Tirana Municipality Fails To Follow Public Consultation Laws – Exit Explains

A week ago, a correspondent of the show Stop, at the same time a inhabitant of Kombinat, was forcibly removed from the room where hearings regarding the 2019 draft budget for municipal unit no. 6 were being held.

This was not the first time the Tirana municipality failed to respect its legal obligations to observe public hearings and consultations. In December 2016, the Tirana municipality refused to allow media and citizens enter ‘public hearings’ concerning the Tirana2030 Masterplan; whereas, in the case of the “National Arena” stadium project, municipal workers forcibly removed one of the most government critical voices, Fatos Lubonja, from the hearings.

In the cases of these projects, and many others, the Tirana municipality did not observe, or only partially observed its legal obligations, as determined by the Law on Notification and Public Consultation and the Aarhus Convention.

Any kind of meeting or public discussion that does not follow these steps and procedures cannot be considered a public hearing, per the Aarhus Convention and local legislation.

Below, Exit reminds the Tirana municipality what the law and the Aarhus Convention provide with regards to the process of public hearings and consultation.

Public informing of and participation in decision-making regarding bills, drafting national and local strategic documentation, policies of high public interest, as well as environmental policies, constitute legal obligations stemming from the Law on Notification and Public Consultation and the Aarhus Convention, that has been ratified by Albania.

Informing and hearings with the public must follow the procedures and steps delineated by these laws, including making the project documentation publicly accessible; making note of the public’s remarks, comments, and proposals brought forth during hearings; incorporation said remarks into the project or justifying a refusal to do so.

The Law on Notification and Public Consultation

The Law on Notification and Public Consultation was passed by the Rama government in 2014.

The purpose of this law is clear, specifically, it “regulates the process of notification and public consultation of the draft-laws, national and local strategic draft-documents, and policies of high interest for the public.”

Notification of public hearings

According to article 6, “public organs are obliged to take all necessary measures, in order to create the possibilities for the participation of the public and all interested parties in the notification and public consultation process.”
Notifications regarding project-acts that will undergo the public consultation procedure must be made electronically. When the institution sees fit, it may also notify the public via one of the following channels:

  • a) electronic post;
  • b) Public notification, which shall be posted in the initiation public organ premises;
  • c) with a notification in the national, regional or local audio-visual media,
  • ç) With the publication in local newspapers or in the two most widely read newspapers nationwide.

Article 8 clearly states that “interested parties in the notification or public consultation process are: Public organs; Citizens of the Republic of Albania and groups of interest; Foreign natural persons with Permanent residence in the Republic of Albania, as well foreign legal persons, registered in the Republic of Albania.”

According to article 17, “interested parties, invited to attend public meetings, shall be given the necessary time for preparation. In any case, they are informed not less than 20 working days before the public meeting, making available copies of the draft act to be discussed.”

Documentation that must be made public before the public hearing takes place

The institution that will be holding the hearing must publish documentation, studies, analytics and other information necessary to the project. Thus, citizens and interest groups can contribute most effectively during the consultation.

Organizing a public hearing and taking note of the participants’ recommendations/opinions

According to article 18, the public consultation is open and participants are given the opportunity to express their views regarding the issues being discussed. A representative from the institution must keep a written record of all the opinions and ideas put forward in the meeting, that they will then make public.

Afterwards, comments and recommendations noted during the hearing are collected by the coordinator of the notification and public consultation from the relevant public organ, which will then decide on the approval or the refusal of the collected recommendations.

If the recommendations are approved, they must be accounted for in the project; if not, then the public organ must present a summary of the reasons for this refusal.

The Aarhus Convention

The convention grants every citizen the right to be informed and participate in decision-making regarding environmental issues, and obligates institutions to guarantee this right. By ratifying this convention, Albania has accepted its precedence over the Constitution.

According to the Aarhus Convention, the documentation that must be made accessible to the public before the public hearing includes:

  • A summary of the technical project and an environmental impact assessment;
  • An environmental permit of the activity;
  • The full project file, available to members of the public who wish to fully familiarize themselves with it;

The above materials must be translated to Albanian and use simple terminology.

What must the public hearing notification contain?

The local government notification must define:

  • Where the public documentation regarding the project can be found;
  • Where and when the public hearing will take place;

How will the public be notified?

The notification is drafted and published for 20 days, straight:

  • On the local radio and television channels;
  • On the institution’s website;
  • In daily or periodical publications, when possible;
  • On the local government’s notification board.

Obligations during the public hearing

Participants in the discussion with the public constitute of: specialists from the local government, certified experts who drafted the environmental impact assessment; specialists from the Ministry of the Environment and specialists from Ministries related to the activities for which the permit is to be granted.

The Ministry of Environment specialists keep the written record of the meeting, that includes all of the public’s suggestions, remarks, and proposals.

During the meeting, a participant sign-up sheet is circulated, on which the participants list their full name, the institution or municipality they represent, as well as a form of contact, via which they will be notified of all further developments in the decision-making process.

Taking the public’s opinion into account

Following the hearing, the remarks of the public must be reflected in the environmental permit. The refusal of any proposals must be accordingly justified.