses, where there are 133 houses in total, ” he said.

    Reconstruction process in Kavaja

    However, despite the mayor’s optimism, there are those residents who say they have not received any compensation. Ten dissatisfied families can only be found in the palace where Miranda Dajlani, another concerned citizen, lives.

    “I did not receive either the bonus or the 1 million lek of compensation for the earthquake damage. I fixed it with the pension I had collected together with the invalidity bonus”, – says Dajlani, who tells us about her house.

    This situation has created uncertainty and has caused residents to lose faith in the solution.

    “Any delay favors the lack of transparency and favors certain groups, turning this disaster into a weapon of enrichment for certain individuals and groups, as well as benefits for political circles , behind which they hide,” – explains Zef Preçi, Director Executive of the Albanian Center for Economic Research .

    The Ministry of Reconstruction itself decided to be hermetic and did not give any answers to a long series of questions, addressed by Investigative Network Albania .

    Constructions without territorial planning

    The speed with which decisions were made to build new complexes has often been viewed with suspicion by spatial planning experts. They suggest that new neighborhoods and decisions should have been made on the basis of development plans and not on ad hoc decision-making . One of them, the urban planner Flamur Kuçi, has strong doubts that the proposed schemes may not be functional due to the emergency situation, with which the territory was planned for these constructions.

    “I doubt that the creation of these areas with an ad hoc decision-making, often with strong political will, but without proper consulting from a professional point of view, will create problems. It should have been done on the basis of some concrete plans. “In fact, all these cities that faced this crisis had just completed their local development plans, and it is unjustifiable for decision-making on construction and post-earthquakes to become unfounded on these plans,” he said .

    “The relocation of communities and the creation of new neighborhoods, in a way with ad hoc procedures, not based on concrete plans and strategies, will bring many problems”, – further explains the urban planner Kuçi.

    Quality of damaged buildings

    He also raises doubts about the quality of construction.

    “The ad hoc process also affects the quality of construction. “As far as I understand, we are not dealing with the right construction quality to really offer, be it urban quality, construction quality or even residential quality”, – underlines Kuçi.

    Asked if they have drafted any urban plan in the framework of reconstruction, the mayor of Kavaja avoids answering, but takes care to clarify that in addition to repairing the earthquake damage and building new buildings, there will be improvement of all ancillary infrastructure, with parks, hospitals, gardens, etc. Using the reconstruction as a scheme for favors is also a concern for the investigative journalist, Aranita Brahaj.

    “What we notice most in election periods is the activation of those small reconstruction grants. So, if the earthquake happened in 2019, if the acts of ascertainment were done for months, the government decided that in April, the central government together with the local government, to activate those small grants of 1-5 thousand dollars, which were were given to families, not to those in extreme need, but to those families who had suffered minor damage of type DS1, DS2 and DS3 “, she argues.

    Durrës Municipality forgets the earthquake

    “Within 2020, the inhabitants of the village will have new houses, while by June 2021 we will make houses in the cities for those who can not return to their dwellings due to the great damages”, – would say on December 14, 2019 Prime Minister, Edi Rama, in a video message addressed to the public through his Facebook profile. But, two years after the earthquake, Durrës is still a giant construction site, still “open”. In fact, many facilities are still in the process of seeking funding.

    On the other hand, dozens of apartments, which were promised to be restored in record time, the owners are still at the doors of the Municipality of Durrës today to receive the necessary compensation. Such are the inhabitants of the building no. 21 on “Isuf Molla” street, which was classified as uninhabitable, while it was demolished 18 months ago by the National Inspectorate of the Territory. 20 Durrës families, who lived in this palace, wander the doors of the Municipality of Durrës and the Prefecture, looking for an answer when the reconstruction of their homes will start.

    Damaged building in Durrës

    Our building has collapsed and turned into a garbage pile. They have not given us any information on when the construction of the new building will start. We did not even receive the rent bonus, it took three months “, – said a citizen, while protesting in front of the municipality.

    “I was left with 100 thousand lekë (old) pension. Where should I go? I want my house, because I want to die in my house. I do not want a funeral procession to come out of another’s house,” said an elderly woman.

    For 3 months they do not receive the rent bonus, while the municipality does not give any explanation for these delays.

    “We ask for the building to be rebuilt and in addition we have entered the third month that we do not receive the bonus. We are feeling the knives in the marrow,” said an elderly man.

    “No explanation, we are still waiting, we do not know what will be done,” said another resident.

    On an observation in some of the hotspots most affected by the earthquake of two years ago, it appears that the traces have not yet been renewed. Along the beach area of Durrës it is not difficult to see damaged buildings, which pose a danger to citizens.

    We have not received any response, although we are constantly talking to the institutions . At first this building was declared uninhabitable and then they said, it is habitable. There is tremendous damage. We stay on guard all night, for fear of collapsing and trapping us inside,” said Ramazan Shala, a resident of the area.

    “They are made with two standards. I ask the municipality to come and make the necessary repairs, because we have no financial means”, he says.

    The same situation is presented in the building no. 901, in Durrës, near “Kristo Sotiri” street. 45 families are suffering at the expense of “human mistakes”.

    Damaged building on “Kristo Sotiri” street, in Durrës

    From the time of its damage by the earthquake and until now, for this building have emerged three types of expertise on the level of damage received by the structure.

    “I am Suzana. No specialist knocked on my door to assess the damages and translate them into monetary valuation. No one has contacted us. We, as residents, have received a private specialist, who has given us the assurance that we can live peacefully”, – says the resident of the so-called Palace 2000 near the neighborhood 18.

    On the other hand, a second designation changed the course, declaring the damage at the DS4 level or for demolition. Residents’ complaints have prompted the decision to be reconsidered, bringing the assessment back to DS2 level. This practice followed by the institutions has raised strong doubts over the decisions taken for hundreds of apartments and other buildings, which have suffered damage from the earthquake and which in many cases have encountered controversy and uncertainty.

    The Municipality of Durrës did not provide answers regarding the questions addressed by INA MEDIA and also the Mayor, Emiriana Sako, refused to answer.

    For the engineer Edgar Frashëri, the assessment process is not being carried out properly and the institutions were unprepared to take measures in time, to withstand any seismic oscillation.

    “God has protected us, as Durrës could have suffered even more serious damage due to the poor quality of construction. Every moment that the state will neglect, all the consequences will be reflected, as reflected in the quality of construction in Durrës, the lack of norms and standards that this state itself had to approve and make mandatory to be implemented by the builders “, – he says, as he says that the builders have been free to exercise their activity in an unmonitored way.

    Also, a report of the Supreme State Audit found that the decision to demolish 11 buildings is unfounded.

    “Under the independent judgment of the audit team, we assess that, in the conditions when the procedures followed for the assessment of 11 buildings of the Municipality of Durres, which have suffered damage during the earthquake, were carried out in violation of the legal and regulatory framework in force and consequently documents – product of these procedures (act-expertise, oppositions) – are not in accordance with legal criteria, the decision-making process, especially for the forced demolition of buildings, is unfounded and carries the risk of being wrong at the same time “, – is quoted in the SAI report.


    Shijak between waiting, prayer and mercy

    As if the difficulties of age or the problems with her eyesight, which have been exhausting her for a long time, were not enough, Zeqine Hajri has been facing for two years the great fear that her apartment may collapse and the ruins will take over. The two earthquakes, the one in September and the one in November 2019, took out her apartment on “Mustafa Kërtalli” street, in the uninhabitable Shijak.

    Damaged house in Shijak

    Zeqine says that at the beginning she was verbally told that the palace would collapse.

    “They came, saw it and put a cross around it to demolish it ,” said mother Zeqine, who has been living in it for 85 years.

    Then things changed. She says that her son, who has come specially from Italy to find a solution, was told by the mayor that the palace is to be repaired.

    At first, we were told it would be demolished, then we were told it would be repaired. When the car slams the door, the palace and the whole house play. “, – says the old woman.

    To the official request of INA MEDIA , where the issue is presented for building 1, shk. 1, in “Mustafa Kërtalli” street in Shijak, the municipality responded by saying that “ the building has been announced by the Construction Institute with an In-Depth Expertise: Reconstruction with vulnerability scale DS4 ”, but there is no answer as to when the intervention will start for its rehabilitation.

    Edgar Frashëri, engineer, at the same time former member of the Council of Territorial Adjustment, expresses doubts about the expertise realized.

    “The abuses have been great. The state thought that it would wash away the sins for 5 minutes with experts who went to the apartments for evaluations, but this work is deeper and longer than that “, – says Edgar Frashëri.

    “Neither in the Municipality of Tirana, nor in the Municipality of Durrës and in any other municipality you can find the lists of injured persons, the degrees of damage, the classifications known as DS1, DS2, DS3 and DS4 and so on, at the same time the amount of funds that is intended to be given for this. It is pointless to give them cash for housing, at a time when it has unfortunately turned into a kind of economic aid,” explained the economic expert, Zef Preçi.

    For the Mayor of Shijak, Elton Arbana, the problems in question do not seem to exist.

    “Only in the Lugina neighborhood, 21 buildings will be built, where about 512 families will be accommodated. All families who have lost their apartment are treated with a rent bonus and are accommodated in apartments around the city.”, – assures Arbana.

    Arbana categorically denies the accusations of the citizens, who claim that the categorization and distribution of aid was politically motivated on the eve of the elections.

    “This is not true at all, they are speculations made by political entities,” he said.

    Referring to the official response of the Municipality of Shijak: 914 families have received rent bonus; 1421 families have received compensation for DS1, DS2, DS3; 65 families have received compensation for DS4 – reconstruction (individual dwellings) and 27 families have benefited from compensation for the level of DS4 damage (demolition).

    However, despite the optimism of the mayor, on the ground the situation is not so calm. There are those citizens who, after being hit by the earthquake, are also affected by the reconstruction process.

    Muharrem Çalliku has not yet received help for the repair of his home, but the new building, which is being reconstructed, has come next to his apartment, adding one more problem.

    “I was born in this house and now I am 62 years old. My extra part collapsed when the palace fell. I was told by the municipality, do not worry, we will do it, but so far nothing. The workers came to fix the roof, that it would start raining, but they did not come to fix it. I forced myself and made it with my own money. This is our government”, – says Çalliku for INA MEDIA , who admits that he has not applied.

    Grants distributed in the period of January-December 2020 amount to 798,504,000 ALL, money which have been allocated for the reconstruction of apartments with DS1-DS3, benefiting from the applications of February and July 2020. But, the director of Open Data Albania , Aranita Brahaj, raises the alarm that there are procedures with a high risk in terms of contracting.

    The risk is related to the possibility of clientelism and lack of respect for freedoms for equality in competition or economic freedoms,” she explains.

    “A procedure that takes place today for public procurement, even if it has a value similar to the value for international tenders, takes place with a deadline for expression of interest, which is only 10 days. Imagine a foreign company, which becomes aware of this announcement and just to get an apostille stamp, would have to spend more than 10 days. So, we automatically have a case of clientelism, as foreign companies are disqualified “, – explains Brahaj.

    “All schools, or all buildings, or a good part of the works have come out in tenders, which in a good part are concentrated as offers for certain companies, which means that mid-level bidders are automatically excluded. from the race. On the other hand, we have another element of the competition, which is the restricted procedure,” she said.

    “Speed is not necessarily the only element that dictates quality,” says Anisa Lloja, an architect who returned to England to study.