Shijaku is the district’s smallest municipality. During the 32 years of democracy, the local unit that lies between Tirana and Durres, with an area of about 92 square kilometers, has been featured in the black chronicle news more than a few times.
Equally surprising is the fact that this municipality, with a population of about 44,000 people, is among the poorest in Albania, despite the fact that its geographical location between Albania’s two largest cities appears not to have favored economic development.
Shijak’s average gross salary is at 40,000 ALL, while the per capita income is 31,000 ALL, which is roughly 25% less than Albania’s minimum wage.
Being close to Tirana and Durres hasn’t benefited this municipality’s focus on industry or tourism, as agriculture remains the primary industry.
This was one of the worst devastated municipalities as a result of the 2019 earthquake, but there were no casualties. The material damages prompted fears of the municipality’s ultimate insolvency, but the acting mayor, Elton Arbana, is seen as the acting mayor’s strongest suit as he seeks a second term.
“We managed the natural disaster of November 26 with the entire administration working day and night, without a single day off, without having specific schedules, with the sole purpose of completing the entire reconstruction in Shijak Municipality, and today we have a resume. For these three years, we have finished 802 individual apartments, 31 buildings, 5 schools, and 3 kindergartens,” Arbana for A2 CNN says.
Unlike the 2019 elections, city residents will be able to vote on the ballot because there are two candidates. The challenger in the election is Rezart Tusha, the candidate of the “Together We Win” coalition, who believes the reconstruction is a failure: “In the Municipality of Shijak, we also had a disaster, the earthquake. There are buildings, individual houses. All of these buildings have not been divided, as the keys are held by the current mayor, who holds them to be distributed in the final days of this campaign because he is holding the citizens hostage.”
In a municipality with an annual budget of approximately ALL 547 million, the administration’s work is regarded as critical to raising funds. The opposition, on the other hand, believes that these contribute to inflate the Municipality’s administration.
“We need to lobby with projects to move forward,” Arbana says. “We have a project office that is one of the best in Albania, apart from large municipalities like Durres, Tirana, or other large municipalities, and for third-level municipalities like Shijak Municipality, I can modestly say that we are the best in Albania.”
While Rezart Tusha emphasizes, “my vision in the management of this municipality is to return the municipality to all citizens in the first place.” Because if you go to the Municipality of Shijak, you don’t end up working for a letter, for proof of residence. They do not serve the citizens; instead, they push them around for insignificant reasons. My initial project will focus on the entire city of Shijak and its surrounds, on tap water, and even on the Erzen river system, which has been transformed into a stream.”
The road network in the Shijak Municipality, including the 25 villages that comprise it, is part of both candidates’ electoral platforms, but opinions on the lack of investment in this area differ.
“Roads are important in the Shijak Municipality because it has been ten years since a road has been touched here.” They had funds, and they used them in ways that were excessive. Almost 80% of Shijak’s roads are undeveloped. 99% of the roads will be paved and systematized. “All of the villages in Gjepalaj municipality are in shambles,” Tusha explains.
“It is true that we are very close to Durres, but on the other hand, the expectations to become a European city are very high because we have the potential and the opportunity,” Arbana adds. We shall concentrate our efforts in rural areas. As a result, all communities in Shijak Municipality will receive special attention.”
Despite their stark differences, the two candidates agree on one point: the Municipality’s future should be a priority.
“My goal for the next four years is to steer Shijak toward agrotourism.” We have roughly 14 villages that each have a lake, and by combining these villages and lakes, we can transform the area into an agrotourism destination. “It is the only way we can generate revenue for the Shijak Municipality,” Arbana explains.
“Agrotourism should be our priority because Shijak has very beautiful hills and many lakes that can be used for agrotourism.” Tusha claims, “All the people of Shijak are in oblivion because the municipality and the government have abandoned them as if they were in Kandahar, not between the capital and Durres.”
Faced with these promises, Shijak residents must select between two candidates for the position of first citizen for the next four years, and the campaign between Elton Arbana and Rezart Tusha will continue until May 14.