The Buzz in Albania: Interview with Elisabeta Nezaj of A.R.S. Legal and Financial Services

The Buzz in Albania: Interview with Elisabeta Nezaj of A.R.S. Legal and Financial Services

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"Albania right now has a loaded political and economic situation,” says A.R.S. Legal & Financial Services Manager and Attorney at Law Elisabeta Nezaj, "considering the earthquake that hits on November 26th." That 6.4-magnitude earthquake that hit northwestern Albania was felt mainly in Durres and Tirana and as far away as Taranto and Belgrade, ultimately killing 51 people in the country — making it the world’s deadliest earthquake in 2019 — and causing massive damage to homes and infrastructure. According to her, "all government bodies are focused on providing help for the people who suffered from this event, and we are taking support from other governments to reconstruct the buildings that were damaged.”

Turning to a less grim subject, Nezaj considers the ongoing discussions between the various Balkan countries to create a mini-Schengen zone. Kosovo is the only state in the region that is against it, she says, "in light of its problem with Serbia. And of course Albania, in my opinion, will not enter without Kosovo — we are brothers — so it is unclear how they will deal with this, with the political aspect.” Still, the potential economic benefits are substantial, and she notes that “we are only in the negotiation process.”

Another source of potential development in the country, she says, is the vetting/evaluation process of judges and prosecutors that continues pursuant to Albania's Law on the Transitional Re-Evalutation of Judges and Prosecutors (Law 84/2016), passed in 2016 to address what was believed to be rampant corruption in the judiciary (studies at the time showed that as much as 76% of Albanians believed that the country’s judiciary was corrupt). At least in the short term, Nezaj says, the fallout is significant. “it has created an overload on the system, as some judges have been dismissed and others resigned as a result — including judges sitting on cases which had already started.” She sighs. “Those cases had to start again, sometimes after as much as three years. It complicates our work, and of course clients aren’t happy about it.” Still, on balance she says the process is necessary, and she says it is expected to have an overall positive effect. “Based on the criteria they’re applying,” Nezaj says, “I think it’s something good for our judicial system.”

In addition, she refers to the positive effects of the new fiscal package that went into effect at the beginning of 2019, which included changes to the Profit Tax of 15%. That tax, she explains, is now only imposed on businesses reporting over ALL 14 million, instead of the previous ALL 8 million, providing both an incentivize for local business “and also making it a bit more attractive, perhaps, for foreign companies to invest in Albania."

In general, Nezaj says, 2019 was a relatively good year in Albania — at least before the events of November 26. "I think the economy of Albania before the earthquake was stable,” she says. “In the beginning of the year the country increased the minimum salary, which helped people. We have a relatively poor population, of course, but our government — step by step — is trying to take initiatives to help groups that are weaker than others, and —step by step — to increase the economic stability in Albania.”