The level of corruption remains high in Albania and is prevalent in many areas of public and business life, remaining an issue of concern. It leads to challenges in public trust of public institutions and political life.
This is according to the Council of Europe GRECO 5th Round Evaluation, seen by Exit.
The objective of the report is to evaluate the effectiveness of measures adopted by the Albanian authorities to prevent corruption and promote integrity in central government and law enforcement agencies. It serves as a critical analysis of the situation, identifying possible shortcomings and making recommendations for improvement. Albania has 18 months from the publication of the evaluation to report back on its response to GRECO’s recommendations.
GRECO found that some high-level state officials have been convicted for corruption but that there was little concrete enforcement and this needs to be increased. Success stories say GRECO would improve public trust in the system but are lacking. It noted that several cases of corruption involving politicians had hit the headlines including drug smuggling, illicit election campaign funding, money laundering, falsification of documents, and payment of lobbying contracts through offshore companies.
It also highlighted the case of Exit journalist Alice Taylor who was “targeted by a smear campaign following her articles about corruption, vote-rigging, violence at protests, and the government’s links to organised crime and money laundering.”
They describe the political situation as “tense” and nodded to the anti-government protests in March 2019. These, they said were due to inter alia “corruption, the rising cost of education, alleged vote-buying at the 2017 elections and accusations of government links to organised crime.” It also described ongoing “serious tensions” between the government and President Ilir Meta.
In terms of judicial reform, while significant steps have been made, GRECO said the pace could be sped up in order not to weaken the judicial control of law enforcement. Issues such as the backlog in the high and constitutional court and the lack of citizens being aware of their rights in relation to compensation were also noted.
Specific concerns raised by GRECO
The politicisation of the Albanian police is an issue of concern who say that measures need to be taken to increase the stability of those in top positions, irrespective of political changes in the country. In addition to this, middle management should be appointed by the General Director of the State Police, rather than the Minister of the Interior.
GRECO also raised concerns over the current transitional vetting. The process, they said, is likely to result in a high number of qualified staff leaving the force, making the exercise of core police functions difficult. They also pointed out that the process did not adequately capture all integrity risks, leading to questions over fairness and integrity.
Another critical concern voiced in the evaluation was the practice of State Police receiving private donations and sponsorship, which if allowed, needs to be regulated to limit the risk of corruption and conflict of interest.
In terms of the Code of Ethics for Ministers which was adopted in 2013, GRECO doubts that it’s been implemented or whether the Ethics Committee is operational. They called for this to be addressed and for measures to be introduced including awareness-raising activities on integrity-related matters for all PDFS and political advisors. They noted that no PTEFs had been obliged to withdraw from anything due to a conflict of interest, thus casting doubts on the efficacy of the system.
Greco also observed that this code does not apply to members of the Council of Ministers. It also found there was no provision for a case where the Prime Minister would violate the code, as they would be the one enforcing disciplinary measures. GRECO was unable to establish any assessment of the work of the Committee or the outcome of its work.
As for the High Inspectorate for the Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflicts of Interest (HIDAACI), the non-functioning of the e-platform for declaring and publishing such instances needs to be addressed quickly. The entity must also improve its monitoring capacity and procedures. GRECO stated that SPAK must function effectively and establish effective cooperation with HIDAACI.
GRECO also noted that Integrity Plans for each Government Ministry still had not been drafted. They called for their swift adoption, taking into account all the risks ministers and political advisors face in the exercise of their duties.
Concerning access to information, while this is guaranteed by the Constitution and national law, there were some shortcomings. Firstly, details on how to ask for information was not present on ministry websites and the quality of such sites was unsatisfactory.
The lack of women in the police force was also highlighted. Just 13% of police are female and there were challenges in attracting female staff. GRECO encouraged the authorities to pursue efforts towards a better gender balance which they say is “a key instrument to preventing groupthink and in turn corruption.
GRECO made the following specific recommendations on which it will follow up in April 2022.
- Names of political advisors are published online including details of their main job and ancillary activities;
- Concrete integrity plans are adopted and implemented within all ministries, including risks that ministers and political advisors may face. Remedial measures should be designed and implemented;
- To harmonise and increase the coherence of frameworks to fight corruption and protect the integrity of public officials;
- That the Ministerial Code of Ethics be expanded upon and implemented and that the functioning of the Ethics Commission be assured;
- That members of the Council of Ministers and political advisors be subject to systematic awareness-raising on integrity-related matters;
- Ensuring explicit post-employment restrictions apply to political advisors and members of the Council of Ministers;
- That the e-platform for asset and interest declarations become functional;
- That SPAK becomes effective;
- That the State Police enforce rules to ban private donations to the police to reduce corruption;
- That an Integrity Plan be completed for the State Police as a matter of urgency;
- That political appointments of senior police figures stop;
- Enhanced training for police officers on integrity matters;
- That heads of departments in State Police be appointed by the General Director;
- That the rule on whistleblowers in the police service is implemented and ensured.
Exit’s report was analysed and published as a part of Integrity Week Albania 2020.