Albanian Govt Plan to Secretly Extend Airport Contract Condemned

The main opposition has slated secretive plans by Edi Rama's Socialist government to extend the concession to run the country's sole international airport - now in the hands of a company seen as close to Rama's administration.
The Albanian government under Prime Minister Edi Rama has secretly proposed to extend the contract for the private management of Tirana International Airport from 22 to 35 years, parliamentary submissions show.
The draft contract is not being published and is classified as a secret; the explanatory note accompanying the proposal says Tirana International Airport sh.p.k., the operating company, has undertaken to invest some 100 million euros in exchange for the extension to the contract.
Endri Fuga, spokesperson for Prime Minister Rama, did not respond to questions from BIRN by the time of publication on why the government had decided to award the extension on the quiet and without competition.
The centre-right opposition Democratic Party leader, Lulzim Basha, called the move unlawful and said the concession would be overturned one day. “The airport will be returned to the people …[and] Albania will be returned to the Albanians,” Basha wrote on Twitter.
The original concession agreement was awarded in 2004 to a consortium of foreign companies for 20 years. The agreement provided for the investment of share capital of 9,375,000 euros. It also contained an exclusivity clause for the airport, so creating a monopoly.
The concession was profitable. Financial data analyzed by BIRN shows that the company made a net profit of 131 million euros in the period 2009-2019.
Ownership of the concession meanwhile changed hands many times. In December last year, a locally owned group of companies, Kastrati, owned by Shefqet Kastrati, purchased it for 70 million euros.
The costly purchase surprised many, since the airport by then had been hit by COVID-19 crisis, and the contract expires in 2027. Although the company made a net profit of 20 million euros for 2019, revenues and profit margins are expected to take a big hit from the pandemic for at least two or three years.
The government proposal to extend the airport contract for 13 more years improves Kastrati’s chances of recovering the money it spent on the purchase.
Kastrati emerged as a major partner to Rama’s Socialist-led government over the last few years. In 2017, it won a competition to operate the highway connecting Albania with Kosovo.
Earlier, in 2014, it received permission to build a private seaport dedicated to fuel imports. Last year, parliament allowed Kastrati to operate the port not only for fuel imports but also for other goods.