The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW



Albania loses about $1.2 billion a year because of graft and unpaid taxes. Its regulatory system is not transparent, and its rules are often inconsistent, leading to unreliable interpretation.

But in 2004, the Albanian government sacked a high-level Transportation Department official after an audit of his assets revealed he owned the country's largest asphalt company. And in the months leading up to the July 3, 2005, parliamentary elections, journalists began to ask for the records and assets of public officials. In May, two months after the official deadline for asset declaration submissions, fines were issued to 84 public officials who were late with their submissions.

Formerly a closed society, Albania has begun to expose conflicts of interest and work to improve transparency and accountability among its public officials. Fatmira Laskaj, a former judge who now heads the High Inspectorate on the Declaration and Audit of Assets (HIDAA), analyzes and hands over suspicious cases to the Prosecutor General Office. As a result of Fatmira's work, some officials have been dismissed, others prosecuted. "It is difficult to change the attitude of officials to declare their assets," said Fatmira, but attitudes are changing.

Created by legislation recommended by a USAID-supported coalition of organizations, HIDAA is the first agency of its kind in Albania. It audits all public officials on two-year intervals, and its mandate was recently enlarged to include the implementation of a new conflict of interest law. USAID has provided HIDAA with computers, scanners and other equipment, and it helped design declaration forms and put in place a state-of-the art information management system that includes an official Web site. USAID also trains inspectors and provides technical assistance, training and small grants to anticorruption organizations such as the Albanian Coalition Against Corruption and the Citizens Advocacy Office.

The perception of corruption in Albania remains high. Out of 20 institutions rated by the general public in the 2009 survey, 14 are considered to be more corrupt than honest and only 6 fall below the midpoint of a scale where 0 means "Very honest" and 100 means "Very corrupt". Religious leaders, the President, media, military, public school teachers and NGO leaders are perceived as least corrupt. Custom officials, tax officials, ministers, parliamentarians and doctors, on the other hand, are perceived as the most corrupt. About half of the general public sample (48.5%) thinks that corruption has increased compared to a year ago, while 38% think it has remained at the same level.

In general, the overall experience with corruption transactions has declined from 2005 to 2009. Out of 10 ways in which an individual could be victimized, the average number of ways of victimization experience for 2009 is 1.29, a decrease from 1.7 in 2005. From the 10 scenarios presented, the percentage of people who declared at least one experience with corruption has decreased from 66.5% in 2005 to 57.1% in 2009. Health represents the sector most quoted for bribery. 37.1% of respondents said that they had bribed a doctor or nurse during the last year.

Overall, the Albanian public reports that institutions are not doing enough to fight corruption. On a scale of 0-100 where 0 means "Does not help at all" and 100 means "Helps a lot", the average score of all 9 institutions evaluated is 43.8 points. Only media is seen as contributing to the fight against corruption with 63.6 points, while all other institutions are evaluated with less than 50 points on the scale. Religious leaders, High Inspectorate for the Declaration and Audit of Assets and government, are seen as least helpful in the fight against corruption. Courts and the General Prosecutor's office show an improvement of about 5 points and 6 points, respectively, from 2005 to 2009. However, both still have less than 50 points on the scale.

Albanians' trust in institutions continues to be low. The average score of trust for all 15 institutions presented to respondents is 44.3 points on a scale where 0 means "Do not trust at all" and 100 means "Trust a lot". This score is also below mid-scale for public sector employees (48.8 points).

The public perceives institutions as not being transparent. None of the institutions evaluated received more than 50 points on a 0 to 100 scale, where 0 means "Not at all transparent" and 100 means "Fully transparent". The most transparent institution, according to the general public, is local government, which still scores only 40.3 points. The least transparent institution is the Property Restitution and Compensation Agency with a score of 27.2 points.

When judging the two parties in a corrupt transaction, Albanians show more tolerance towards "givers" than towards "takers". For example, a student who gives a shirt to the teacher with the hope of receiving a better grade is seen as either not corrupt (35.4%) or justified (34.7%). Similarly, a mother who pays 500 Leks for the certificates of her children to avoid staying in a queue is also seen as not corrupt (26.3%) or as largely justified (43.4%). There is a tendency from the Albanian public to include under the term "corruption" even phenomena that are generally not considered as corruption related. Asked about a flower vendor who raises the prices of flowers during holidays, almost half of respondents say that the vendor is corrupt and must be punished. Although this misconception has an impact on over-inflating the corruption perception, analyses show that the impact is rather low.

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, despite several arrests of high-level local and central government officials, government corruption remained a major obstacle to meaningful reform. World Bank governance indices for 2008 indicated that corruption was a serious problem. The government prosecuted corrupt officials and managed complaints regarding corrupt police through the ombudsman.

During 2009 the government's anticorruption task force against organized crime continued to coordinate anticorruption activities. The task force, headed by the prime minister, included several ministers and heads of independent state-owned agencies, such as the public electricity company and representatives of the police and intelligence organizations.

The law prohibits government ministers and their close family members from owning a company directly tied to their official responsibilities. Since its inception in 2003, the High Inspectorate for the Declaration and Audit of Assets (HIDAA) received assets declarations from 9,413 officials. During the year there were 424 new officials who declared their assets for the first time. HIDAA administers conflict of interest regulations and during the year fined 27 individuals for delaying their submissions and fined three for conflict of interest.

During 2009 the Ministry of Interior reported that the state police investigated 1,610 cases related to corruption and financial crimes. Authorities arrested 2,049 persons. The government confiscated approximately 700 million lek ($7 million) in assets, of which 550 million lek ($5.5 million) was from money laundering; the remainder was in contraband goods and illegal products. According to the Ministry of Interior, police dismantled 24 organized criminal groups in 38 police operations. However, organized crime remained a serious problem.

The Joint Investigative Unit to Fight Economic Crime and Corruption (JIU) investigated and prosecuted public corruption and other financial crimes, although its ability to investigate and prosecute corrupt judges, members of parliament, and other high officials was hampered by broad immunity from criminal prosecution granted by the constitution. The JIU was composed of the prosecutor general, the ministers of interior and finance, and the director of SHISH. The JIU used a team structure to concentrate capacity and foster communication necessary for effective investigations and prosecutions. The JIU received direct referrals from citizens.

During 2009 the JIU prosecuted two former mayors of a commune near Tirana for a property fraud scheme. They were convicted of corruption, money laundering, and other charges along with three other officials and two citizens. The trial court imposed sentences ranging from three to six years in prison; however, the Court of Appeals subsequently reduced some of the charges and most of the sentences, cutting the longest sentence to three years.

In a highly charged case involving restitution of property in the Kashar Commune, seven persons were convicted of corruption, money laundering, and other charges. This small commune, between Tirana and Durres, contains valuable land adjacent to the main highway. The seven agreed to a summary trial to reduce their sentences. The court imposed prison sentences ranging from three to six years on five former officials, including two former chairmen of the commune, and fines ranging from one million to six million lek ($10,000 to $60,000). Two commune citizens were convicted of money laundering and falsification of documents, with one of them receiving the heaviest sentence of the group--six years and eight months in prison.

In a Ministry of Defense procurement fraud case, three of four defendants were convicted, including Shkelzen Madani, the resource management director. Madani, convicted of passive corruption and falsification of documents, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison, a 1.8 million lek ($18,000) fine, and was prohibited from holding public office for one year. Madani, a close associate of former minister of defense Fatmir Mediu, and others received an estimated 2,000 euros ($2,860) in bribes for each ammunition import and export license that the Ministry of Defense issued to civilian entities. Two other defendants were convicted and sentenced to less than two years' imprisonment.

In September 2009 the prosecution dismissed charges against former foreign minister Lulzim Basha, who was indicted for abuse of office in connection with the country's largest public works project, on technical grounds relating to his immunity as the new minister of interior. During 2009 the Supreme Court ruled that former minister of defense Fatmir Mediu was immune from prosecution in connection with the investigation of the 2008 explosion at a demilitarization warehouse in Gerdec that resulted in the deaths of 26 persons. Mediu's immunity, which had been revoked in 2008, was reinstated upon his reelection to parliament on June 28. As a result, the case was dismissed.

Corruption in the judiciary was pervasive. Many judges issued rulings that did not appear to have any basis in law or fact, leading some to believe that the only plausible explanation was corruption or political pressure. On 26 July 2012, the Tirana District Court acquitted a technician who erased from the digital video recorder at the Prime Ministers Office all photographic images of the January 2011 violent protest in which four persons were allegedly killed by Republican Guard officers.

On 18 September 2012, the assembly amended the constitution to limit the broad immunity enjoyed by judges that prohibited prosecutors from investigating or prosecuting corruption allegations until they made a public request to the High Council of Justice. Few judges were prosecuted for corruption because most criminal investigations must remain secret, at least initially, to be successful.

Join the mailing list

One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 25-06-2013 13:01:30 ZULU