news 24 Jul 14
Edi Rama’s government is eager to recruit the former Georgian president as an advisor on free-market reforms – but Saakashvili has denied taking on any official role in Tirana.
|Edi Rama and Mikhel Saakashvili during a meeting in New Yok|
Sources in the Albanian government have told Balkan Insight that Georgia’s former President, Mikheil Saakashvili, is to join a star-studded line-up of advisers to the government of Edi Rama.
Saakashvili visited Tirana on July 15 on the request of the centre-left government and held meetings with Prime Minister Rama, Deputy Prime Minister Niko Peleshi, the minister of urban development, Eglantina Gjermeni, and the minister of local government, Bledi Cuci.
The meeting was the second between Rama and Saakashvili, since the Socialist-led government took office in September in Tirana.
Rama met Saakashvili on September 27 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, while Saakashvili was still President of Georgia, when both sides expressed interest in cooperating.
Rama declared during that meeting that the Saakashvili was a hero to a young generation of politicians in Albania.
“What he did for his country was outstanding because he proved that nothing is impossible if one has the vision and the courage to follow it,” Rama said. “We are lucky know because we can learn from his experience,” he added.
Saakashvili said Rama was interested in Georgia’s public sector and police reforms and that the Georgians “would be happy to provide him with experts”.
Saakashvili is known in the West as charismatic reformer who curbed petty corruption, tamed the bureaucracy and faced down Russia in a brief war over the break-away regions of South Ossetia and Abkazia in 2008.
But critics at home have accused the former Georgian leader of authoritarian tendencies and of failing to tackle high-level corruption.
After he left office in November, Saakashvili moved to the US as a lecturer at Boston’s Tufts University.
Georgian authorities in March called him home for questioning over the suspicious death of former Prime Minister Zurab Zvania, threatening to issue an arrest warrant.
Saakashvili denied wrongdoing, describing the investigation as a witch hunt orchestrated by his enemies in Moscow.
Balkan Insight has learned that a number of former officials who worked in Saakashvili’s government visited Albania recently to advise the government.
According to the Georgian newspaper Commersant, former Georgian economy minister Kakha Bendukidze, one of the architects of Saakashvili’s free market reforms, was in Tirana on Tuesday to advise Prime Minister Rama.
Contacted by Balkan Insight, the Albanian government declined to comment on the possible engagement of Saakashvili, while a spokesperson to the former Georgian president denied he had taken up an official role in Tirana.
“He wants all the best for Albanian people and for this beautiful country, he supports Prime Minister Edi Rama, but doesn’t have any formal position in the [Albanian] government,” spokeswoman Mary Kokaia said.
“President Saakashvili’s good will is to help improve Albania,” she added.
The Albanian government has already secured the services of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his former spin doctor Alistair Campbell. They have also declared they hold no official position and are working on an “informal” basis.
It remains unclear how or whether the Albanian government’s foreign advisers get paid. The government has only said that their service comes at “no cost” to the Albanian people.
Pressed in a recent interview with the UK mass circulation Sun, Campbell declared that his work in Albania was being funded by an indentified non-governmental Western donor.
Video of Saakashvili’s visit to Tirana: