The Minister of Finances, Delina Ibrahimaj, started the year 2023 with the long-awaited news of the merger of the Transparency Board in the field of hydrocarbons. But a few days later, the department she leads officially confirmed for Faktoje the continuity of the Board, proving once again that ‘from what is said to what is done, there is a whole sea in between.’ Our verifications also showed that the longevity of the Board is in the hands of the Board itself, not the Ministry of Finances.
“We are now in a situation where fuel prices have created stability and there are no major fluctuations in the international stock markets, and we are in a decision-making process for suspending the activity of the boards.” – announced the Minister of Finance and Economy, Delina Ibrahimaj, during an interview given on January 12 for ABC News television .
The same attitude was expressed earlier by the Minister of Energy Belinda Balluku, another important member of the Transparency Board for fuels.
“It is up to the Ministry of Finances to make this decision, and to be honest, it would be welcome.” – Balluku was careful to emphasize on January 9 of this year.
Based on these statements, Faktoje addressed a request for information to the Ministry of Finance, described by Balluku as the body responsible for the decision to dissolve the Board.
But the official answer of the Ministry of Finance proves once again that “from what is said to what is done, there is a whole sea in between.”
“Referring to Article 21/10 of the normative act in reference, it is provided that the special situation is announced by a DCM and that its conclusion and implementation are determined by the Board’s decision. As mentioned above, until now no such decision has been taken by the Board for dissolving it.” – officially affirmed the Ministry of Finance, although earlier the head of this department announced the structure was dissolved.
Why was the funding withdrawn?
During a report to the Parliamentary Committee on Production Activities, the Director of Fiscal Policies at the Ministry of Finance, Niko Lera, also a member of the Hydrocarbons Transparency Board, shed light on the reasons that forced the decision makers to withdraw from dissolving the board for a while.
“February 5 is the deadline regarding the decisions made by the EU and the international community regarding Russian oil. This can create abnormal situations in uncontrolled price increases, and it is absolutely a sign of being responsible now that in a situation of unpredictability for the future, the controlled prices are maintained for some time to see how the situations will go.” – Lera argued, adding: “If the situation will stabilize, of course the decision makers will make their decisions. But if the board had been abolished immediately and the prices would have increased enormously, creating premises for speculative profits beyond normal profits, then of course the government would have been responsible.” – he affirmed before the MPs on January 24, 2023.
The decision to dissolve the board rests with the … board
Although Minister Ibrahimaj publicly promised to merge the Board, the government has left the responsibility for this decision-making in the hands of the board members themselves. Referring to the normative act approved by the government in March of last year, the merger of the board is decided by the board itself, not by the Ministry of Finance.
“The implementation of the provisions of this chapter begins with the announcement of the special situation by decision of the Council of Ministers. The conclusion of the special situation and the implementation of the provisions of this chapter is determined by the decision of the Board.” – specified in article 21/10 of the Normative Act.
The Transparency Board in the hydrocarbon field has 12 members and decisions are made by simple majority.
“In cases of conflict of interest of representatives of hydrocarbon companies, against which an administrative measure is taken, the representative participates without the right to vote in the meeting of the Board and is excluded from decision-making.”
Price control across the board, unnecessary politics
Even though we are on the verge of the first anniversary of the operation of the Transparency Board for fuels, Lindita Milo (Lati), former Chairperson of the Competition Commission, claims for Faktoje that direct price control by the state was not a solution.
“Direct control of prices by the state, or drastic intervention of the state in the markets, in the form that is being applied in our country, is not the right way. First , through structural policies, it was necessary to enable the market to breathe for the freedom of entry and exit of market operators. The role of the state is to promote and enable equality in the market. These policies would enable a more functional market, in which operators would react even in times of crisis, like the one we are going through, in a more rational and objective way in the context of the country and the characteristics of the purchasing power, since they would take care of long-term and healthy business continuity. And this is the right policy for consumer protection. Secondly , in our country, all the independent public institutions of the central and local government have been established and are functioning, which are cooperating, have all the legal and administrative infrastructure to exercise controls and pressure to prevent, identify and consequently, stop cases of abuse by market operators with the prices and the quality of the products offered to the Albanian consumer,” says Milo.
Meanwhile, the voices critical of the Transparency Board have recently been joined by that of the Competition Authority . Through a decision that had as its object the preliminary investigation of the oil and gasoline market, the Competition Commission has assessed that the recommended prices, as well as the fixed ones, may have negative effects on competition.
“Recommended prices can help coordinate prices among competitors as a result of transparency and can mislead consumers regarding a reasonable price level. Fixed prices are regulatory instruments, but they have an effect on competition and reduce consumer benefits that are the result of market competition. Also, fixed maximum prices can protect the consumer from high prices in the market, but create a lack of effective competition,” the Competition Commission’s decision reads.
Oil drops to pre-war levels
For the first time in almost a year, the price of oil in our country has dropped to pre-war levels. In the decision of February 4, the Transparency Board decided that oil will be traded up to 192 ALL per litre, while gasoline up to 187 ALL per litre.
“The retail price of the gasoil by-product of the SSH EN 590 standard should not be more than 190 ALL/litre, while the wholesale price should not be more than 178 ALL/litre.
The retail price of the SSH EN standard gasoline by-product should be no more than 185 ALL/litre, while the wholesale price no more than 173 ALL/litre.
The retail price of the gas by-product should be 75 ALL/litre retail and 63 ALL/litre wholesale for vehicles.” – is written in the decision of the Transparency Board.
Even on international stock exchange markets, fuel prices have fallen to the lowest levels since January 2022.