Albania’s Government Secret Advisor Revealed
The nephew of Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former spin-doctor who advised the Socialists’ successful election campaign, has been hired by the Albanian government, Balkan Insight can reveal.James Naish
According to sources inside the government and records posted on social networks, 26-year-old Oxford University graduate James Naish was hired as an adviser to the Albanian Prime Minister’s office in September, after the Socialist Party took office.
Over the past nine months, Naish has been designing a communications strategy for the government’s first 100 days in office, coordinating government reports, designing a ‘good governance model’ for Albania and editing speeches and other communications for Prime Minister Edi Rama.
Naish wrote in his profile on social network LinkedIn that he was coordinating structural changes across 170 government organizations, establishing processes related to the Prime Minister’s daily briefing book, rolling out project management software to 19 ministries and writing job descriptions for more than 20 senior personnel in the PM’s office.
Among his monitoring and reporting duties, Naish listed creating and updating a policy matrix to track more than 600 election promises, developing reports for the Prime Minister, and tracking the day-to-day progress of 19 ministries.
He is also helping to establish two new offices in the Council of Ministers, a delivery unit and a monitoring unit.
Before joining the Albanian Prime Minister’s office, Naish worked as an analyst and consultant for the UK-based firm Accenture, from which he has taken a sabbatical.
Queried by Balkan Insight, a spokesperson for the government, Endri Fuga, denied that Naish was an adviser to the prime minister.
However, a source inside the prime minister’s office, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed to Balkan Insight that Naish was currently spearheading the creation of the delivery unit.
Naish is the son of Elizabeth Naish, Alistair Campbell’s younger sister. Campbell worked as a campaign adviser for Albania’s Socialist Party during the parliamentary elections in June 2012, which brought Rama’s party to power.
Following in Campbell’s footsteps, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Tirana on in October last year, where he was also presented as an adviser to the Albanian government.
Rama said that Blair had come to Tirana to help set up a “delivery unit”, with the help of the World Bank.
“Prime Minister Blair is at our service personally but totally voluntarily,” Rama said. “We have discussed with Prime Minister Blair and the World Bank to set our short, medium and long-term priorities,” Rama added.
Blair explained that he would be working together with the World Bank and other donors to strengthen Albania’s reform efforts, and promote the goal of eventual EU membership.
“I am here because I believe in this country, its people and the vision of progress that has been laid down for it,” the former British premier said.
“The orientation [of Albania] toward Europe is immensely important, and personally I’d love to see this country join the family of European nations,” he added.
The World Bank has told Balkan Insight that it has “no contractual relationship” with Blair and is unclear whether the delivery office being set-up by Naish is directly connected with the former British Labour Party leader.
Blair has a longstanding interest in the Balkans. In 1999, together with former US president Bill Clinton, he spearheaded 78 days of NATO bombing against the forces of the former Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
The air campaign terminated Serbian rule over Kosovo, where the population is overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian.
After leaving office in 2007, Blair set up his Government Advisory Practice, GAP, securing lucrative deals with governments in Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Brazil and Colombia.
GAP’s contract in oil-rich Kazakhstan alone was said to be worth as much as £16 million (18.85 million euro), the British Sunday Telegraph reported last May.
According to the same report, GAP’s contract to advise the government of Sao Paulo state, the economic powerhouse of Brazil’s economy, was said to be worth almost £4 million a year (4.7 million euro).
A spokesperson for Blair, Cirian Ward, said that his help for the Albanian government would come at no cost to Albanian taxpayers.
“Mr. Blair informally advises Edi Rama and we are working towards a full project in Albania,” Ward said. “This would be done at no cost to the Albanian govt.,” he added.
The Socialist Party has claimed in the past that Campbell’s advice during the campaign also came for free and at no cost the Albanian government.
However, the employment of his nephew as a government adviser puts a question mark over those claims.
Naish is not the first relative of the Labour Party leader to find work in Albania. The law firm of Blair’s wife, Omnia Strategy, was hired in 2012 by the previous centre-right government as consultants in an arbitrage court case against Sky Petroleum, a Texas-based oil company.
Albania’s costs in the case, which is currently trying to recover, run to over $500,000. Albania’s State Advocate’s office did not respond to a query from Balkan Insight about how much Omnia Strategy’s legal fees cost./balkaninsight/