Speech of Prime Minister Edi Rama at the meeting with young Italian entrepreneurs and industrialists:
First of all I want to express my deepest gratitude to Marco and all his fellow travelers on this visit organized in a short time, because we have already met and confronted in the Convention of Young Industrialists. For me, this is a very important stage in a process that we sought and supported together with our dear friend, Mr. Ambassador, who is counting the days before leaving us for a most important task, according to the Italian authorities. Although I proposed him to take the Albanian citizenship and go to Rome as an Albanian ambassador. But if the new task will not meet his expectations, there is always the possibility for him to come back to this country and to represent it with more dignity and authority.
I also want to thank the Union of the Chambers of Commerce, the new President of the Union for organizing this meeting, which I wish will be very encouraging for our guests.
Hoping for your understanding, now I want to continue to in Albanian, because otherwise critics will have to deal with useless issues, instead of focusing on more important issues than this.
It is very important that this process started with Italy, in order to convey an ongoing and substantial message to Italian entrepreneurship, has reached this stage where it is represented by very honorable young Italian industrialists, open minded and with the right spirit of adventure, who are willing to confront themselves with the opportunities provided by Albania, and to explore on the one hand the opportunities for direct investments in Albania, and on the other hand the opportunities of cooperation with Albanian enterprises.
I am very pleased to see here a significant number of representatives of Albanian enterprises, who have already reached a new stage, and are willing to be confronted and to cooperate with foreign enterprises. And the fact that they are so many on a car-free day is very encouraging, because in coming here I expected to meet only with Italians, but actually there are very few absences, which shows that all those who have walked here are more than curious to meet people and to discuss with them.
I would like to bring to your attention something pointed out by our friend, and I am privileged to say my friend, the President of the Young Industrialists, who listed some conditions. The necessary conditions for anyone who is willing to start a business. I was impressed, because he mentioned taxes in the end, not at the beginning. He talked about legalità, which is necessary for creating an environment where the game rules are applied to everybody, in addition to being guaranteed. So, competitiveness will not be prevented from following its natural course, and will not be deformed by processes like the ones we have continuously had to deal with, culminating in totally unacceptable court decisions.
In this view, I believe that we are doing a job that has never been done before, and we are putting our efforts in two directions. On the one hand, we are trying to create the necessary conditions that will prevent informality from being such a serious obstacle, as it has been so far, for competitiveness in economy, and on the other hand we want to create the conditions that will eventually allow Albania to reform the justice system, reform that will not be just another bundle of papers in the legislative process, but an instrument that will help us overturn the corrupt justice system, in addition to creating the conditions for justice to not be any more a commodity to be bought or sold. Mr. President talked about the administration. We are doing our utmost to push the administration towards a new stage, but let me remind you that we have started with ourselves. Since we took office, we have inherited a mountain of accumulated debts to enterprises for contracts that had remain unpaid. Then I learned, and I was very much pleased, that we are similar also in this respect, because you also have some issued with the Italian government that hasn’t repaid you yet for the contracts.
Actually, for us these are the months in which we are finally writing off debts. We had 720 million US dollars, which for our economy are a lot. They were accumulated debts to enterprises for contracts in infrastructure, in service supply for hospitals, schools, and a huge quantity of non-reimbursed VAT. So, it was a loan taken by force by the state from the pockets of entrepreneurs, and which would put the state in a stronger position face to entrepreneurs. At this point, I believe that we have succeeded in putting back the state into a position equal to that of entrepreneurship, where both parties have not only rights but also obligations. Whereas, through the previous government, our state was used to recognize to itself only rights, and no obligation.
Mr. President talked about transparency, and for us this is a process where we must constantly and by all means increase transparency face to entrepreneurship. Actually, today we are at a crucial moment of a war with informality which will not stop, and where we will not retrocede even one millimeter, because there are a lot of entrepreneurs, whether large or small businesses, who trade illegal goods today. They have been used for many years to declare some of it, not all of it. I will give you just one example to understand what level informality has reached in Albania. Up to 90% of the large distributers operate with cash registers, as if they were small businesses. So, large distributors operate like retail traders. Meanwhile, most of the retail traders are not issued any tax receipt for the commodities they buy.
We are of course aware that this is a process where, first of all, transparency is of fundamental importance, before punishment is applied. What we offer to entrepreneurs today is not an amnesty. There will not be any kind of amnesty and any kind of tolerance towards anyone who will ask for more time while continuing to breach the law. What we offer is self-regulation. We offer them the opportunity to declare what they have hidden so far without any consequences. So, there will be no consequences, if they declare what they have been hiding. And they are required to hurry up and do this today, because if they are tomorrow subject to control, they will have to face legal consequences. So, nobody is hindering them. On the contrary, both small and large businesses are encouraged to declare the goods they have still unregistered and kept in a condition of illegality, because of the evasion that has been going on for years, and in doing so they will also regulate their position face to tax authorities. This will spare them any kind of legal punishment, in addition to putting them in a position of equality and transparency face to the state.
Mr. President talked also about taxes and labor costs. You know that Albania is at this point the country where what you dream of in Italy, here has become reality. You can keep dreaming of it in Italy, but I am afraid that you will have to wait for your grandchildren in order to see it become reality. Although, I am not pretty sure about this because taxes will go up and down as a general rule. But in Albania you know that taxation is very simple. 15% independently of the profit. On the other hand, our labor force cost is today the lowest and the most competitive across Europe. Of course, it belongs to a certain stage in history, and it will not be endlessly like this because opportunities and response to demands will increase, but this is the moment to take advantage of it for some years, and to achieve success here in Albania.
On the other hand we have passed to very important laws, the law on strategic investments, where we have created the most favorable and the most guaranteed framework for every enterprise operating with investments in sectors that are deemed to be strategic for us, and the law on tourism which creates a new space for all those who are willing to invest in this sector here in Albania.
I would like to conclude by saying that those who choose to invest in Albania today, without waiting that everything is ok, will regret tomorrow if they don’t do this investment today. When everything is ok, there will be no more need for your spirit of adventure. Your spirit of adventure is needed today.
In addition, I am very grateful to Marco and to all of you also for another reason. For we have talked not only about what you can invest in Albania, but also about the know-how that you can bring with you, a new culture of entrepreneurship and of the relationship between entrepreneurship and the government. The Italian Prime Minister and his government are doing their utmost to be the voice of entrepreneurship and an incentive to break down the barriers raised over many years by many factors, actors and bodies in Italy. While you do this battle over there, here you have everything ready to start and make things reality.
We are very happy to tell you one more thing. Here in Albania everybody understands Italian very well, the majority of people can even speak it, and all Italian enterprises in Albania, all those who have invested in Albania have so far testified that they have done the right investment, have found the right environment and the right people, and not only have had profits but also a great satisfaction.
For in the end, and in many respects, Albania is part of Italy. In many respects. From the geographical point of view, the climate, the mindset, the social point of view. So, I believe it is a real ground for investing without feeling that you are investing in a foreign country. Every Italian investing in Albania does actually invest in an unknown part of Italy. And every day of work with Albanians proves Italian investors that we are basically two different people, but having quite the same typology as a society and human being. Of course, you have Leonardo Da Vinci, and we have Skanderbeg, but if we consider it from today’s point of view, you look like Leonardo as much as today’s Greeks look like Plato, and we look like Skanderbeg as much as you look like Leonardo.
Thank you very much.