From: Alice Taylor
Socialist Party Praise Patronage ‘Spies’ at National Assembly

During yesterday’s National Assembly of the Socialist Party, the topic of “patronages” was discussed.

A patronage is a member of the public or a low-ranking PS party member who is appointed to observe, ‘spy’, and report back on other members of the public. They are required to gather information on their political beliefs, opinions, and certain matters to do with their personal life such as living arrangements and where they work. This information is then added to a large database which includes their name, ID card number, phone number, employer, and other sensitive information.

The number of patronages totals some 9,000 people for Tirana. This is more than the communist regime employed and tasked with spying on the entire country at the height of the Sigurmi’s operations. Patronages include those working in the police, armed forces, employees of the municipalities and government agencies, Albcontrol, Albanian Post, the Civil Registry, schools and kindergartens, state-owned companies, and even some foreign embassies.

This database was leaked to the media prior to the April 25 election, constituting in the largest leak of private data of Albanians ever. It also led many to believe that the information had been taken illegally from the Civil Registry, due to the kinds of information stored on it and how up-to-date it was.

No legal action has been taken against the Socialist Party for the collection of this data and its subsequent leak. The only action taken so far was a court request to seize the servers, computers, and mobile phones of the media that published a story on the existence of the database. The order was suspended by an extraordinary order from the European Court of Human Rights, and then quashed by a Tirana court.

As a part of its damage control, since the leak, PS leaders have tried to frame the patronage system as normal and useful. In yesterday’s meeting, they spoke of how “helpful” the system was for their win.

The meeting of the Assembly was opened by the Secretary-General, Taulant Balla, who began his speech by congratulating party members and the patronages for their part in securing the party a third term.

The organizational secretary, Arben Pëllumbi, also spoke about the patronages, calling them an important factor in their victory.

“The active membership of the party, together with the most influential supporters in [important] communities for the electoral process, were charged with the task of patronage who formed the basis of the structure of the electoral pyramid of the party,” he said.

One week ago, President Meta asked the SPAK to investigate the extraction of the database, calling the phenomenon of patronage workers a ‘scandal’.

Transparency International demanded that the authorities urgently investigate whether the ruling party obtained the data from government registries and said that SPAK should ascertain whether they abused state resources to secure a win. To date, this has not happened.