Thursday, September 08, 2005

Albania pins its hopes on youthful government

TIRANA, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Prime minister-elect Sali Berisha returns to the helm in Albania on Sunday with a team of young, Western-schooled ministers recruited to his Democratic Party during eight years in opposition.

The former president, whose party won a general election on July 3, is making a comeback from the catastrophe that befell Albania under his rule in 1997, when pyramid savings schemes collapsed and the country descended into anarchy.

Berisha vows to steer clear of corruption allegations that doomed the outgoing Socialist Party government of Fatos Nano.

Countering criticism that his party was better at street protests than government, Berisha opened the ranks to young technocrats who wrote most of the new programme.

Many of them are in their early 30s and were totally unknown at the turn of the year. But almost all of them won their direct races for parliament in July, beating rivals tainted by corruption allegations and winning places in a streamlined government of 14 ministries.

Albania was Europe's poorest country when communism collapsed in 1990. The economy has grown by 6 percent over the last two years, but statistics have not translated into higher living standards and one-quarter of its 3.5 million people live in poverty.

The Socialists, reminding Albanians of Berisha's autocratic streak in the early 1990s, say his new government will be "one prime minister with 14 deputies".

Analyst Andi Bejtja said it had been formed without taking "political or technical criteria" into account.

Why would a justice expert head the transport ministry or a former customs officer the culture ministry, Bejtja asked?


Neritan Sejamini, a Democratic Party candidate for parliament and member of its policy think-tank, said the new ministers represent integrity, dignity and Western values.

"Their age and Western education makes them far less prone to being Berisha's yes-men," he said. "Albania has not lacked knowledge, but integrity and dignity. They have it."

Lulzim Basha, 33, a law graduate of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, will be Minister for Transport and Telecommunications. Reviewing the sale of the country's land-line monopoly Albtelecom to a sole Turkish bidder will be one of his tests.

Basha worked for the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal and contributed to the file that sent former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague. He was working for the U.N. in Kosovo before he joined the Democrats.

Arenca Troshani, a 33 year-old dean of the law faculty in the northern town of Shkoder, will be European Affairs minister -- the only woman minister.

The justice ministry will be headed by Aldo Bumci, 31, who holds a masters degree in international relations from the Eastern Mediterranean University in Cyprus.

Sokol Olldashi, a 33-year-old former journalist, will head an expanded interior ministry embracing the old public order and local government ministries. Including state statistics and the national property registry as well has raised concern that this jumbo-ministry could be a risky experiment.

Foreign Minister Besnik Mustafaj, former ambassador to France, will focus on bringing in business.

Finance Minister Ridvan Bode is the man who first alerted the public to the dangers of pyramid scams. He says he plans to halve taxes for small business as soon as possible.

The Democrats' programme also envisages cutting VAT to 17 percent from the current 20, cutting profit tax to 20 percent to stimulate employment and reducing red tape.

Note: Pictures were not in the original article published bu Reuters

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