Millions of ALL come out every month from the state budget to fund MPs’ per diems, fuel, telephone bills, or rented houses, even though they turn out to be “rich”, the new parliamentarians hide the houses also by adding their name to the list of the “homeless” of the national assembly. Paradoxically, the ones that benefit the most are those that speak the least in Parliament.
Author: Geriola Hate
The status of MP provides parliamentarians with a fat income, but also power and legal protection, making the seat of MP quite coveted.
More specifically, the law passed in 1999, offers them a range of privileges, ranging from payments for fuel, telephone, per diems, monthly rents, hotels, extra fees for participation in commissions or even diplomatic passports. All this makes the monthly income of MPs go up to 1500 euros, not including the salary.
In addition to these benefits, with a monthly gross salary of 156 thousand ALL, the salary of the MP is ranked as one of the highest in the salary hierarchy in our country, immediately after the salary of the minister.
The monthly income of the deputies, including their salary and financial benefits, goes up to 2500 euros, which is several times higher than the average salary, which according to INSTAT is estimated to be 56 thousand ALL or 465 euros.
“The financial treatment of MPs should be coherent, based on the hierarchy of the salary system in Albania, and parliamentary activity should be supported by a reasonable budget. Financial constraints cannot limit parliamentary activity,” said Gerta Meta, executive director of the Association for Democratic Culture.
However, how justified are the millions that go to the bank accounts of the MPs at the end of each month with their parliamentary engagement and the transmission of the voice of the citizens in the Assembly?
Referring to the payments published on the official website of the Parliament, in the first six months of this legislature, which started on September 10, 2021, 215 million 364 thousand 823 ALL were paid to the deputies of the Assembly. What stands out is that the highest paid members of the Assembly are the least active in parliament.
Low performance, high paycheck
The MP of the Democratic Party for Shkodra, Greta Bardelli, tops the list of MPs who have benefited the most during January 2022. In addition to the salary, she has received almost 200 thousand ALL (more precisely 197,521 ALL) for fuel, per diems, hotels, rent or even for telephone service. The month of January seems to have been quite good for this MP, in whose account 354,291 ALL were deposited from the state budget.
From September to April, Bardelli has benefited about 1.1 million ALL in per diems or about 10 thousand euros. In seven months, Bardelli has discussed 6 times in the Assembly, voted 6 acts and has been engaged 9 times in parliamentary committees.
During January alone, the state budget spent a full 13.6 million ALL for “privileges of deputies”. Of these 5.6 million ALL have gone only for per diems, which presuppose the trips of the deputies to the electoral zones and the meetings with the residents who voted for them.
As many as 40 deputies have benefited during the month of January from 650-700 euros in per diems to meet the electorate, but for experts this amount is on the verge of legal overrun, not including other benefits.
“Despite the fact that 70% of them live in the capital, the deputies are paid about 700 euros for food, as if they move every day from Tirana, while even with parliamentary regulations the MP have to go to the areas where they are elected, only once a month.” – argues for INA MEDIA Rigels Xhemollari, civil society activist.
Per diems obtained for the period September 2021-April 2022
But the list of MPs, who have received more income from per diems and other benefits, is headed by the MP from the left, Eslemvera Zake.
From September, when the legislature started, and until April, MP Zake has benefited approximately 1.4 million ALL in per diems. Referring to the data of the Parliament, in addition to the salary, she has benefited on average 180 thousand ALL per diem / month.
Sorina Koti, the deputy of the Democratic Party for the region of Korça, is ranked second among the legislators who have benefited the most from per diems, with about 1.3 million ALL or about 170 thousand ALL per month in per diems.
“The Assembly should review the regulation and legal acts, in order to supplement the missing acts and cases of critical findings, as well as to have a permanent monitoring system of real, parliamentary activity,” told INA MEDIA Gerta Meta.
Eralda Bano, the PD MP for the Fier region, is ranked third in terms of benefits from the post, with a full 1.3 million ALL. Gledis Çeliku, Besjon Ajazi and Mirela Pitushi have benefited from 1.26 to 1.28 million ALL.
Despite these high rewards, Çeliku has never debated in parliament, voted on only 10 acts and has only been engaged four times in committees.
Baftjar Zeqaj, the deputy of the Socialist Party for the region of Fier, is ranked among the most rewarded, with 1.24 million ALL, followed by Nusret Avdulla and Hatixhe Konomi, with 1.22 million ALL.
Niko Kuri, the highest paid MP in the ranks of the Socialists for January, received a total of 1.14 million ALL. However, Kuri counts only one discussion in parliament.
“In recent days, MPs have turned into inspectors of markets, bakeries, inspectors of maintaining a standard of prices in the Republic of Albania, beyond their legislative role, so they have become part of the executive. But, when it comes to personal pleasures, which benefit from the position, from per diems, etc., they are not inspectors of the institution they represent”, – said for INA MEDIA Rigels Xhemollari.
Ornaldo Rakipi, another Socialist Party MP, who broke the odds by winning a high vote of confidence in the April 25, 2021 elections, ranks among the most silent voices in Parliament. However, he has benefited the maximum of allowable per diems for travel within the city, with 37,625 ALL for January, while in total, in six months of work in the Assembly, 1,447,961 ALL have been deposited in Rakipi’s bank account.
Also, Andia Ulliri, a 22-year-old politician of the Democratic Party, who wore the MP’s suit without clocking in a single day of work, is ranked among the names that were rarely listed in the list of discussants. However, during the month of February, she benefited more than 135 thousand ALL in the form of per diems and participation in parliamentary committees.
MPs Gledis Çeliku, Meri Markiçi, Niko Kuri, Paulin Sterkaj, Elda Hoti and Ilir Ndraxhi also present a low efficiency, noting only their participation in the Assembly and committees and being totally avoided from discussions on legal initiatives.
A total of 1,807,195 ALL were deposited in Meri Markiçi’s account, but she never entered her name in the list of discussants in the Assembly and voted on only nine legal acts.
The semi-annual balance of payments of these MPs presents a salty bill, accompanied by low efficiency.
Experts consider absurd the fact that payment is not related to performance, but is taken for granted.
“It is illogical that your payment is not related to performance. In communism performance did not matter, in communism only participation mattered, it’s enough that I was there, and we are still stuck with this mentality. I came to work, I was there, in Parliament, I checked in. It is the only job position in Albania that has an immeasurable work performance: the Albanian MP”, – said the economic expert, Rezart Prifti for INA MEDIA.
But, despite the high profits, in a survey conducted by the Institute of Political Studies, MPs express dissatisfaction with the income they receive.
They assess that financial treatment does not respond to their contribution and activity, considering financial treatment as an obstacle to the exercise of functions and a punitive measure in the personal, political agenda.
“Over 92% think that the salary they receive is insufficient and prevents regular electoral meetings. Over 77% say that they cannot afford the expenses with the salary of the MP and over 55% are against the penalty in the salary in case of absence in the Assembly”, – it is said in the survey of the Institute of Political Studies, conducted during 2018.
Parliamentary activity of deputies
Parliamentary activity of deputies
Ilir Ndraxhi is another name that marks fat profits and low efficiency. From September to February, Ndraxhi remained silent, not being part of any discussion in the Assembly.
In addition to per diems for meetings with the electorate, MPs also benefit from hotel and fuel payments. Those who have traveled more abroad and benefited from hotel and fuel payments are: Luan Baçi, Ilir Topi, Anila Denaj, Tritan Shehu, Luciano Boçi and Arbi Agalliu
“The biggest scandal here was during the pandemic, that members of the Albanian parliament, even though we were in a state of total quarantine, continued to receive fuel per diems,” said economics expert Rezart Prifti for INA -n.
The homeless of Parliament
An “abusive” scheme is also built on the benefit of monthly rents by MPs. There is a total of 15 deputies described as “homeless”, who benefit 35 thousand ALL per month for a house for rent in Tirana.
From a verification of the declaration of assets, 9 deputies, beneficiaries of monthly rents, have declared private property or even land in their name, and yet continue to receive monthly rents from Parliament.
The list is headed by the deputy of the Democratic Party for Berat, Kasëm Mahmutaj, who is a real “rich man”. In the declaration of assets, filed with the High Inspectorate of Declaration and Control of Assets and Conflict of Interest, Mahmutaj is the owner of a building, four apartments, a plot of land plus an apartment, plus a bar in a three-story building, as well as a land of the type – field – and another property, of the type – land – all positioned in the area of Berat.
Mahmutaj’s wealth also includes two vehicles, one off-road vehicle, and five bank accounts. Despite the properties owned by the deputy, since September 2021, the Assembly pays 35 thousand ALL per month for the rent of a house in Tirana.
However, a decision a few days ago, taken by the Special Court of First Instance for corruption and organized crime, confiscated all the assets of Behar Mahmutaj, the MP’s brother, and his family, as they are suspected to have been created with money from criminal activity.
Based on this decision, all assets were confiscated from MP Muhmutaj, including 5 apartments, plots of land, arable land, a bar and business companies where he was in co-ownership with his brother, who is being investigated for money laundering, and his family.
The court has decided to remove the seizure and leave the deputy to live in only one apartment of 64 square meters in the city of Berat.
But this decision showed that MP Mahmutaj had not declared an apartment in Tirana with an area of 124.9 square meters, which he had ordered since 2016, and as a result he continued to receive the payment of 35 thousand ALL due to him being “homeless”.
The court has also decided to lift the seizure of this apartment, as the construction company has claimed that the financial invoice has not been liquidated and this property is not the property of MP Kasem Mahmutaj.
“It is noticed that the deputies, regardless of the fact that in their property declarations have houses or have houses in the name of their spouses, are paid the monthly rent compensation. This is a situation where HIDAACI is also the institution that takes care of the law of whistleblowers and it should be this institution that at this moment signals the situation to the Assembly and other relevant bodies “- said for INA Xhemollari.
Facsimile e declaration the property the MP Kasem Mahmutaj
A flagrant violation is that of MP Enslemvera Zake from the Socialist Party. Although her husband is the owner of an apartment with an area of 103.5 m2 in Tirana, according to the sale contract, dated April 23, 2005, she is treated with a rent bonus by the Albanian Parliament. Referring to the property declaration, the apartment was bought for 59,040 euros, but the mortgage has not been paid in full yet.
Facsimile e declaration the property the MP Enslemvera Zake
“As long as there are deputies who have declared their assets and are listed with their houses, giving payment for house rent does not make sense. It is more logical for this expenditure to go for a service for the benefit of communication and supportive initiatives for the citizens”, – said for INA Gerta Meta, executive director of the Association for Democratic Culture, who explains that “she is not against having support for these MPs, but this support should serve the improvement of their performance for the benefit of citizens and not for personal and family benefits”.
Meri Markiçi’s declaration of assets results in her having three apartments, one of which is for rent and the other two are owned by the husband, benefited from the exchange of parts of the property with his brother, in the building he built himself in 2005. Despite this property that she owns, this MP also benefits from the privileges of status and receives every month from the state budget 35 thousand ALL for an apartment in Tirana.
Socialist Party MP, Hatixhe Konomi, has self-declared that she owns 100 percent of an apartment with an area of 100 m2 in the city of Berat and yet she also benefits from monthly rent payments.
Facsimile e declaration the property the deputy Hatixhe Konomi
Baftjar Zeqaj, Sorina Koti, Greta Bardelli, Eralda Bano, Niko Kuri, Hatixhe Konomi, Meri Markiçi are the other deputies, who, although they have self-declared real estate in their name, in some cases properties, which are in the process of legalization or lack of ownership certificate, again benefit a considerable amount of money from the state coffers.
The former mayor of Fier, Baftjar Zeqaj, is the owner of a residential apartment in Fier, with an area of 52 m2 and an additional apartment with an area of 39 m2, bought at the same time as a whole with the apartment he owns. However, for all the times he comes to Tirana, the state budget pays him a house for rent in the amount of 35 thousand ALL per month.
MP Sorina Koti has declared a residential apartment of 105.3 m2 and a basement in Korca. There is an initial notarial deed-agreement and a contract of sale, notarized, but it is not provided with a certificate of ownership. The value of the apartment is 6,588,000 ALL.
MP Greta Bardelli has in co-ownership with her husband a 3-storey residential house in Shkodra, worth 9,000,000 ALL, with a construction area of 288 m2, which is in the process of legalization. But, despite this large property, MP Bardelli receives 35 thousand ALL for a rented apartment in Tirana.
Also, in the declaration of property of the deputy Eralda Bano, there are two businesses and an apartment in Fier, with an area of 102.96 m2.
Meanwhile, in the documentation of Niko Kuri is marked a residential apartment in Saranda, worth 4,500,000 ALL, with a contract of sale and ownership certificate dated 27 September 2017.
Abusive telephone scheme
Another absurd payment is the phone bill, which for almost two decades continues to be 17 thousand ALL per month.
While the mobile phone market has been liberalized and telephone operators have fees of almost 10 times lower than the original cost, the Assembly continues to pay a hefty monthly bill of 17,000 ALL per month for each MP.
“There should be a re-evaluation of the performance and parliamentary activity of the deputies, there should be a re-evaluation by the Assembly in terms of tariffs, as the tariffs that have been set are from 1999, when of course at that time the phone could cost 150 euros, but now the tariffs have changed and there should be a revaluation,” Rigels Xhemollari, told INA.
“There must be mechanisms to make the right transparency regarding the paid telephone minutes. Agreements with telephone operators should be reviewed to minimize or use alternative offers,” Gerta Meta, executive director of the Association for Democratic Culture, told INA.
Empty chairs in the Assembly
There are many cases when party commitments remove the deputies from the Assembly, causing a very low number of deputies to be present at the session and yet the monthly payment is not missing.
According to the observations of the March 10 plenary session, only 5 deputies and the chair of the session were present in the hall at the moment of announcing the voting results.
Former Prime Minister Sali Berisha barely served in parliament from September to December 2021. After the crisis gripped the Democratic Party and the ousting of the historic Democratic leader and his supporters from the parliamentary group. Berisha did not attend 99 per cent of the voting sessions, plenary sessions, did not vote on any law or parliamentary act, did not participate in any committee meetings, did not initiate any legal act and did not have any statement in the capacity of MP.
MP Sali Berisha, however, received his monthly salary, although not in full. According to the payroll of the Parliament, it turns out that Berisha has been kept every month the amount of 20 thousand ALL, which corresponds to the 4 parliamentary sessions during a month that he has been absent. The other MPs, rebels of the opposition, such as Flamur Noka or Edi Paloka had the same fate.
The Prime Minister, Edi Rama, has participated in only 59 percent of parliamentary acts, marking up a considerable level of non-participation in the Assembly.
With no votes against, 58 deputies, mainly from the Socialist Party, voted in 100 percent of the cases in the plenary sessions in favor of the official position of their political party.
Experts think that the deputies in the Albanian Parliament fail to create a profile of their own, but remain “hostage” of the party.
“The practice, according to which the deputies equate their public profile with the profile of the party or the political leader of the party, is wrong. In order to be successful, the MPs must create a public persona, make a difference with other names “, – concludes Gerta Meta.
Ky shkrim është pjesë e projektit që mbështetet financiarisht nga Zyra e Mardhënieve me Publikun e Ambasadës së SH.B.A. në Tiranë. Opinionet, gjetjet, konkluzionet dhe rekomandimet e shprehura janë te autor-it/ve dhe nuk përfaqesojnë domosdoshmërisht ato të Departamentit të Shtetit. / This article is part of a project that is financially supported by the Public Relations Office of the US Embassy in Tirana. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the Department of State.