Albanian authorities will be entrusted with the management of EUR 71 mln, financed by the European Union destined for the agricultural and rural development in the country. With the additional financing from the Albanian government, the fund mounts up to 91mln in total and will disbursed through the IPARD Program 2016-2020. Entrustment of EU funds is an important milestone in the EU accession process, but also a great responsibility.
Experience has shown that risks for corruption increase whenever big funds are involved. The national authorities responsible for the budget implementation tasks, namely the Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Water Administration (MARDWA) via the Agency for Agricultural and Rural Development (AZHBR), and the Ministry of Finance in the role of a supervisory authority must be able to absorb funds and pass them in time to farmers, but at the same time keep an eye open that funds are administered in compliance with EU requirements of transparency and accountability.
To help the authorities with this, a high-level workshop took place in Tirana on Wednesday on the topic: "Prevention and Detection of Irregularities and Fraud in IPARD". It was organised by the IPA 2011 project "Support to the Agricultural and Rural Development" (SARD) in cooperation with the EU General Directorate for Agriculture and Rural Development (DG AGRI). SARD is financed by the European Union, co-financed by the Government of Albania and the German Federal Government, and is implemented in Albania by Deutsche Gesellschaftfür Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. The workshop addressed subjects such as: identification and prevention of irregularities, typologies and red flags of frauds, the role of the EU's agriculture directorate in investigating allegations of frauds and raising awareness among national authorities for prevention of irregularities, etc..
The event was welcomed by the Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Water Administration, Mr. Edmond Panariti, the EU ambassador in Albania, Mrs. Romana Vlahutin, the Chargé D'Affaires of the German Embassy in Tirana, Mrs. Anke Holsteinand the deputy Minister of Finance, Mr. Erjon Luçi.
Minister Panariti highlighted that the Albanian agricultural sector is getting more and more financial support from international donors, among which the EU has the lead. "Administration of such funds is a huge responsibility. Absorption and transiting of these funds to farmers and agro-processors requires a system of detection and monitoring. Procedures must be friendly to beneficiaries. We need to ensure that on the one hand procedures are implemented rigorously and on the other farmers receive in time the funds they need," Panariti said.
On her part, Mrs. Vlahutin encouraged Albanian farmers to be aware and proactive and take full advantage of this great opportunity. However, the EU ambassador underlined that the European Commission has a very strict procedure which allows it to get the money back if Member States do not properly manage and control their spending. "This is a huge investment, which - if used well and wisely - should lead to a substantial change in the structure of the agricultural economy and the quality of food in Albania. We encourage the Albanian farmers and agribusinesses to be aware and proactive and take full advantage of this great opportunity," Mrs. Vlahutin said. According to the ambassador, the same principles of rigorous and solid spending of EU funds apply to the candidate countries, as future members of our EU family, such as Albania.
At the present stage external auditors have started to check the robustness of the system. It was set up and tested in the recent years as an IPARD-like grant scheme financed by the EU and implemented by MARDWA and the Paying Agency with the technical assistance of GIZ. Around EUR 5,5milion have been implemented in agriculture through this pilot scheme that combined capacity development and practical application of grants for farmers and agro-food processors. A positive outcome from the auditing process is expected to lead to the finalization of the accreditation process that eventually would enable Albanian authorities to benefit and manage EU funds.
"Albanian institutions are being prepared for accreditation and implementation of huge funds. The process of accreditation is the result of a long and hard work and GIZ was on the forefront," Mrs. Anke Holstein, charge d'affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany in Tirana said in her address to the workshop. Mrs. Holstein underlined that fight against corruption is among the five priorities for EU integration and the justice reform is the hottest issue at the moment. A successful reform in the judiciary is a pre-condition for a successful fight against corruption, according to German diplomat, and consequently it is an important step to progress on the way to European integration. Albania is the biggest per capita recipient of German aid in Europe delivered in Albania through German Development Cooperation.