Interpellation with citizens. Minister Bushati talks about new consular services in Milan and Athens

Bushati: Full standardization of service documents and procedures has significantly reduced corruptive phenomena and has increased transparency for our citizens.

Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Ditmir Bushati has today held an interpellation with a group of citizens receiving consular services at the Albanian Consulate in Milan and at the Albanian Embassy in Athens under the Co-Governance Platform. This interpellation, requested by the citizens as one of the best ways of direct communication with Minister Bushati, focused on the recognition, provision and organization of consular services, the procedures followed and the new digital methods or difficulties in using them.

Thanking the citizens for this initiative, Minister Bushati recalled that some years ago, Milan and Athens were two dark spots for what they offered for our compatriots. Although there is still much work to be done, the minister said there is significant improvement in this regard. Responding to the concerns of our compatriots in Greece, the minister mentioned as an important step the removal of the reserve for the apostille stamp, which had a sensitve effect of some 6.9 million euros in the pockets of citizens.

The implementation of the “GO” Platform was evaluated by the citizens as a positive achievement of the consular service. In the interest of their question, Minister Bushati said that in consular procedures, out of 187 documents needed for 39 services, their number was reduced to about 40% less, being reduced by 75 documents. Likewise, by serving the citizens’ needs in the most effective and timely way, according to the minister, all services today are booked and applied remotely online, in consultation with consular diplomats, via email and monitoring. Complete standardization of service documents and procedures has significantly reduced corruptive phenomena and has increased transparency to our citizens.

In addtion, the Minister spoke for 39 services in the consular representation offices of 12 countries such as Italy, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Kosovo, Croatia, Japan, Montenegro, Romania, Turkey and Switzerland, where citizens have the opportunity to draw civil status certificates and work in this regard is in the process for 9 other countries.
Responding to their interest in the emigrant vote, Minister Bushati said that there is a clear platform for materializing it in the upcoming parliamentary elections, but the political will is important. The Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Interior (MoI) are in the process of registering citizens abroad. At the end of the discussion, the minister said that he wants to continue this open communication where possible solutions are outlined for many issues that directly affect Albanian citizens outside their homeland.

Full interpellation

Thank you,

Hello everyone, both in Milan and Athens.

I want to thank you for this initiative you have undertaken to have this interpellation regarding the consular services we provide.I recall that some years ago, Milan and Athens were two dark spots regarding what we offered for our compatriots. I think that today we have a significant improvement but, on the other hand, there is a lot of work to be done and I am open together with the Secretary General to answer the questions you may have and to keep notes of the issues that we will have to deal with, in the coming months.

Thank you once again.

Questions from Albanian citizens living in Athens

A question about what is being done with Greece for the driving licenses. In addition, recognition of emigrants’ votes has not yet started.
Questions from Albanian citizens living in Milan
We would be interested to know what is being done with regard to cases of passport or driving license loss. as well as something about the issue of translations.

Answer by Minister Ditmir Bushati

Thank you for the questions that are concrete and have direct connection with the concerns of our compatriots living in Greece and Italy.
I am sarting with Greece.As you know, with the Greek government we have opened a large work site. Parts of this site are also issues related to the actuality, the daily life, you mentioned part of them.Starting from the apostille stamp, whose removal naturally had significant effects on the pockets of the citizens and in terms of the time that citizens spent on this practice and this procedure.

Secondly, with Greece, Athens, Thessaloniki and Ioannina, but mainly Athens and Thessaloniki, which are two consular offices with the greatest volume of work, we have managed to offer a good deal of services digitally without having you appear personally. Remember that it is a great help especially for Albanians living in the city, where the distance from Athens is remote. They will not have to leave the working day to appear at the embassy or consulate in Thessaloniki and Ioannina, unless physical presence is a necessity, such as in cases of application for a biometric passport or identification card.

In this package, the agreement on the mutual recognition of driving licenses is one of those agreements for which the Albanian Government has taken steps at maximum speed. We have exhausted all approval procedures. For us, this agreement is closed for the time being. On the other hand, the Greek party has not yet initiated the procedures for approving this agreement internally. So, both, Minister Kotzias and I, have already signed the agreement, but it will have to be approved by the Greek government, so that the parties will notify each other of the beginning of its effects.

You mentioned fines. I mention a number of documents issued by the respective General Directorate of Road Transport. Only in the last 3 years, there were issued over 188,000 documents, international driving licenses and they are mainly permissions for Albanian citizens going to Greece, or citizens living in Greece. Not to mention here the costs associated with the driving school, and so on. Rather than having us list them here, you know very well the practical effects of this agreement. What I want to guarantee on behalf of the Albanian state is our determination to work with the Greek party to implement this agreement thoroughly.Even in the contacts we had during this period, the last 2-3 weeks, despite the unfortunate incident that took place in Bularat, both in the Prime Minister’s contacts, and my contacts, we were on the same page regarding the need to pursue with determination to dismantle, one by one, all of the barriers that exist today between our two countries that have in the bottom line an impact in the lives of citizens.

I am very much hopeful that the Greek side finishes as soon as possible the procedure for this agreement, which is a routine and not a sophisticated agreement that would require the political will to be finalized; it is an agreement that deals with practical facilities it should provide to citizens.

Second, you talked about the need to further facilitate the consular service, especially for categories of people who today cannot use technology. I think we have made a qualitative move in this regard and it has been our perseverance and determination to digitize the service. Generally, people only see the outside, but on the other hand, for every application that is actually made to the consular system, we have a verification mechanism in Tirana, MEFA, as every application has a serial number and based on it, we have the opportunity to verify the way the team has provided service to our citizens and also verify any claims that may be raised. Today, we have moved to another stage. If until yesterday there were countless allegations of abuses, bribery and lack of responsibility in the exercise of duty by our consular post, today, the complaints that come are related to the speed and observation of deadlines that the law imposes for provision of such services.

Even within the consular staff themselves, there is often a fiery debate if certain categories are to be given assistance, but this does not translate into the former middlemen we used to see around our embassy in Athens or in Milan. In this regard, we have tried to assist people with disabilities, those of certain age, guiding our embassy staff and consular service to be flexible in certain cases.

The third issue, which is the absolute priority of this government, especially with the creation of the position of the Minister of State for Diaspora, is the vote of the Albanians outside their homeland. We believe that as soon as this aspiration materializes, then the Albanian politics will be several times more responsive to the needs and the exigencies, as you will be a determining voice even in the internal political developments. In this context, I want to inform you that some discussions have taken place in the Albanian Parliament, even with the participation of various international organizations that assist our country in this process. There is a clear platform for materializing in the upcoming parliamentary elections but, on the other hand, it is very important that a clear political will exists for this process. Until now, we have not heard any political formation in opposition to either oppose or have another alternative to this aspiration This makes us optimistic that in the other parliamentary elections, for the first time, we will enable or guarantee the vote of every Albanian citizen who lives out of the homeland. But on the other hand, you follow the political debate in Albania. We need to pass this process to the woes of a political and parliamentary understanding to pursue then with its guarantee in practice. Through normative acts and joint guidelines that we have issued with the MoI, we, as MEFA, are carrying out the process of registering Albanian citizens living abroad, because since you are present in the “GO” platform or physically go to the consulate for services that you have to be there, you fill out some data and we have the opportunity to verify with your co-operation these data, thus gradually guaranteeing the necessary infrastructure that will need in place to implement this priority for upcoming parliamentary elections.
We ourselves, if I add something in this context, pay great attention to the community outside the homeland. This government organized the first Diaspora Summit where we had the opportunity to create a clear map of contributions, associations, individuals who live and work outside the homeland.

Actually, we have a richer database than two years ago. Next year, in March, we will organize the second Diaspora Summit. I believe, through these processes, we will be able to lay out the channeling track of willpower, above all the political willpower of Albanians living abroad, in the domestic political developments. There is no rhetoric when we say that you have been the functioning backbone of the Albanian economy even in its most difficult days, it is now the moment we have to work for you.

Answer to the question of Albanian citizens living in Milan

First, even here the nature of the questions is of a practical character, I have to make a differentiation that is necessary. All these policies aimed at facilitating the provision of services cannot in fact be unilateral policies. In many cases, the will of the other party is needed so that these policies are implemented in practice and the effects are immediate for the citizens.

I can say that with Italy we have certainly gone somewhat deeper than with Greece. I can recall a few years ago, when for the first time we were able to provide the online certificate, with no need for a citizen living in Italy to come, que up and wait a few days at the registry office. In this regard, we have done some good work with the Italian government, but as we say, ‘appetite comes with eating’, and in this context we are looking for other opportunities that would facilitate the provision of services or the access to our consular counters by Albanian citizens who live in Italy.Actually, you may ask for a passing permit, you can make an application online without having to appear at the consular counters. We are looking at the possibility and we believe in few weeks we will realize even what you have highlighted about those unfortunate cases where citizens lose their passport. Currently, you have to go to the police first and then from police to the consular counter. We will try to remove one of the links, i.e. the police, so that you can automatically go to the consular counter to reduce the time it takes to have the lost passport replaced.

I will take this opportunity to also make a notification that has a sensitizing effect for next year. Based on the inventory we possess as a state, 2009 has been a critical year in terms of issuing biometric passports for Albanian citizens living abroad. There is a large number of passports that were provided in 2009. The coming year coincides with the expiration of these passports, as they are valid for a 10-year term. We are working with the MoI, with the company that has the concession for the passport preparation process, to better manage this process. I am mainly talking about personal data management, it is a process that, besides requiring maximum precision, asks for a certain timeframe. Our goal is to halve this time limit. Currently it is 4 to 8 weeks. We prefer to have it reduced to two weeks.

The next question related to certification of the translation of documents. There is a bureaucratic and costly process in place, as there are two links involved in it, embassies and the ministry. We have agreed with the Italian government to shorten this process. We would like to avoid one of the links which in this case would be the embassy. Thus, the certification and translation process will be taken over by the ministry and this will reduce not only the time but also the financial costs for the citizens who will need to receive this service. Our service and tariff policy for consular services has been steadily declining and cost has been reduced. We know that there is a lot to be done in terms of further improvement with regard to delivery of our consular services. At the end of the day, with you, the people who face every day with the difficulties or improvements that we offer in delivering these services, we want to continue an open communication where we can outline together possible solutions to other issues that in our viewpoint have been not yet resolved.

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