Although Albania has seen significant reforms in recent years, corruption remains a concern. Various challenges remain, while the number of citizens who distrust their government’s ability to solve this problem is increasing.
What are the causes of widespread corruption in Albania? What is the role of CSOs in the fight against corruption? What are the possible solutions to this problem and is there the political will to achieve them? On these and other topics, we spoke with Ervi Kostaresearch assistant at the Albanian Center for Economic Research.
European Western Balkans: Corruption problems are widespread in the Western Balkans. According to some reports, citizens of the region believe that corruption is the most crucial problem in the region after unemployment and low standard of living. Could you name some of the main causes that have made corruption an integral part of society?
Ervi Kosta: The need to change behavior within civil society is highlighted by a country’s economic and democratic challenges. In Albania, the fight against corruption remains one of the main societal and governance challenges. This sentence confirms that the fight against corruption is not an ultimate destination but a lasting process of democratic renewal, checks and balances.
For years in Albania, corruption in all its forms has been a factor influencing the lives of citizens, the functioning of institutions and the implementation of economic and legal reforms.
Some of the main causes of corruption in Albania are political influence on institutions, low public awareness and participation, lack of accountability on the part of public institutions, high level of informality, use of political parties as intermediaries in the corporate usurpation of institutions. lobbies and oligarchy, as well as the backward culture or mentality of Albanian society.
ISF: CSOs represent a crucial element in any democratic society, and their role in preventing and combating corruption is considered essential. How do you assess the cooperation between CSOs and state institutions in Albania in the fight against corruption? Do you think that the existing legal mechanism for their collaboration is sufficient? Do you think that CSOs are sufficiently recognized as relevant actors in the fight against corruption?
EK: Albanian civil society suffers from the same problems as Albanian society, such as fragmentation, lack of influence on the community and stakeholders, politicization, limited resources and conditionality of donor priorities, insufficient public trust in civil society actors, limited expertise in government relations.
In Albania, CSOs represent an essential element in the prevention and fight against corruption and are considered essential. Some organizations have as their primary objective civic awareness in the fight against corruption. The Albanian Center for Economic Research (ACER), as one of the first organizations established in Albania, contributed to the fight against corruption by raising awareness among civil society and conducting several studies to measure citizens’ perception on the level of corruption.
The Ministry of Justice is currently consulting with civil society to develop a national anti-corruption strategy. Although there have been cooperative efforts between CSOs and state institutions in Albania regarding the fight against corruption, their partnership has not been successful. The Public Notification and Consultation Law can be considered the only legal mechanism that obliges public institutions to consult stakeholders, part of which are also CSOs.
I think that some CSOs in Albania play a role in the fight against corruption, by raising their voices on issues suspected of corruption. This action would be another way for citizens to become aware of the serious consequences that a high level of corruption has for society. I can mention the latest case where the Open Data Albania program filed a criminal complaint with the Constitutional Court for a potential corruption case.
ISF: Various reports suggest that Albania needs to step up its efforts and improve its work in preventing and combating corruption. Can you tell us which areas are the most difficult and require the full attention of the authorities? Do you think there is sufficient political will to meet these challenges?
EK: Corruption is a phenomenon born with humanity and cannot be eliminated but can be reduced. Unfortunately, the fight against corruption has been used by the authorities as a tool to ruin the image and public reputation of political opponents, which has reduced their credibility. The almost complete blurring of boundaries between business lobbies/oligarchs and the ruling political elite maintains a culture of inefficiency and undermines the public’s hope for legitimacy.
The main challenges in the fight against corruption are the consolidation of the reform of the judicial system, the extension of the principles of control in state administration and political parties, and the strengthening of public trust in institutions judicial.
ISF: In 2019, Albania and North Macedonia were among the Western Balkan countries that experienced a decrease in corruption pressure and involvement. It could be concluded that these results were the consequence of higher expectations for the start of accession negotiations. In 2021, there is an increase in both areas compared to 2019. In your opinion, what caused these changes and to what extent has the stagnation of the EU accession process caused them? affected?
EK: According to the results of the study on measure the perception of corruption in Albania for 2021 (CMS 2021), led by ACER, in collaboration with the South East European Development and Integrity Leadership Network(SELDI), corruption pressure was 56% and corruption involvement was 46%. These figures are higher than two years ago. The slowness and impasses of the integration process encourage increased pressure and involvement in corruption in the face of unclear political will.
The most important benefit of opening negotiations with the EU lies not in resolving the country’s economic and social problems, but in restoring citizens’ confidence in the rule of law institutions and in the increase in pressure from citizens on elected/appointed officials. for more legitimacy.
In this way, the phenomenon of citizens leaving the country will be discouraged.
ISF: Since 2014, a “verification process” has been underway in the justice system that involves the reassessment of assets, potential links to criminal groups, and investigations into the integrity of all judges and prosecutors. Can you tell us about the impact of this process? Do you think this instrument could be used for other officials who exercise political and public functions?
EK: Verification is the process that serves to exclude public officials who do not demonstrate integrity in the performance of their duties and thus restores public confidence in the work of state institutions. Since 2016, when this process began to be implemented, the main success has been finding cases in which judges and prosecutors had undeclared assets, meaning that there are no more inviolable in the area of the rule of law. In addition to the wealth criteria widely used for the dismissal of judges and prosecutors, it would be desirable to consider their lack of professionalism and contact with the world of organized crime. It is absurd that individuals removed from the justice system, for whom there is sufficient evidence of possession of illicit assets, remain within the justice system (working as lawyers) or, even worse, enter the new world of academia. The reform will be completed when the seizure of criminal assets is done through legal procedures and rules.
The experience accumulated in the control of justice is entirely sufficient to be extended to other officials exercising political and public functions, starting with parliamentarians.
ISF: In Albania, various reports suggest that the number of people who distrust their government’s abilities to fight corruption is increasing and that many citizens have lost hope that corruption can be reduced. What do you think is the cause of this pessimistic atmosphere?
EK: Most Albanian citizens lack confidence in anti-corruption policies and strategies undertaken in recent years, including justice reform (CMS 2021). This pessimistic situation is the result of long-term majority governance (currently in the third term) and the political support given to important actors, perceived by the public as emblematic figures due to the tender decisions and suspected PPP contracts. of corruption. These phenomena have gradually eroded public confidence in the ability to reduce corruption. It is possible to overcome this situation by punishing responsible persons who misused state funds and property.
ISF: In your opinion, what would be the solution to reduce the corruption that is taking root in society? How important do you think the role of international partners is in combating this problem?
EK: The solution to reducing corruption is closely linked to respecting the free vote of citizens, increasing the transparency of each public agency and institution, with the legal sanction of every responsible person within the State and the political administration. In this process, the role of international partners remains irreplaceable as long as, for the interests of the moment, these partners do not establish the stability of institutions and the economy to the detriment of democracy but contribute to their parallel progress. The following important challenges for Albania in the fight against corruption include increasing cooperation between law enforcement institutions, promoting corruption reporting and promoting active participation of citizens in the fight against corruption. corruption.
This article was published as part of the project “Civil society for good governance and the fight against corruption in South-East Europe: Strengthening monitoring, advocacy and awareness-raising capacities (SELDI)” funded by the Union European.