Inexistent dormitories, how municipalities are abusing even with the food of the children

  • Shqip
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  • Boarding schools of primary and high schools have been left without students, but municipalities are spending millions of lekë on their food. Data collected by INA Media show that in Përmet, the amount of money spent on a limited number of students would be enough to feed them three meals in one of the best restaurants in Tirana. In Elbasan, much more is spent than necessary, while in Librazhd, they believe that children do not need such foods as meat and bread.

    Authors: Emirjon Senja, Julian Hoxhaj and Sidorela Xhomaqi

    A two-story building, painted from the outside, at the end of a road where you can’t tell whether you’re on asphalt or cobblestone, is what is known as the boarding school of ‘Sami Frashëri’ high school in the city of Përmet. Here stay the students who come from the villages of the municipality, unable to return home during the day.

    Under military commands, ‘Forward march! Prepare!’ from the kindergarten educator on the first floor of the building, directing the little ones, starting from who knows what subtext, we enter the open door of the boarding school, where ‘Welcome!’ say some furniture from the ’80s, left on the side of the corridor, while inside, no one touches anything.”

    The entrance of the boarding school of ‘Sami Frashëri’ high school in Përmet.

    To the left, a table with oil paint catches our attention, marking ‘Kitchen,’ intriguing us. The way some of the tables are stacked makes it clear that they haven’t been used recently (see photo).

    “In the background, through a square glass, where the counter of a communist-era snack bar is visible, we distinguish four kitchen areas.

    On the second floor of the building is the administration, the office of the supervisor, the study hall— the latter being out of function— and three bedrooms. Only one of the rooms had a few pairs of girls’ sneakers. The boarding school employee says that some girls lived in that room but hesitated to disclose the exact number.

    On the left side of the boarding school are the boys’ rooms and the laundry room. As seen from the images taken by INA Media in the fall of 2023, the rooms are empty, and the laundry room is out of order.

    “The rooms have been reconstructed and are ready,” said the boarding school employee, hesitating to answer for the umpteenth time the question of how many students stay in this accommodating institution for ‘Sami Frashëri’ high school.

    Through verifications, we observe only two functional rooms in the boarding school, while unofficially we are told that a total of 10 students stay there, but from other sources, we learn that the number is at least as much as half of the declared figure.”

    The out-of-order laundry room at the boarding school of ‘Sami Frashëri’ high school in Përmet

    “INA Media has uncovered through official documents that the Municipality of Përmet, in addition to spending 5 million lekë on food, claimed to be consumed by 4 students for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as a handful of kindergarten children for lunch only, also pays 14 people as employees in these institutions. Therefore, this institution has 7 employees and spends 2.9 million lekë to purchase food for the four students it has.”

    32 children consume 7 tons of milk in Përmet.

    “In the same building as the boarding school, there is also a kindergarten and a nursery with a total of 23 children having lunch. Food tenders were conducted through a series of questionnaires in 2021 and 2022 in Përmet, but they are added in 2023, as the quantity of a significant portion of the items has doubled.”

    Doubts arise from the fact that the quantity of milk consumed by the children has doubled.

    Faksmile of the standard tender documents with number REF-56602-01-23-2023 for the purchase of food, organized by the Municipality of Përmet; accessed by INA Media in September 2023

    In 2023, the Municipality of Përmet procured a total of 7,182 liters of milk; 662 kg of meat, compared to around 380 kg in 2022 or 305 kg in 2021, etc. (see the graph). Unlike the boarding school students who consume three meals, the kindergarten children do not consume all three meals there.

    While the number of children to be served decreased, the Municipality of Përmet doubled the food tender fund in the electoral year 2023. The municipality spent around 24 thousand euros in 2022, but in January 2023, it announced a tender for the purchase of food for the boarding school, kindergarten, and nursery with a limit of around 50 thousand euros.

    A graph of a group of food items purchased by the Municipality of Përmet for the boarding school of ‘Sami Frashëri’ high school. There is a significant increase in purchases during the year 2023, an electoral year.

    After 10 days, the company ‘GERTI-1987’ was announced as the ‘preferred and permanent’ winner, with an offer of around 48 thousand euros.

    INA Media found that this company has consistently won similar tenders in previous years, all with a red flag, due to issues with competition.

    The Municipality of Përmet did not respond to INA Media’s questions about the reasons that led to the doubling of the limit fund for food in 2023.

    Screenshot from the Open Procurement Albania page of the Municipality of Përmet’s food tender, marked with a red flag due to a lack of competition.

    To calculate the daily food allowance and its monetary value for a student in pre-university education, the Albanian government has approved Decision of the Council of Ministers (DCM) No. 666/2019. This decision determines the necessary food quantity to ensure the proper caloric intake.

    According to DCM No. 666/2019, a student aged 14 to 18 should receive about 2,712 calories per day. This consumption includes staple foods such as bread, pasta, rice, sugar, beans, vegetables, fruits, oil, butter, milk, eggs, potatoes, meat, jam, and others.

    The daily cost for this caloric intake for a student is 215.5 lekë.

    In a month, considering 30 calendar days (excluding weekends and official holidays), this amount is estimated to be around 6,400 lekë.

    Decision of the Municipal Council, Përmet, regarding the determination of food quotas for children in kindergartens and nurseries.

    In 12 months, without excluding official holidays, summer vacations, assuming a student will be fed for 365 days in the boarding school, the cost of food is 77,580 lekë.

    For four students, as officially reported to be in the boarding school of the Municipality of Përmet, the cost of food should be around 310,000 lekë. However, in reality, the value of the food tender, calculated only for the boarding school, amounts to around 2.9 million lekë.

    If we calculate that around 100 days a year are official holidays and festivities, then it becomes evident that there is a significant difference between the amount spent and the amount that should have been spent.

    Additionally, students in the boarding school, in addition to the municipality-tendered food, assumed to consume three meals in the dormitory cafeteria, are treated with a food allowance of around 7,000 lekë per month, according to the government Decision.

    INA Media secured official data at the beginning of this investigation, stating that the Municipality of Përmet served 32 children in the kindergarten and nursery with lunch for the year 2023, located in the same building as the boarding school. Referring to the indicators of the relevant Decision of the Council of Ministers, we calculate their food cost, which amounts to around 2.4 million lekë, or slightly less than the amount officially reported by the municipality to cover the annual food expenses for the children.

    However, the Municipality of Përmet procured around 5.3 million lekë of food in 2023 for the students in the boarding school and in the kindergarten.

    The faksmile of the Council of Ministers Decision (VKM) that determines the food quotas for students in pre-university boarding schools.

    Therefore, the difference of 2.9 million lekë belongs (!) to the part of the food for the four boarding school students!

    If indeed this amount were to be spent to feed the four students of the ‘Sami Frashëri’ school boarding school in Përmet for nine months, it would be enough to order all three meals at a good restaurant in Tirana.”

    The cafeteria of the ‘Sami Frashëri’ high school boarding school in Përmet

    INA Media addressed the Municipality of Përmet with a request for information, also inquiring about food tenders, but we did not receive any response until the publication of this material.

    Collapsed Building and Peculiar Tender in Kolonjë

    The boarding school in Ersekë appears to have gone decades without reconstruction, but tenders for the students’ meals, who are claimed to reside there, continue regularly and are won with offers almost identical to the limit fund.

    INA Media visited this boarding school in September 2023, being ‘welcomed’ by a door that is kept locked with a key. To ensure that no one enters the completely dilapidated building, administrators have also added a rope to the outer gate.

    In its courtyard, which should be a creative space for students during leisure time, lies inert, with untended vegetation, scrap metal, and other debris. Even the main gate of the boarding school seems to have no connection to the entrance of the institution where children live.

    The building of the high school boarding school in Ersekë

    For the year 2023, the Municipality of Kolonjë has tendered 1.6 million new lekë, divided into 6 lots, for the purchase of food for the boarding school. The division into multiple lots for food tenders is considered a classic practice that may pave the way for abuses.

    In all six lots, the sole winner is the entity ‘Refie Lifo,’ which has secured the tenders for the purchase of all food quantities for the students of this boarding school.

    The entrance gate of the high school boarding school in Ersekë

    The Municipality of Kolonjë informed INA Media that currently, 19 children are being provided with food in the nursery, while in the boarding school of the school for the academic year 2023-2024, there are 11 students for whom the food quotas have been approved.

    Screenshot from the Open Procurement Albania page of the food tender for Vau i Dejës, marked with a red flag due to a lack of competition.

    In the food tender, the municipality has procured 1.6 million lekë, which is almost the same as the limit fund value.

    However, unlike other cases where municipalities, despite violations, have specified the quantity of food they will purchase as required by the law, the Municipality of Kolonjë has not provided any details regarding the quantity of milk, meat, bread, pasta, or flour it is presumed to have purchased from Mrs. Refie Lifo for 1.6 million lekë.

    Tenders with red flags: Elbasan procures abundantly, while Librazhd treats children as vegetarians

    They are a handful of companies that win food tenders for boarding schools, kindergartens, and nurseries in a large number of municipalities. INA Media consulted the documentation of dozens of procurements carried out by these municipalities, noting significant issues regarding competition in tenders as well as the division into multiple lots. This makes large companies reluctant to participate in the procedures, leaving the door open for clientelism and abuses by local operators in collaboration with municipal officials.

    The Municipality of Elbasan is one of the units that spends large sums on food procurement. INA Media learned through a request for information that this municipality caters to 466 children, of which 413 are in kindergartens and nurseries, while 33 are in the “Ymer Tola” boarding school. The municipality explained that it has an average daily cost of 222.3 lekë per meal, while a recent tender with a limit fund of 54 million lekë was announced. This is an amount about 8 million lekë higher than the limit fund, which should be if the number of students is calculated with the average daily cost determined by the Council of Ministers (VKM), applied by the Municipality of Elbasan.

    Earlier, Elbasan was the subject of a major scandal regarding food tenders, revealing that public institutions financed individuals with criminal connections through procurements.

    A similar phenomenon to Elbasan regarding the procurement of large quantities of food, exceeding the needs several times, is observed in Pogradec. This municipality procured around 80 thousand euros of food in August 2023 for a 12-month period. The municipality told INA Media that it caters to 65 children in kindergartens and nurseries. Considering the VKM on food quotas, for such a number of students, around 12 thousand euros would be needed annually, while a sum almost 7 times larger has been procured.

    Agron Haxhimali, a local government expert, says that when everything is clear, and the calorie intake for children is specified by VKM, there is no way the municipality can procure more than needed. ‘This is shameful and should be subject to investigation,’ says Haxhimali.

    According to data provided by INA Media, Gramsh has procured three times more than necessary, Kolonjë twice as much, while Librazhd shows shortages of essential products in the list of purchased foods, such as bread and meat.

    In 2020, the Municipality of Vau i Dejës procured around 6.5 million lekë for the purchase of food items for the boarding school ‘Ndre Mjeda’ and the social center ‘Besa’. This is an unprecedented tender because in 2020, Albania was in complete quarantine, and the entire academic year was conducted online until the summer of 2021.

    The Municipality of Librazhd spent 5.9 million lekë to purchase food for children in February 2023 but ‘forgot’ to buy bread and meat. The Municipality did not respond to a request for information until the publication of this material.

    Winning tenders with 98-99% of the limit fund is a normal phenomenon in the country’s municipalities. Any offer over 90% is considered abnormal in terms of competition.

    As INA Media notes, it turns out that all lots (6) of the tender of the Municipality of Kolonjë for the purchase of food, vegetables, fruits, etc., have been won by Mrs. Refie Lifo, who, being the only bidder, gave 99.3% of the limit fund.

    The tenders of the Municipality of Dibër for the purchase of food, fruits, or bulgur were also won with 98-99% of the limit fund, with a noticeable lack of competition.

    An oddity occurs in Lushnjë, an area known for vegetable, fruit, and bulgur production. Strangely, in the 2021 tender for these products, only one subject offered, grabbing almost the entire limit fund. It turns out that Sinani Trading Company won this tender with 99.8% of the limit fund.

    The same situation occurs in other municipalities. In Pukë, the food tender was won with 99% of the limit fund; in Fushë-Arrëz, almost 100%; in Shkodër, nearly 100%; while in Lezhë, with 98%.

    Minicipality Tender

    % of the limit fund

    Kolonjë Blerje ushqime, viti 2023 99.3%
    Shkodër Blerje ushqime, viti 2023 99.9%
    Dibër Blerje ushqime, viti 2022 99%
    Fushë Arrëz Blerje ushqime, kopshte, çerdhe, 2023 100%
    Pukë Kuotë ushqimore, çerdhe dhe kopësht, 2023 99%
    Lezhë Blerje ushqimesh me origjinë shtazore, 2023 98%
    Përmet Loti I – Blerje ushqime me origjinë jo shtazore, viti 2022


    Comparative table of tenders for food, won with offers close to the limit fund, organized by several municipalities in the country.

    Officials are not afraid of the law

    The lack of competition is the main problem encountered in these tenders, along with the fragmentation and division into lots to reduce the limit fund, in order to avoid fulfilling other legal obligations during procurement.

    “Usually, the duration of the tender, the quantity of the needed goods, and a market study should be taken into account. The latter is done by considering a list of prices for goods from INSTAT. We see that these criteria are openly violated by the authorities when calculating the limit fund, taking two or three bids from predetermined winning operators and then announcing the tender with a limit fund that does not correspond to the market reality,” says Ola Xama, the author of many investigations in the field of tenders.

    Local power expert Agron Haxhimali connects tender abuses of municipalities in general and those related to food in particular with the fact that local officials feel immune from control institutions because the central government has been the same political force as in local government.

    “Fear of law enforcement agencies has been killed, and everything in this direction started in 2019, where we had a unified central-local government,” says Haxhimali. “There has been a spirit of political affinity, that whatever we do, we are part of a family, and this has created problems in terms of the implementation of procurement laws,” Agron Haxhimali argues further.

    For lawyer Alban Duraj, the pre-determination of the winner and the costs during legal processes have made companies uninterested in participating in these procedures. Consequently, only those companies that, in some way, have been predetermined as winners circulate in the system, increasing costs for municipal budgets and offering lower quality.

    “In recent years, there has been a slowdown in the treatment of certain procurement procedures in courts. The proliferation through the courts has made businesses tired, and to avoid trouble and expenses, they do not enter procurement procedures where it seems that the winner is predetermined. At least this is my experience representing some companies for similar issues in the Administrative Court,” he expresses.

    Xama also lists another “trick” with tenders organized by municipalities.

    “There is a division of the limit fund into several lots with the aim of reducing the total value of the procurement and taking these tenders out of normal procedures, facilitating the way for abuses,” she explains.

    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.