Exit Explains: The Concession Agreement for the Management of Butrint National Park – Exit
After previously keeping the plan secret, citing economic confidentiality, the Albanian government released the full business plan for running Butrint National Park in the south of the country as a foundation.
Butrint is one of the most important archaeological sites in Albania and has an immense wealth of cultural, historical and natural values and is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Park. It contains archaeological sites and relics dating back to the 10th century BC.
Today it is a popular tourist destination, attracting thousands of visitors each year. It is accessible via the purchase of a ticket and the site has a small cafe and a souvenir shop.
Last Tuesday, the assembly began to discuss a draft law “On the approval of the agreement for the administration of the cultural heritage and cultural landscape sub-zones of Butrint National Park between the Ministry of Culture and Management Foundation of Butrint”.
The ancient city of Butrint will be managed by a non-public entity
In 2020, a law was passed to pave the way for control of the area by the Ministry of Culture and a “strategic partner”. The change was part of the “Butrint National Park Integrated Management Plan”, a three hundred page document approved by the government. The document was drafted by a British law firm called Price and Pearce who were engaged and financially supported by the Albanian American Development Foundation (AADF).
AADF is also involved in the development of the Pyramid of Tirana and is a non-profit organization registered in Delaware, USA. Other economic activities in Albania include a minority stake in the concession to produce passports and identity cards.
This would place Butrint, for the first time in its history, in the hands of a non-public entity. The ministry had then declared that a foundation would be created and subject to the legislation on non-profit organisations.
At the time, the AADF said it might be interested in being part of the project, although that would mean it was involved in drafting the law that would allow it to be part of the project. Now it has been confirmed that they will be involved as the bill says they are handling it for 10 years in exchange for a $5 million grant.
Meanwhile, the Albanian government will inject into Butrint’s coffers all the money that has not been used so far. The site generates around $1 million a year, but currently, only 30% is used to run it.
The news raised concerns at the time, with researcher Agron Alibali saying putting Butrint in the hands of a foundation is a violation of the Paris Convention as it states that the state should be solely responsible for administering the funds. cultural goods.
Neritan Ceka, an archaeologist, said no archaeologist was involved in the plan.
But the discussion which began in parliament last week sparked controversy after the bill failed to publicize the agreement between the government and the AADF.
Opposition MP Ina Zhupa claimed that “Butrint is granted as a concession by secret agreement” and there was no certainty as to who was involved. She also noted that the government did not include the economy committee, as required by law.
The opposition asked that the meeting be postponed until the document and all the information were available in full, but the meeting continued.
Culture Minister Elva Margariti admitted the deal was classified, but only because of the economics of the business plan. She added that this was also being kept secret as it could be misinterpreted by MPs.
She said the format of managing sites through foundations could be extended to other cultural heritage sites. The minister also confirmed that the state has mechanisms for monitoring the foundation that will operate Butrint and can intervene in case of mismanagement.
But keeping the exact details of the deal secret has led to much debate in parliament and allegations that the government is selling out Albanian heritage.
Prime Minister Edi Rama reacted strongly during the parliamentary debate, calling the critics “un-American” and calling the opposition fools.
“The stupidity in your family is a contagious disease because there is no other way to explain it is inherited from generation to generation,” Rama said, adding, “You have in the DNA of your party to inherit stupidity from generation to generation”.
The plan will see Butrint include shops, cafes and various leisure initiatives. He also plans to increase the ticket price from $6 to $11 over seven years, which will result in a profit of $1.5 million at the end of that period. It predicts visitors will increase to 296,000 from 236,000 before the pandemic.
The food and beverage aspect of the plan will net $296,000 under the plan. At the end of the first seven years, total revenue is expected to be $3.7 million, including $1.5 million in profit. The agreement stipulates that profits are retained by the foundation.
In addition, the current 14 employees will be increased to 44 with salaries higher than regular public administration salaries.
A council will also be created which will cost $140,000 per year. Its members currently include Minister Elva Margariti, AADF leaders Martin Mata and Aleksander Sarapuli, lawyer Flonja Borici, President of the American University of Rome Richard Andrew Hodges and archaeologist Lorenc Bejko as executive director. .