An inspection of the State Social Service in Selenica municipality finds out that at least 47 folders have had fake documents. Local officials say that the process of cleansing the lists has started, whereas the people responsible for the identified abuses will be sent to the prosecutor’s office. But the beneficiaries of the economic aid oppose these measures, as the economic aid is their only source of living.
By Kristina Fidhi
In Selenica municipality, in Vlora, a special office locally named as the Agriculture Office has supplied with fake documents some 47 folders of beneficiaries of the economic aid. This office has delivered certifications that prove that these beneficiaries do not possess any land, whereas during an inspection of the State Social Service (SSS) in Vlora, this has been considered as abuse and misuse of duty. According to the Inspection Act, compiled after the inspection done on 19.02.2014, the families that were benefitting a full aid have caused a financial harm of 1,036,174 lekë, an amount that will be liquidated within a year.
Albert Bombaj, beneficiary of economic aid
Albert Bombaj, beneficiary of the economic aid scheme, thinks that this has been an unfair penalty, as it has impinged even more his insufficient incomes. “I am a debtor towards this office now. Out of 42 thousand leke that I was receiving I get only 15 thousand leke. I do not have land, my wife has, but that is a salty land. We do not produce anything from that land, we just till some just for ourselves”, admits Albert. He does not hesitate to state that it has been rather easy to get a certification that he did not have any land. “What can I say; it was not difficult, they knew, we needed it for the economic aid. Then, it was not only for me. All here, in more or less do have a piece of land. There are also families that do have land, but are also very poor. What money can they till the land with? Poverty has suffocated us. I work as a painter, but I do not have job every day”, says Albert, accepting that by doing this he has violated even the other criteria on benefiting the economic aid; that of being employed.
SSS that has taken the measure to remove from the lists of the economic aid tens of families through the inspection act that was carried out by the beginning of this year, states the misuse of duty of the Agriculture office and economic aid of Selenica municipality, but according to the director, Ines Stasa, SSS does not have the competence to issue penalties to the office workers of the local government units. “It is not our responsibility to check, manage or direct the local government unit. We control only a specific part. I know that Selenica municipality does have salty land and these are not called lands. Even if the person does have a title of property, the land being salty is not considered by the law to be calculated in the incomes, or like those other criteria that are standard for the law of the economic aid. Nevertheless every office is managed by the mayor of the commune or municipality and it is his/her institutional competence on how he/she manages it. At the moment that we find some discrepancies then it enters to our competences”, explains Stasa.
Ines Stasa, director of the Vlora State Social Service
Being asked if she believes that the office has issued fake certifications only due to the fact that they would serve for the economic aid, Stasa responds that this is a situation encountered in most of the local government units monitored so far. “In most municipalities or units, as you may have seen too often, the social administrator works to other positions such as the civil status officer, he gives the agricultural certificates, he also makes another job in the tax office, hence there is a disorder and anomaly on the way how our local units are managed, which would also produce such anomalies that we have encountered, but that is not our competence. Nevertheless, no matter how much we talk, the issue depends on the way and the vision of the mayor of the local unit. In this way the citizen understands that there is a single person that issues all certifications for a particular issue not only for the economic aid, but the commune and the municipality provide different kind of certifications as well. In this respective case, due to the fact that the law leaves space for interpretations, misinterpretations or gaps there should be seen case by case every family if it can be called abusive under this context”, concludes the director of Vlora SSS.
Like Albert, ten of other employees, who also served for many years to the well known bitumen mine, go out early in the morning in the town square ruined by the time. Most of them manage to work no more than 10-12 days a month. In Selenica live 6800 people with an average of their incomes per capita lower than the country’s average.
Refat Zaçaj, former employee of the bitumen mine in Selenica is among the first who joined the social assistance scheme 23 years ago. Although the law stipulates that after three years the beneficiary must leave the scheme or to perform community service to benefit such income, this has never occurred in Selenica. Indeed, since 1991 the number of people who have asked for fictitious division to benefit from the scheme is really high. Actually, 26 families result to be one person family within the list of 141 families. Refati is one of them. “I have worked on loading- unloading my whole life, but there is no job any more. I get this aid, but what can I do with it; it is only 26 thousand Leke. I have regularly received this aid, but it is enough only for a week’s bread. I go out early in the morning and wait for any job to the town’s square. They get me to do any construction work, bring stones or mortar. It is now 20 days that I have not worked and I am looking forward receiving the aid of this month, to pay the bills”, says Refat, the 58 year old man.
Qerem Veliaj, beneficiary of the economic aid
Qerem Veliaj, who is soon turning 60, says that when he learned that the entire city was receiving a payment from the municipality, he decided to join the scheme. “I live alone; I work on nuts and olives. They take me when there is some work to be done. It is some 2-3 years that I get the economic aid. I have thought that is was not worth to do all these things just for a handful of flour. But when I saw that the whole town was getting it, I said to myself: Am I silly? I brought those letters and I got it, I deserved it. Now that they removed most of the families, I remained as I fulfil those criteria”, confesses Qerem, a beneficiary of the economic aid scheme in Selenica.
Qeremi is also not aware that one of the criteria for inclusion in the scheme is to be unemployed. “I have not ever been social insured since the time that I have worked in the farm. I do not know what happened with those years as well. I work like everybody, as we will not stay without working. If I had expected for the money of the social aid, I would have died by now”, says Qerimi at the presence of the local administrator of this municipality.
Etleva Bisha, general director of the SSS states for www.investigim that there are many people like these ones in all regions and not only in Vlora. “In our discussions with the colleagues from different districts we have inspected that hundreds of people are beneficiaries of the social aid. Of course, this is not normal, because that person could be in the working age and results on benefitting economic aid, even from the social insurance scheme. In the near future, to this person will emerge problems related to his security and retirement payment that he will get, and at the same time he remains a contingent that will always get leke from the state budget”, says Bisha.
Etleva Bisha, General director of State Social Service
Asked on who is responsible to prove that an individual does not work at a time that most of these people worked in black, Bisha explains that this relates to the role of social administrator and the mayor, who know each resident of their territory. “It is widely known that these people work illegally as otherwise the confirmations for their employment would have come from the institutions; thus it is the responsibility of the administrator to monitor the family or person consistently, because at the moment he is offered a job he must be automatically removed from the economic aid scheme. Hence, the social administrator must be professional and qualified, because it must be him/her who must follow the beneficiary from the moment he enters the scheme until he gets out of it, especially when he/she becomes part of the labour market”, further explains the SSS director, Etleva Bisha.
Orjeta Mishtaku, the Selenica municipality’s administrator for the economic aid and disability payment shows that all claimants have been able to provide the respective documentation from the offices that confirm the criteria to be beneficiaries, hence it has never functioned as a barrier the fact that almost 100% of the beneficiaries of this list work on the black market. Even more, the most flagrant case according to the Inspection Act of the Vlora SSS is that of the treatment with the economic aid of a person that is a public employee. Dritan Mynyr Gargaj, a teacher at “Todi Koceli” school, being employed to this position since 09.26.2008 onwards has caused a financial damage of 600 thousand Leke, an amount that he must turn back now.
Orjeta Mishtaku, administrator of economic aid in Selenica municipality
“We did not have any information on this case and he was immediately removed from the list after this violation was found,” says the administrator Mishtaku. She also speaks about the overstuffed lists with fictitious beneficiaries. “Only in December the number of families receiving the aid was 210 and it was immediately reduced to 142 families in January. But what to do, all of them are poor and do bring the documents,” says Orjeta Mishtaku. Being asked if the municipality was aware of the issue on regard to the fictitious land certificates, she says that their release was seen as a favour to the poor people of this municipality.
“We knew that the certificates were not valid, but our office has issued them only for the economic aid. I have visited the families. They are very poor people. There are among those, people, who are not living so badly, but what can we do, they have brought the documents. They meet the criteria stipulated by the law,” says Mishtaku.
However, the Selenica municipality had to re-examine the list of beneficiaries by end of last year, reducing a large number of families who had received the aid up to that point. The chaotic situation by the end of last year and the redesigning of the list brought lack of payment to every beneficiary for January 2014. Mishtaku justifies this situation with the lack of any response from the responsible institutions regarding the supportive documents, but also negligence from the side of the claimants to bring on time their requests.
“The documents were not ready on time. It is the responsibility of our office, but also of the beneficiaries that brought late their applications and of the institutions that did not answer on time. So, SSS decided not to allocate the funds for January. Along with those that had problems or uncompleted folders were penalized all the families and this was unrecoverable, “concludes her argument the social administrator of Selenica municipality.
But the director of SSS in Vlora, Ines Stasa, explains that the level of irregularities and misuse of duty in many local units reaches worrying levels. In the current case, Stafa informs that her institution has suspended the delivery of the economic aid due to the irregularities encountered so far. “From our side it is not allowed to make payments at the moment that we do not have complete documentation. How can we distribute Lek in cash if the person does not try to fulfil his/her own folder? By beginning of every year the families must fulfil the documentation and I refer here to the claimants, as they are considered to be beneficiaries only at the moment when they enter the economic aid scheme. Now, at the moment that they have not brought the documents, they have not fulfilled the document of declaration of their family, and I refer to the 141 families, we cannot do anything”, says the director. According to her, they have carried out inspections in January and by checking the process on how the documents have been fulfilled, there have been identified irregularities that cannot be overlooked.
“We have to either put this kind of discipline right at this moment to have all documents in a uniform way and in accordance to the law, or it is not worthy to carry out routine inspections that will lead to nowhere”, says Stasa. Regarding the fact that the penalties have risked to be collective, something which has been admitted by some of the beneficiaries, Stasa informs that: “Nobody has been correct with the documentation, as the social administrator himself has not opened any folder in a correct way, no folder at the sense that there has not been signed any certification on being old inhabitant, there were missing documents that had to be part of the documentation. Therefore, none of the claimants is considered by us a beneficiary as long as the documentation is not correct”.
The SSS put the responsibility for the cancelled fund of the economic aid to the social administrator of Selenica municipality, who according to Stasa” does have the responsibility to help the claimer by firstly informing him what documents are needed, and secondly she must clearly explain to them the timeframe, as the claimer may bring the documents that belong to January in February, just because he does not know it. ‘I brought the documents; you have to give me now the economic aid’, but it does not work like that, as everything depends on deadlines. Firstly the information must be very accurate and this is part of the administrator’s duty. It is neither part of the awareness nor anything else, but simply a task that has not been performed in this case, “concludes Stasa, the director of Vlora SSS.
The General Director of SSS, Etleva Bisha announces that after the inspections held in more than 230 local government units in the whole country, there have been removed from the economic aid scheme more than 11 thousand families that were unfairly exploiting the state budget, by occupying this way the place of the families in need. On the other hand, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Youth is piloting the program “”Albania solidarity” in three regions of Tirana, Elbasan, Durres, in order to accurately target poverty and to identify the deep abuses with the public funds.
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