As European Commission 2021 report stated, Albania has some level of preparation in the fight against corruption, and it made some progress in strengthening the fight against corruption. Overall, operational efforts against corruption are bringing results but corruption still represents an important issue of concern.
During the reporting period, last year’s recommendations were partially implemented. A solid track record in the fight against corruption has been created, some positive steps in the institutional framework have been taken, and the implementation of the Inter-sectoral Strategy Against Corruption is overall on track.
Yet, further efforts are needed. Prosecuting corruption, including high-level cases, remains an important priority, for which adequate functioning of anti-corruption institutions should be provided. Besides, there are weaknesses in the strategic and legal framework as well. In general, corruption is prevalent in many areas of public and business life and remains one of the biggest challenges of society and governance.
Arjan Dyrmishi, Executive Director and Founder of the Centre for the Study of Democracy and Governance, explains the EC 2021 report on Albania does not reflect the real situation in the country in the fight against corruption completely because of its sources.
“EC Report presents objective data on legislation, implementation of legal and strategic norms. In general, the report analyses the recommendations given year after year by the European Commission, which includes the progress made for each of them. However, recent European Commission reports do not fully reflect the public perception of the level of corruption in the public sector and the data are mostly based on information submitted/published by government institutions and there are very few references from other stakeholders such as reports from CSOs or other monitoring mechanisms”, he says.
Due to that, Dyrmishi adds that for the improvement of the assessments in the fight against corruption for the next reporting period, in addition to the information provided by the government, the European Commission will also need to reflect data collected by independent institutions, civil society, including shadow reports.
Prosecution of corruption still represents an important priority
According to SELDI Corruption Monitoring System 2021, most Albanian citizens lack confidence in the anti-corruption policies and strategies undertaken in recent years, including justice reform.
In an interview for EWB Ervi Kosta, Research Assistant at Albanian Center for Economic Research explained this pessimistic situation has come because of long-term governance by the majority and the provision of political support to important actors, perceived by the public as emblematic figures due to tender decision-making and PPP contracts suspected of corruption.
“These have gradually eroded public confidence that corruption can be reduced. Overcoming this situation is achieved through the punishment of responsible persons who have abused state funds and assets,” Kosta stated.
Prosecuting corruption thus represents an important priority, which is mentioned in the EC 2021 Report on Albania as well. Although Albania has made further efforts to create a solid track record in the fight against corruption, it still requires political will and structured and consistent actions.
Convictions in cases involving high-level officials remain limited, fostering a culture of impunity within the higher levels of the State.
A report pointed out, reaching final convictions in high-level corruption cases remains an objective and sustained efforts are needed to tackle the culture of impunity within the higher levels of the State.
According to Dyrmishi, the main obstacle to resolving this is the links between justice and politics, which remain present in Albania.
“The independence of justice institutions and the eradication of the culture of impunity are objectives that have not yet been fully achieved. The links between justice and politics are still present in Albanian society, and until a complete break-up of justice protection mechanisms against politics is achieved, the results of investigations and subsequent convictions of high-ranking officials will continue to be prolonged,” he explains.
To reach progress, the report recommended the data collection methodology for both – corruption and organised crime cases to be further improved, as well as a unified case management system for investigations, prosecutions, and convictions.
Besides, ensuring efficient operation of Special structure for Anti-Corruption and Organised Crime (SPAK) and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) work remains of key importance to minimise the backlog of sensitive or high-level cases.
Therefore, an important condition that must be fulfilled is the adequate functioning of institutions.
As Ervi Kosta explained in her interview, some of the main causes of corruption in Albania are, among other things, political influence on institutions, lack of accountability on the part of public institutions, and the use of political parties as intermediaries in the usurpation of institutions by business lobbies and oligarchy.
EC recommended the specialised structures against anti-corruption (SPAK and the anti-corruption and organised crime courts) should significantly strengthen the country’s overall capacity to investigate and prosecute corruption.
For prevention of corruption, effective inter-institutional coordination should be ensured between the new governmental structures involved in the fight against corruption report noted.
Albania needs to ensure that the Special structure for Anti-Corruption and Organised Crime (SPAK), i.e. the Special Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), as well as the SPAK Courts, effectively address high-level corruption. It also needs to ensure adequate resources, skills and cooperation between these new structures and other prosecutorial and judicial entities.
Dyrmishi explains that the establishment of the NBI has been delayed and that, considering its important role in the technical prosecution, that should change as soon as possible.
“To date, NBI is not yet operational. This delay in the establishment of NBI also affects the progress of the processes followed by SPAK. NBI has a crucial role in the technical prosecution of criminal proceedings, which is expected to increase the number of prosecutions within the competence of the SPAK, as well as, to accelerate the proactive investigation. Therefore, the EC recommendation on institutional cooperation must be taken into consideration by these institutions, and the full functioning of NBI should happen as soon as possible,” he explains.
On the other side, the report saw the creation of a network of anti-corruption coordinators in 17 institutions as a positive step in the fight against corruption. Still, as stated, the regulatory framework of the network established to prevent and tackle corruption in state administration remains weak.
Strategic framework – Public as an important factor in the implementation
When it comes to its legislation on the prevention and combatting of corruption, the report noted Albania has continued to improve it.
In July 2020, a new action plan for 2020-2023 for the implementation of the extended strategy was adopted. Besides, the report noted the implementation of the Inter-sectoral Strategy Against Corruption is overall on track. Yet, some weaknesses remain.
As stated, these weaknesses include the need to strengthen ownership, strengthen institutional capacities, improve proper budgeting of the strategy’s activities.
However, a mid-term review of the Strategy has been undertaken and consultations with relevant stakeholders before the approval of the reports have improved, including the use of the public consultation platform.
According to Dyrmishi, implementation of the strategy at the national level needs more budgets and qualified human resources. Besides, he adds that an important factor in the implementation of the Strategy is the public.
“The impact of the strategy on the public is minimal, and this needs to change. In my opinion, the activities of the strategy will have to be accompanied by greater visibility for the public. It is necessary to continuously inform and communicate the strategic framework with the public. Also, the budget and human resources should be in the focus of public institutions to implement the strategy according to the deadlines and to give an impact to society,” Dyrmishi concludes.
This article was published as part of the project “Civil society for good governance and anti-corruption in southeast Europe: Capacity building for monitoring, advocacy and awareness-raising (SELDI)” funded by the European Union.