From: Alice Taylor
Albanian Ministry of Health Worst in Region for Freedom of Information in 2020

Despite the global pandemic and a greater need for accurate information, Western Balkan countries didn’t make freedom of information a priority. 

Rather, many restricted access to information struggled with implemented Freedom of Information laws and failed to be transparent and accountable to citizens. In fact, the region is regressing, especially in the area of FoI requests. This is as per a report on Freedom of Information in the Western Balkans by Shenqjyl Osmani Loxha.

The worst performing institution in the entire region for responding to FoI requests was the Albanian Ministry of Health. This was followed by the Serbian Ministry of the Interior and the Telecom of Kosovo. The Albanian Ministry of Health rejected FoI requests even when the issues were in the public interest, they tried to hide information that would otherwise evidence breaches of the law, and there was a lack of political will to provide information.

The Ministry also had the highest instance of complaints to the Commissioner for Information during 2020. A total of nine complaints were filed, while the average for other institutions was 1-2. Municipalities had 22 in total, but this grouped every single Municipality together and didn’t

Other poorly performing institutions included the High Inspector of Justice who rejected requests, the Authority for Management of Former Secret Service Files, SPAK, and the Ministry of Justice who ignored requests, and the Tirana Court and Parliament who offered only partial answers.

This is despite the fact that Albania has one of the world’s top 10 best FoI laws. The implementation of this law continues to face challenges and difficulties as public institutions remain silent, don’t answer requests, and classify increasing amounts of information.

Documents relating to public contracts, bids, and concessions were particularly prone to be blocked. In many cases, delays were so long that by the time documents were issued, they were no longer relevant.

Despite Albania being a member of the Open Government Partnership, an initiative calling for more open and transparent governments, they have failed to meet some of its basic aims. By joining the organization, they agree to set commitments to be more transparent for citizens.

Albania has been a member since 2011 but has failed to “fully implement its own commitments such as fiscal transparency, public services, access to information, public administration, and anti-corruption.”

Fact-checking portal Faktoje has also reported on how the Ministry of Health hasn’t responded to FoI requests on multiple occasions.