New Albanian PM vows less reliance on remittances

AP News
Posted: Sep 11, 2013 2:39 PM
New Albanian PM vows less reliance on remittances

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania's new Socialist prime minister is promising to make his country less reliant on remittances from migrant workers by creating 300,000 jobs at home.

Prime Minister Edi Rama formally presented his policies Wednesday to parliament at the start of a two-day debate to confirm nominations for his 20-member cabinet. The 49-year-old Socialist leader will be formally sworn in later this month.

Rama warned that Albania's economy is in troubled waters, and said he would seek advice from the International Monetary Fund.

"We shall talk closely with the IMF ... to understand how deep the crisis is and get advice and help on how to respond to the threat of its explosion," Rama said.

The former communist country has relied for decades on money sent home by hundreds of thousands of immigrants living in Italy and neighboring Greece, which have been significantly reduced in recent years. Growth in Albania has slowed since those two countries were hit by the financial crisis.

Albania has a population of just over 3 million and up to 1 million other Albanians are estimated to be working abroad.

Rama won a landslide election victory in June, defeating conservative Prime Minister Sali Berisha on pledges of fighting widespread corruption and bringing the NATO member closer to its goal of joining the European Union.

"Albania is our homeland while Europe is our future," Rama said.

His new government will be formed in alliance with a junior partner, the Socialist Movement for Integration Party of Ilir Meta, a 44-year-old former prime minister.

Rama, a former mayor of the capital Tirana, rose to prominence with a popular campaign to brightly decorate the facades of austere Communist-era apartment blocks. His new Cabinet is filled political newcomers and includes six women — an unprecedented step in Albania.

Unemployment currently stands at 12.8 percent. But the Socialists argue the jobless rate is hugely underreported because many rural residents are typically not counted.

Rama's new government is promising to transform the economy "from one based on remittances, international aid with soft loans, privatization income, self-employment in agriculture, small retails shops, and construction ... to one based on production," according to the government program.

It promises to ease taxes on medium-sized businesses and reform the revenue system, abandoning a 10 percent flat tax on personal income in favor of a scaled framework.

Albania remains one of Europe's poorest countries, with a minimum wage salary of 21,000 leks ($210; €150) per month.