Albania seeks foreign experts to increase pace of reforms

13/01/2014

The Albanian government wants to address crime and corruption in the customs administration and accredit its universities.

By Erl Murati for Southeast European Times in Tirana -- 13/01/14

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Albania has contracted the British firm Crown Agents to audit and assist with reforms in its customs administration. [AFP]

The Albanian government decided to seek foreign experts to help carry out the country's reforms on its path to EU membership and specifically address crime and corruption.

The EU did not give Albania a candidate member status last month, requesting the country undertake additional reforms with emphasis on these two issues prior to reviewing its candidacy status in spring.

Officials said getting assistance from foreign experts will increase the pace of the reforms and provide much needed expertise to bring about positive changes.

"Today, there is no lack of Albanian professionals, but foreign advisors and their experiences are necessary in some areas. Our economy needs to be acquainted with all the variables of the international environment," Gjergj Buxhuku, director of Konfindustria, Albania's textile industry giant, told SETimes.

The government has been encouraged to seek foreign expertise because of its positive experience with the professional services firm Deloitte that it hired, just days after it assumed power last September, to determine government's debt to private businesses.

Now the government has signed a two-year agreement with British firm Crown Agents to audit and assist with the reforms of Albania's customs service. Among the primary goals of the agreement is for the company to identify ways to eliminate reduce corruption as well as ways to optimally increase wages.

"Modernising the customs administration is important. This process has already started through implementing projects with assistance of our collaborators," Elisa Spiropali, director general of Albania customs, told SETimes.

Reform in the customs administration is urgently needed; the state coffers are empty and the government needs to implement justice, which is why it was voted in, said Finance Minister Shkelqim Cani.

"By supporting the customs administration this company will help us [reach a point when] all local businesses pay their financial obligations to the state without exception instead of bribing state leaders and paying millions to them," Cani said.

Experts said hiring foreign consulting companies to assist managing customs services has brought mixed results in the region and elsewhere.

"Crown Agent's consulting has brought in productive for the customs of ... Bulgaria, Latvia, Kosovo, Macedonia and others," Eduard Zaloshnja of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation told SETimes.

The government also decided to seek a foreign company to accredit Albania's universities. Officials said the choice will fall on an organisation that can certify the quality of the universities and provide them status compatible with foreign schools.

The decision is an attempt to make Albanian diplomas recognised throughout Europe, Lindita Nikolla, education and sports minister, said.

"This is a very important development for us. This practice, not applied before, aims to increase quality by meeting contemporary standards to accredit our universities," Nikolla told SETimes.

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In addition to relying on foreign companies, Prime Minister Edi Rama appealed to Turkey for additional technical assistance and know how as needed.

Rama met Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently and agreed to receive assistance from Turkey for reforms in the fields of energy, security, economy and healthcare.

"Turkey is a strategic partner," Rama said.

What can Albania do to use foreign expertise to increase the pace of reforms? Share your opinion in the comments space.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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