"I would frankly
admit that Albania is a 'hidden jewel' in Europe, and what has struck me are
the people, their hospitality, the natural beauties of the country from south
to north, east and west," Mr, Brian
Williams, United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative
In an exclusive
interview with Albanian Daily News, Mr. Williams pointed out that it was an
exciting time to be in Albania, where there is a dynamic environment as many,
many critical reforms are underway. And the critical ones are being discussed
in public such as for example, the rule
of law, free and fair elections, and he thought that the biggest overall issue
was trust in institutions most dramatically seen in the judicial reform and
widespread perceptions of corruption.
reform, including the vetting process, is a top priority, for it is the
institution that guarantees the basis for that trust across all other
institutions, public and private," said Ambassador Brian Williams in the
- Your Excellency, you have been in Albania
for over a year now being the United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP
Resident Representative in this Balkan country. In the first place, how do you
find your position as UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative?
- It is a privilege to serve the United Nations which is the
major foundation of the aspiration for peace based on human rights. Indeed the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights is relevant to everything that the United Nations does, from
elections, to the rule of law, social inclusion, the right to a fair trial,
even to social housing. These are exciting times to work at the United Nations
as I believe that we are more relevant than ever, with human rights under fire
in many places worldwide. The new
Secretary General has focused on conflict prevention where one of the key
principles is inclusiveness and the political power is not winner-take-all, but
about guaranteeing a place in society for everyone.
In this frame I would say that it is especially an exciting
time to be in Albania, where there is a dynamic environment as many, many
critical reforms are underway. And the critical ones are being discussed in
public such as for example, the rule of
law, free and fair elections. But there
also so many other reforms that can have a huge impact on the Albanian people
like new laws on social protection and child rights; territorial reform, with
the potential for enhanced local democracy;
public administration reform, with the potential to build institutions
that focus on delivering services, and not serving themselves; action plans on
support to Roma and Egyptian communities;
new policies on social inclusion, aiming to mainstream access to
services to all Albanians; the promotion of women in many areas of government and
I should underline that Albania is privileged in so many
ways because there is no legacy of conflict. This country has a range of
natural resources, an entrepreneurial spirit and consistent economic growth
rates as it is shown by indicators of relevant institutions.
- Last year UNDP
celebrated 25 years of presence in Albania. How has UN’s partnership with
- Albania is dramatically different from 1991. And the United Nations has evolved alongside
the Albanian people, their economy, and their different governments through
this incredibly dynamic period. It is needless to talk about the 1990’s, but
especially since 2000 the UN has tried to match the growing sophistication of
the environment that Albania finds itself in by focusing on policy advice and
facilitating partnerships that can help advance critical reforms.
Albania has seen remarkable progress in growth rates and
poverty reduction since the early 90’s, and this has made that the UN increase
focus on vulnerable groups, ensuring human rights for everyone, and on reducing
The UN has organized itself along the ‘Delivering as One’
since 2007, when Albania was selected as a pilot for UN reform at country
level. Albania is in the process of EU
integration and there is increased focus on how our technical support can
accelerate processes linked to the EU accession.
- It’s well known and
appreciated the contribution of UN bodies, particularly of the UNDP, to Albania
and its people. I have had the privilege to be Albania's focal point when the
First Country Programme started to be implemented. How would you evaluate the
progress of this country in this span of time? According to you, is there some
good news, especially in the frame of improving the living conditions of the
- As I mentioned above Albania has enjoyed a high sustained
rate of economic growth over the past several years and is a candidate country
for EU accession. The country has made significant progress toward European
Union integration, measured primarily in terms of meeting political criteria
and establishing stable institutions that guarantee democracy, rule of law,
human rights, protection of minorities, regional cooperation and good relations
with enlargement countries and Member States.
It should be highlighted that a lot has improved for every
day people in Albania: HDI value has steadily progressed over the years: from
0.656 in 2000 to 0.733 in 2015, putting the country in the High Development
Category positioned 85th out of 188 countries.
HDI specifically takes into account equality issues, so this is a good,
broad measure. Poverty headcount ratio is significantly decreased to 14.3 % in
2012 compared to 25.4% in 2002. There has been progress on women’s empowerment,
too: the Gender Inequality Index values 0.217 ranking 45th out of 155 countries
compared to 0.367 in 2000. The 140-seat Albanian Parliament currently has a
record number of 33 women MPs, accounting for 23.5 percent of total seats. Amendments
to the Electoral
Code resulted in
a significant increase
in women’s representation in the
local elections of 2015. So women currently represent 34.7% of municipality
councilors from 12.5% previously; there are nine women mayors among 61 mayors
(15%), which is a significant step forward from 3 women heads among the former
385 local government units (0.7%). There
are more women police. There is a
General in the armed forces, for the first time, that is a woman. On the other hand there are many women
Ministers. In the meantime Albania
marked a considerable improvement in its performance on the global education
benchmark, PISA, with a scoring of 415 in 2015 compared to 384 in 2009.
And politically too, although the atmosphere can be quite
charged, there has been consistent improvement if things are seen over the
longer run. Elections seem to register
incrementally higher marks from observers each cycle. Territorial reform holds out a huge potential
for increasing local democracy. And of
course over the last two years there has been a tremendous push for judicial
And some significant steps are hard to see from day to day,
but they could be critical for the long run. For example, Albania is one of 1st
countries to ratify the Paris agreement on climate change, setting its own
targets to reduce emissions. There are,
of course, many challenges, but sometimes I think it’s good to look back over a
longer period – 5 or 10 years – and recognize how much has been achieved.
- As a follow up
which are the challenges the country is being faced with?
- I think that the biggest overall issue is trust in
institutions most dramatically seen in the judicial reform and widespread
perceptions of corruption. The judicial reform, including the vetting
process, is a top priority, for it is
the institution that guarantees the basis for that trust across all other
institutions, public and private.
But trust can be built by government in many, many ways. And
just to mention some such as:
- new mechanisms for client-orientation in government
offices, such as the new centre in Kavaja, can build trust;
- increased transparency around government, around budgets,
with data, can build trust, and it is the example of Tirana;
- seeing more women in leadership positions can build trust,
demonstrating that the Government is working to serve all citizens;
- vocational and education training that is focused on job
placement and the real employment market can help build the trust of parents;
- national and municipal Governments respecting the rights
of Roma, or of people of all sexual orientations, can send a signal that
Government will not tolerate discrimination;
- taking clear long-run decisions that extend beyond the
mandate of any single government – for example by taking bold measures to
protect the environment and Albania’s beautiful spaces – can help build trust;
- the successful functioning of the new Authority on the
"Sigurimi" files offers another huge opportunity to build trust
within a population that suffered under a brutal dictatorship for decades – a
dictatorship that left little for the new, free Albanian republic to build upon
except a legacy of distrust and hollow institutions that served only their own
We also advocate investments in people, in social
infrastructure. Understandably, there is
much emphasis on transport and other critical urban and rural
infrastructure. But this needs to be
balanced as well with investments in people.
For example investments in education and health both are at about 3% of
GDP, whereas averages for the OECD are more than 6% of GDP. We believe that investments in people, through social services, the creation of
opportunities, women’s employment training for example not only meet people’s
rights, but have economic and social payoffs just as does physical
So of course many critical development challenges
remain: poverty reduction has stalled
since 2008, youth unemployment rate has been declining but it stands at 30 %,
and more than half of Albanian women (aged 15-49) have experienced at least one
form of domestic violence in their lifetime.
- How are the UN and
its entire system helping Albania cope with the challenges as Albania is still
considered as a country in the transition process?
- In October of last year we signed our new 5- year
Programme with the Government of Albania called “Programme of Cooperation for
Sustainable Development” which brings together 17 UN agencies and Programmes to
help the country in its key national priorities. Eight of them are
resident. The 17 participating agencies
bring their distinct expertise and skills in the implementation of the
The programme is built around four pillars and one foundation. The foundation is gender equality –
applicable across all four of the pillars - firstly, on Governance and Rule of
Law; secondly, Social Inclusion and Human Rights; thirdly, Youth Employment and
Skills; and fourthly, Environment (Climate Change, Protected Areas). The programme is in line with Albania’s EU
accession agenda and with the country’s ambitious reform efforts, Sustainable
Development Goals, National Strategy for Development and Integration. Through partnerships, we aim to deliver more
than $100m over 5 years.
- Can you highlight
some of the results under the previous programme?
- I have travelled across the country and it has been
fantastic to meet people who have benefitted from our programmes, such as farmers affected by
floods, Roma people who can’t have proper access to services, women who
have been victims of domestic violence, juveniles in conflict with the law and
I could go on and on. I am glad to confirm that the assistance provided by the
UN has been beneficial to them. Of course our assistance is much larger.
I would like to be
concrete and provide some facts. For instance, UN Women has strongly advocated
for a Gender-based budgeting. It is great news to see that more than Euros 80m
are focused specifically on gender-equality issues, across most Ministries of
the Government. In the area of
education, last year UNICEF assisted an initiative to train all the 1st and 6th
grade teachers of Albania; and this year UNESCO has been helping to , undertake
an education policy review.
A joint programme – involving UNDP, UNFPA and UN Women,
focused on developing community referral mechanisms against domestic violence at Municipal level
led to many more cases of violence against women being reported, an indicator
of increased trust that women have to turn to the authorities. Just to give you
an indicator during 2016, there were 4136 cases of domestic violence reported
to police compared to around 3000 during 2015.
In the past few years, we have been working with the
Minister of Local Governance for the historic reform of Albania’s territorial
administration joining efforts to transform some 380 local government units
into 61 functional municipalities. With
the Minister of Social Welfare and Labor UNDP is assisting the Government to
implement the VET Reform in Albania and at the same time supporting and
promoting self-employment and entrepreneurship spirit of the Albanian Youth.
And ILO is working on normative labor standards.
UNDP and the UN Environment Programme are working and have
plans to work on energy efficiency and land preservation, and UNDP and UNESCO
are working on protected areas and partnerships with local authorities for
shared responsibility when it comes to natural assets. Our support has also
gone to renewable energy agenda of the country and mainstreaming approaches to
climate change. This culminated in the ratification of the Paris Agreement by
the Albanian Parliament-with UNDP support.
UNHCR has been assisting Government’s efforts to strengthen
asylum procedures in line with European norms and human rights standards. Many
UN agencies are working with line Ministries and local authorities so that Roma
populations, people with disabilities and other disadvantaged populations, have
access to much needed social services.
For example, IOM supported the Ministry of Interior to prepare the first
action plan for socio- economic reintegration of victims of trafficking
WHO helped assist with the development of a new National
Health Strategy. Only some days ago,
The Albanian Parliament approved the "Law on the Rights and Protection of
the Child", which ensures alignment with international child rights norms
and standards, and reinforces the multi- sector work of the entire Government
towards child rights and child protection. UNICEF in Albania supported the
Government of Albania in the process of drafting of the Law.
Even for cannabis, UNODC has sent down a mission to see if
there are ways to support the national strategy; UNODC already works to improve
container control at Durres port. Of
course for all of these results we work in partnership – with Government, with
civil society, but also with the EU and bilateral partners like Sweden, Italy,
Switzerland, the US, Turkey as well as others.
- Would you be so
kind to let the readers of Albanian Daily News know how are the funds monitored
by you in order that they can be used efficiently to accomplish their targets?
I put this question because the phenomenon of corruption is really a worrying
issue in Albania.
We have one single, joint annual report, which provides full
transparency of how funds are spent. We have systems of internal and external
audits. For example last year UNDP carried out a multi-year Assessment of
Development Results. So there are globally controlled systems and regular
audits. The International Aid Transparency Index in 2016 has rated UNDP as
number 1 and UNICEF as number 3 in the world.
- In 2015, world
leaders including Albania adopted Agenda 2030 and the SDGs. What needs to be
done in and outside of Albania to attain the goals and what is UN’s role? How
is the UN helping Albania achieve this agenda by 2030?
- Agenda 2030 – the Sustainable Development Goals – marks a
huge leap forward in terms of global commitment to making a difference to the
billions of people currently sharing planet earth, and those who will inherit
it in coming generations: In the first place it is universal. It means European countries are part of the
agenda too. Secondly, it incorporates
the environment. There will no longer development vs the environment. Thirdly, it takes into account the impact of
governance – the rule of law – on development. To focus on Albania. The point
of SDGs is not to make a whole new programme.
Rather, to look at all existing ambitions and plans like the
Governments’ National Strategy for Development and European Integration; all the efforts and underway to join the
European Union, and see how these
efforts are contributing to the core social goals to which the globe has
committed. Are their gaps in current development plans? Which areas are moving
more slowly and could merit increased assistance?
We are assisting the Prime Minister’s Office to undertake a
baseline report as a first step; also helping them to develop a national
plan. But this national plan will not
create a duplicate programme, rather it will require existing mechanism to use
the SDGs to examine their work.
A key aspect of the SDGs is the extent to which they are
inter-related, inter-linked: for
example, education; women’s empowerment; health care; good jobs; the
environment. All of these require that Albania’s institutions should work together
in full trust. And this is not a questions of just the government, but also of
the civil society, the private sector etc.
Another key element is data.
Achieving SDGs will require close monitoring, especially at the
municipal level, so that issues or regions that are lagging can be further
assisted. Data should be disaggregated – which groups are not progressing as
much as they should? Are programmes
reaching women as they should? And of
course we will need our partners: The
SDG agenda is much more integrated, ambitious and comprehensive compared to the
Millennium Development Goals Agenda. It is imperative that the Line ministries
work more closely with one another beyond their everyday mandates, to achieve
integration of the SDGs into their national programmes and interventions. To achieve the goals broad coalitions are
needed with several partners such as the private sector, civil society,
parliament, local government and people themselves whose life is affected
tremendously by the achievement of the goals.
To improve the monitoring of indicators and strengthen statistical
capacity in Albania, including the integration of the SDGs into the 5 year
statistical programme, we have established a closer partnership with INSTAT.
To conclude I would frankly admit that Albania is a 'hidden
jewel' in Europe, and what has struck me are the people, their hospitality, the
natural beauties of the country from south to north, east and west.