Albanian MPs approve budget

TIRANA (Reuters) – Albania’s Parliament has passed a budget for 2004 providing for a deficit of 4.8 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), which the government says will allow the country to achieve 6 percent growth next year. The budget, boosted by the $126 million sale of the Savings Bank last week, also foresees inflation between 2 and 4 percent. The approval of the budget late on Tuesday signaled Prime Minister Fatos Nano has probably solved his ruling Socialists’ crisis and is set to approve a reshuffled Cabinet this week. «This budget guarantees a higher rhythm of sustainable economic and social development and it backs the acceleration of Albania’s efforts to get integrated in the European Union and NATO,» Nano said. In November, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said it expected the Albanian economy to grow by 6 percent this year and 6.5 percent in 2004. According to the budget, revenue next year is expected to reach 197.4 billion leks, marking a 12.7 percent growth compared with 2003, while expenditure is planned to reach 239.6 billion leks, 14 percent more than 2003. Public investment was expected to reach 28 percent of GDP. Nano added public and private investments, domestic as well as foreign, in 2004 will amount to 1 billion dollars. Answering concerns that taxes and the opening of markets was «throttling» domestic businesses, Nano said the government would fight the informal economy and guarantee the best and cheapest goods to Albanians irrespective of where they were «made in.» Thanks to the $126 million sale of the Savings Bank, Nano said he was coordinating efforts with the International Monetary Fund to spend 17 billion leks on public investment in the next 18 months. The EU was also expected to give 25 million euros.