This article has been written for Albanian Free Press newspaper and www.afp.al
By Plator Nesturi
The unexpected decision announced by Rama’s government to suspend the registration of land properties benefited through law 7051 in coastal areas, has sparked numerous reactions. Critics point out that such decision taken by the Council of Ministers is a violation of the law and Constitution, preventing people to exert their right of benefiting land properties even through a law which has been contested for years by real owners of the land. Others think that this decision abrogates law 7051 and that real owners can take their properties back and this is seen with positivity. But what is the truth and what is the aim of this incentive? One of the conditions imposed by the EU for the issue of the country’s integration relates to the property on land. Can this decision be viewed as a step to give the property to its real owner or could it just act as another trick for others to benefit? The details of the law are not yet ready, but from the articles of the decision we can see that the decision mainly concerns the coastline, where tourism has a priority and that this decision may serve as an attempt to put a stop to abusiveness, because these plots of lands have not been agricultural lands, which could be divided under law 7051. Secondly, by blocking their registration, based on feasibility studies on these areas, they could develop as part of the strategy on tourism or they may be used to compensate former owners from other areas. In other words, this means that by blocking the registration of land plots under 7051, their ownership is passed on to the state and not in favor of former owners and this sparks a fresh debate, because the state has no right to appropriate something which does not belong to it and even less to give the land to the people that the state wishes to, be them strategic investors in the sector of tourism or people who need to be compensated through these lands situated in the coastline. We need to wait and see what explanation the authorities will have for this decision, however, this issue will certainly prompt debates, also given the form how the sector of tourism is being handled and the fact that the government’s strategy on tourism has many gaps, which in many cases, cause more problems rather than offering solutions for sustainable development.
The law on tourism has been revised many times throughout the years. Since 2007, when the EU requested the country to draft a bill which would regulate this important and little exploited sector, different parliamentary majorities have made changes and amendments to this law. This was an incessant effort to regulate the Albanian tourist season at any cost, but it seems that this sector has determined its own rules and continues to function with or without the rules imposed by the state. Without pretending too much, but without offering too much either, for as long as Albania doesn’t yet have a complementary law on tourism, which determines precise and standard rules for tourism. There isn’t even have a proper government strategy on tourism in place, which would determine the pillars of long-term national action plan and which would also act as a driving force for tourism. If all of this existed, then we could pretend on having a proper offer from the tourism of this country, which, despite the scary “expansion” of accommodation outlets, bars and restaurants, it’s still far from the standards that guarantee high qualities. For years now, the ministry of Tourism is not doing anything but make “amendments” in a law which the World Organization of Tourism drafted ten years ago, through the Dutch assistance. Since then, this law has been amended several times, while the ministry of Tourism has declared that it’s revising it. It has also claimed that it is consolidating the so called strategy on tourism, which in fact was shaped by the previous government. But political rotations in Albania have not only been political ones. They have also attempted to offer new approaches with the aim of finding a sophisticated legal framework to improve this country’s tourism. But, it looks as if this sector is perfectly able to survive without them. This sector has even managed to offer a big lesson to politics, offering more money to the state budget and showing that while the state is in search of a strategy, this sector is looking to survive. It is a known fact that struggle for survival brings out the best of everyone. This seems to be the case for tourism too. Perhaps, this is the key to its success.
According to the new strategy of the ministerial team which covers this tourism, there will be extra attention to environment and urban development. This is what the Albanian side is recently trying to offer in the aspect of tourism, in an attempt to emphasize the undeniable role that each of these elements has, so in the end, we can at last pretend for quality tourism. Albania is very interesting in its kind, because it inherits a true amalgam of these elements and this makes it one of those countries of the region with a tradition in tourism. For this, minister Klosi has said that he will launch another revision and another amendment of the law on tourism to harmonize development factors. This is something positive, but we should not forget the fact that many leading world companies in the domain of tourism, have not arrived here because the country still hasn’t solved the issue concerning property ownership. Other state institutions, which should solve this problem, come to play here. It’s a paradox that in the southern coastline, where tourism has real potential, the level of registration of properties is still the lowest in the country. This doesn’t only bring a lack of investments by leading foreign companies in our coastline, but these companies will not even risk investing in a territory where the owner is not known. Problems in the registration of properties become an obstacle for development plans that the Albanian government has. The case of Himara, where the issue of ownership on the land, has lead to a clash which has been lasting for a year now, with periods of pause in between, shows that the state is unable to perform its obligations toward the citizens.
Another factor which may have irreparable repercussions in the sector of tourism relates to the issuing of permits for tourist resorts without following any criteria. Albania has a coastline which cannot become longer than it is. If endless construction permits are issued, then this may turn into a boomerang. Tourist villages which have been built and continue to be built are not proper tourist villages, because in most cases, they consist of residential blocs filled with villas and apartments which are sold to people and they don’t function as tourist villages. This way, they simply turn into residential blocs which have nothing to do with tourism. So, the coastline will lose its value in generating incomes from tourism. It will turn into a quick profit from the sales that construction companies make, but they will have serious consequences for the future of tourism. The best locations of the coast will be filled with houses and private villas, turning everything like Saranda and the idea of competing with the countries of the region in the domain of tourism will simply be lost as an unexploited idea.
Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Albanian Free Press’ editorial policy