Public ethics and accountability are essential concepts underpinning an effective local or regional authority. They refer to the culture, processes, structures and rules that ensure those in public office act in the wider public interest, rather than their own self-interest. They are an essential feature of good governance, and it is important that they are respected and monitored by relevant organisations.
Ethics embody the rules that define the conduct of public officials in order to ensure that the public is treated fairly and equitably. Ethics help officials make better decisions in the public interest and help people evaluate the decisions taken on their behalf by public officials.
Public accountability ensures that officials are openly answerable for the decisions they are taking on behalf of the public.
In the absence of public ethics and accountability, corruption and malpractice are able to thrive. As outlined in the final chapter, corruption is damaging to individuals, society, the economy and government in a number of respects. The prioritisation of public ethics and accountability can help curb the worst excesses of power and encourage more responsible and fairer decision-making by local authorities.
Even where corruption is not endemic, the absence of public ethics and accountability can be corrosive to public trust in government, public institutions and officials. While the relationship between public ethics and accountability is complex, consistent and timely application of both can help to build and strengthen trust between the public and government.
Furthermore, public ethics and accountability can contribute to a positive environment where it is recognised that citizens and other stakeholders contribute to the quality of the decision-making process. Combined with citizen participation tools, public ethics and accountability can help to ensure that citizens’ personal experiences, expertise, knowledge and scrutiny add value to, and strengthen, decisions taken by government and public officials.
Elected representatives should be aware of the process by which declarations of assets are monitored and by which body, and which sanctions can be applied, and how, in the event that an office-holder makes a false or incomplete declaration. They should know the rules governing whistle-blowing and which official or officials are responsible for considering whistle-blowers’ complaints and reports of wrongdoing. Local authorities need to ensure in-house training for newly elected representatives and provide regular refresher training for all elected officials. Knowledge and understanding of the legal and institutional framework are essential if elected representatives are to succeed as role models of political integrity.
Finally, public ethics and accountability are key to improving public services because public services that are more responsive and accountable to people – and benefit from their insights, ideas, energy, and scrutiny – will work better for people and the community as a whole.
Taken together, public ethics and accountability help to ensure that decision-making and resource allocation are fair, efficient and effective, which in turn helps to enable a flourishing democracy, economy and society. To this end, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe adopted the European Code of Conduct for all Persons Involved in Local and Regional Governance, encouraging local and regional authorities and associations of local and regional authorities to design appropriate educational programmes in integrity management and to implement advisory services to help their staff to identify and deal with potential ethical risk areas and conflict-of-interest situations.
Transparency and citizen participation are important mechanisms for promoting public ethics and accountability in central and local government. A recent report for the European Committee of the Regions on “Preventing Corruption and Promoting Public Ethics at the Local and Regional Level in Eastern Partnership Countries” found that lack of transparency was the main vulnerability in all of the cases assessed. This handbook outlines a range of transparency and citizen participation mechanisms that can be adopted by local and regional authorities.
 For the purpose of this publication, the term “public officials” refers to elected representatives, public authorities and civil servants (either at local, regional or central government level) who hold a legislative, administrative or judicial office, and to any person exercising a public function, including for a public agency or a state-owned enterprise.
Albania has undergone transformational changes regarding the local government system. One of the major changes was the administrative and territorial reform of 2014, reducing the number of Local Government Units (LGUs) from 373 “urban municipalities” and “communes” to 61 new Municipalities (the “communes” were abolished as an administrative division of Albania). In this regard, the National Cross-cutting Strategy for Decentralization and Local Governance 2015-2020 fits the new context of local government organisation and puts forward a comprehensive approach to decentralisation and strengthening of local governance, in line with the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. The same approach is found in the National Action Plan 2020-2022, a continuation of the National Cross-cutting Strategy for Decentralization and Local Governance 2015-2020.
According to the European Commission’s 2016 progress report for Albania, the financial and administrative consolidation of the newly created municipalities has been slow, posing an additional challenge in the fight against corruption. Albania has recently adopted some measures that aim to tackle corruption, such as the Inter-Sectoral Strategy against Corruption 2015-2023, and its Action Plan for 2020-2023, and the Law No. 9508 “On Public Co-operation in Combating Corruption”. In addition, the new Law No. 60/2016 “On Whistle-Blowing and Whistle-Blowers’ Protection”, which aims to protect and prevent corruption in the public and private sectors, is applicable to local governments.[i]
Despite the measures taken, Albania remains vulnerable to corruption because of political interference and the lack of independence at key oversight institutions. Almost 89% of the general public think corruption is either “widespread” or “somewhat widespread” among public officials. In terms of levels of corruption, the citizens’ perception of corruption at the local government level is rated “average”.
Regarding transparency and citizen participation, Albania has adopted Law No. 119/2014 “On the Right to Information” and Law No. 146/2014 “On Notification and Public Consultation”. However, there is a high discrepancy between the standards of the laws and strategies and their actual implementation. Only 43% of citizens perceive local government as transparent and 33% of them perceive municipalities as accountable. Moreover, citizen participation is the weakest in the governance dimensions of Albanian municipalities. This is evidenced by the finding that 67% of citizens respond that they lack sufficient opportunities to participate in decision-making and consultation processes at local level.
With regards to ethics, the Albanian public administration has failed to implement fully effective anti-corruption mechanisms and the level of implementation of codes of ethics and their adoption is generally poor.
[i] Public entities with more than 80 employees shall set up a responsible unit to register, conduct administrative investigations and examine the reports obtained from whistle-blowers through internal and external disclosure channels, according to the Law No. 60/2016 On Whistle-Blowing and Whistle-Blowers’ Protection.
Codes of ethics establish basic principles by which public servants must abide, such as integrity, selflessness and openness. A code of conduct draws on the code of ethics to formulate standards and practices that should be applied to the particular circumstances of an institution.
A code of conduct sets out specific standards of professional behaviour expected in a host of situations and provides public officials with guidance for handling them. In addition, codes of conduct bring transparency and public accountability into governmental operations.
Well-designed codes of ethics and codes of conduct will help meet the growing expectations from the public, business leaders and civil society for greater transparency and integrity in government, and will places an onus on governments to ensure high ethical standards amongst public officials and elected representatives. As such, they can support the development of trust between the public and government institutions and officials. It is important that codes of conduct are in place for both civil servants and elected officials, and that training and guidance is provided to ensure a full understanding of the codes by all office-holders. Disciplinary measures and sanctions should be clearly stipulated and consistently applied in the event of noncompliance with the codes.
The following international conventions and standards relate to codes of ethics and professional conduct:
Ethics and integrity in public administration is a precondition for a democratic, transparent, and effective government, and greater responsiveness to citizens. In Albania, there is a lack of data as regards the implementation of codes of conduct at local level, and most norms affecting codes of conduct are regulated through codes of ethics, creating confusion between the two. On the other hand, many public institutions, like the Supreme State Audit Institution (ALSAI) and local governments, have adopted their own codes of conduct and codes of ethics. With regard to the latter, there is confusion about the hierarchy of the legislation regulating ethics and the codes of ethics themselves that often duplicate legal instruments and, therefore, are redundant or fail to address specific local concerns. Besides, the lack of data on the implementation of codes of ethics reflects the reality that their implementation has been limited in Albania.
Norms of conduct of public officials are regulated by Law No. 9131 “On the Rules of Ethics in the Public Administration”. As provided in Article 1 of this law, “the purpose of this law is to set rules of conduct of employees of the public administration, according to the required standards, to help them achieve these standards and to make the public aware of the conduct that an employee of the public administration should have”.
In addition, Law No. 152/2013 “On the Civil Servant” serves as a basis for adopting more specific and detailed regulations on ethics by different parts of the public administration. Public institutions are obliged to establish a human resources department responsible for the management and career development of the public officials of the institution. Disciplinary measures and sanctions are stipulated for application in the event of noncompliance with the law.
The existing codes of ethics or codes of conduct and related provisions in the internal regulations of local authorities complement the above-stated legal provisions.
Despite the lack of specific guidelines regarding codes of conduct, the ethics and conduct of public officials are regulated in different articles of the normative framework aiming to increase transparency, impartiality and non-discrimination in the actions and conduct of Albanian civil servants. The following instruments contain provisions on the conduct of public officials:
Having a code of conduct is important not only to highlight, transmit and protect the internal values of the institution, but also to communicate these values to external stakeholders. In this regard, local authorities should adopt a code of conduct to foster accountability and ethical behaviour, and to function as a central guide for handling ethical dilemmas.
The Municipal Council of Shkodra has published a Code of Ethics which includes ethical principles in its first chapter, but also regulates the conduct of public officials. The employees of the Municipal Council should behave in accordance with the ethical principles set forth in the first chapter of the Code, which in subsequent chapters regulates the conduct of public officials as regards human resources; conflicts of interest; access to information; prohibitions of abuse of public expenditure, working time and position; gifts and bribery; and the protection of citizens who report unlawful conduct of public officials. Finally, the Code lists a range of disciplinary measures that come into effect in the event that public officials violate the articles of the Code when their actions do not constitute a criminal offence.
Complaints mechanisms allow citizens to provide feedback to public authorities on the standards of services they receive. They provide an important accountability mechanism which allows civil servants and elected officials to identify where public services are being delivered ineffectively, inefficiently or inequitably. When such mechanisms result in the prompt and effective handling of complaints , they can help to create the conditions for increased trust of citizens in government administration.
To ensure confidence in the mechanisms, local authorities should endeavour to consider and resolve each complaint promptly and comprehensively. Complaints mechanisms can be made more accessible by applying a one-stop-shop approach so that citizens do not need to search among different offices and websites.
If government takes a proactive approach to pre-empt the repeat of similar causes for complaint, complaints mechanisms can also help governments to identify new approaches to service delivery and to increase citizen participation. To this end, complaints mechanisms should be combined with periodic evaluations of service delivery, including the use of public opinion surveys, and exchange of experience and tools with other local authorities to encourage wider adoption of good practice and tried and tested tools.
There are no specific international standards for complaints mechanisms relating to public services. However, mechanisms and procedures for responding to complaints are incorporated into an international legal guarantee to the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority, and there are a number of helpful civil society guidelines and handbooks. See for example:
Complaints mechanisms at the local level are important in that they provide a channel for addressing citizens’ concerns and problems. Citizens can submit complaints through one-stop shops at local government units and can seek redress of their concerns and problems through sending letters of complaint or calling a dedicated phone number created for this purpose. Local government units have internal regulations that stipulate the procedures for addressing and resolving complaints and they should provide complaint-form templates to facilitate citizens’ feedback and subsequent documentation of their complaints and the responses provided. In addition, there are online tools in place to file complaints, such as Stop Corruption (www.stopkorrupsionit.al), Ask the State (www.pyetshtetin.al) and Improve Your City (www.permiresoqytetin.al), among others. Nevertheless, there is a lack of data on citizens’ concerns towards public institutions on most of those online platforms, especially towards local government units. This is compounded by a general lack of citizens’ trust in public institutions at the local level, especially in the fight against corruption.
Article 19 of Law No. 139/2015 “On Local Self-Government” stipulates that any citizen or group representing communities has the right to address requests, complaints, or objections to local government bodies on matters pertaining to functions and competences within the jurisdiction of the local government unit. Local government bodies are obliged to consider claims, appeals or remarks, and to reply within the deadlines set by the law. Law No. 44/2015 “On the Code of Administrative Procedures” regulates the procedure for administrative appeal in cases when the complaint is not taken into consideration. The one-stop-shop principle provided in this Code is a good legal basis which contributes to the effectiveness of complaints mechanisms.
The Office of the Commissioner for the Right to Information and Protection of Personal Data also assesses complaints in cases when the mechanism of the right to information is applied.
Other specific procedural laws also provide the legal basis for addressing requests, complaints or objections submitted to local government bodies on specific matters.
In addition to the internal procedures of local government units, the Office of the Commissioner for the Right to Information and Protection of Personal Data has created a procedure for complaints and has designed a standardised letter for complaints for those cases where the right to information is not yet observed and promoted by local government units. To improve their efficiency at local level, public authorities should develop and implement a clear process of complaints procedures whereby each citizen’s problem and concern is considered and resolved promptly and comprehensively.
“Improve your City” (www.permiresoqytetin.al) is an online platform that allows citizens to submit complaints to the local authorities of any of the municipalities in Albania and directly participate in local government affairs of concern to them. It can be accessed via an internet browser or through its mobile application, resulting in an easy-to-use tool for citizens to have their say about municipal issues such as city cleaning, infrastructure, education, public transport, public spaces, construction, and much more.
Another example is the mobile application Tirana Ime, Albanian for “My Tirana” (www.tirana.al/aplikacioni-tirana-ime), launched by the municipality of Tirana in 2015. Available for download free of charge, the application includes six categories: traffic, transportation, pollution, information, reports, and tourism. Under the “Reports” section, residents of Tirana can submit online complaints and feedback or reports on a variety of municipal services.
Grievance redress mechanisms (GRMs) are tools that go beyond complaints mechanisms and other feedback channels as citizens can use a GRM to address government institutions and local municipalities with concerns about the impact of policies and their implementation on the citizens themselves. When the policy of a public agency affects the interests of the citizens, or the decision made by the central or local governmental bodies causes a grievance on the part of the citizens, interested parties can use the redress system created by the government agencies and local municipal bodies to present their grievance. A grievance redress mechanism is not used to replace the court or audit system or formal investigation; nor is it the appropriate mechanism for grievance about potentially criminal acts, such as instances of corruption. GRMs are designed for collaborative solutions of grievances.
Redress mechanisms serve as a frontline service to be used by citizens to effectively resolve complaints and/or grievances. Furthermore, business organisations can use GRMs to mitigate risks to their business operations and GRMs can become a prompt and effective mechanism for dispute settlement short of legal action.
Effective redress mechanisms can serve to identify patterns of corruption and malpractice, and to forge corruption prevention policies. To ensure greater access, it is important to raise public awareness about GRMs and to provide free advice to citizens on the formulation of grievance claims and how to proceed when seeking redress.
Standards for grievance redress mechanisms are mostly set by international organisations such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and European Commission. These standards are mostly connected with setting the legal framework for the protection of citizens’ rights. These standards are presented in the following guidelines:
According to “Corruption in Albania, Perception and Experience”, a survey by the Institute for Development Research and Alternatives (IDRA) in 2016, the public perceives the level of responsiveness of local governments in addressing citizens’ requests regarding local projects and developmental issues as “good”. The survey data indicated that respondents consider the redress of citizens’ complaints as “average”, but secondary data reveals comparatively better satisfaction rates vis-a-vis the resolution of complaints.
Although some municipalities report a generally good level of resolution of complaints, a substantial number of municipalities publish neither statistics on the annual numbers of complaints filed by citizens and businesses nor the number of resolved complaints. It is evident that some municipalities have neither an integrated system for complaints management nor an effective system for tracking filed complaints.
Pursuant to Law 119/2014, all the municipalities have established a structure to handle the filed complaints, known as the Complaints Office, Public Information Office, Appeal Office or Public Relations Office, where citizens can raise issues of concern and file complaints or requests. The workflow, timeframes and other details related to the processing of complaints and requests are specified in the legislation. Other mechanisms that citizens can use are citizens’ open days organised by the municipalities, dedicated windows in the municipality official website, and municipal phone numbers. Several small municipalities, such as Memaliaj, Këlcyrë, and Libohovë, have reported that they lack standard redress mechanisms or complaints are filed by citizens either as handwritten letters or through informal communication, which makes the process difficult to manage and complicates the authorities’ ability to provide formal responses.
Other procedural laws also provide the legal basis for redress of complaints submitted to local government bodies on specific matters. These provisions provide legal deadlines applicable to the available redress mechanism.
The existence of the independent institution of People’s Ombudsman established by Law no. 8454 ”On People’s Ombudsman”, as amended, represents an additional guarantee for an effective redress mechanism.
The accountability of municipal departments is enhanced by citizen complaints management and redress mechanisms, and municipalities declare that they have mechanisms for lodging complaints, but the response mechanisms are not effective.
The recommendations of the Supreme State Audit Institution (ALSAI) and of internal audit bodies serve as an important control mechanism for almost all Local Governance Units (LGUs), but more emphasis should be placed on increasing the role of municipal councils, which need to be periodically informed about the progress made and the problems encountered during the implementation of their decisions. There is also a need to open the municipal council meetings up to the public and provide space for citizens and stakeholder groups to raise complaints or grievances in a concerted way with a view to securing prompt action, such as redress or policy adjustments to prevent repeat of the harm done.
Several innovative practices have been added to citizen feedback mechanisms, such as a dedicated space on official websites, for instance www.shqiperiaqeduam.al, www.stopkorrupsionit.al, www.pyetshtetin.al, www.permiresoqytetin.al, opendata.tirana.al, or applications like “My Tirana” where citizens can share input and seek improvements in policy and practice at the local government level. Other municipalities such as Belsh, Gramsh, Vlorë, Fier, Patos and Sarandë have developed IT tools, such as “Improve my City”, enabling citizens to provide input on municipal issues.
Corruption and other actions harmful to the public interest, including to public health, are more prevalent in organisations that lack a culture of transparency and oversight. A whistle-blower is a person who exposes information on illegal or unethical activities in a private or public organisation, and the rights of a whistle-blower who discloses wrongdoing, or acts and omissions harmful to the public interest, should be protected under “whistle-blowing” laws. Although usually an employee, the whistle-blower could also be a sub-contractor, supplier, unpaid trainee or volunteer. The protection of whistle-blowers is important also in the private sector, not least where they might uncover bribery to public officials or practices damaging to the environment or public health and safety.
Most whistle-blowers raise their concerns internally or with regulatory or law enforcement authorities rather than blowing the whistle in public. The protection of whistle-blowers, and an organisational culture that prioritises transparency and dialogue, serves to promote accountability, builds confidence in the integrity of government, and encourages the reporting of misconduct and corruption. Whistle-blower protection can motivate employees to report wrongdoing without fear of reprisals, and fosters transparency and trust within an organisation as well as outwards to citizens that ethics are upheld and misconduct detected and remedied.
The rights of whistle-blowers can be strengthened by stipulating clear processes and providing secure confidential channels for disclosure. Explicit remedies, including penalties, to redress reprisals against whistle-blowers should be introduced and consistently applied. Training of human resources staff in local government and government agencies needs to be complemented by awareness-raising among the public so that citizens and government employees alike understand the positive results from whistle-blowing in terms of sustained value for money, trust in public authorities, and quality of services.
The following international conventions and standards relate to the protection of whistle-blowers:
In May 2014, the National Coordinator Against Corruption (NCAC) and the Ministry of Justice, with the assistance of the Dutch government through Utrecht University, began drafting the Law “On whistle-blowers and the protection of whistle-blowers”. This law serves to achieve a greater transparency of public and private institutions by creating a better environment for employees to step up and denounce corruption cases. The law defines corruption-related offences, delineates the competences of the internal mechanisms, and pinpoints which body should serve as the external reporting mechanism, and defines how the protection of whistle-blowers should be ensured. In addition, the law applies both to the public and private sector. It was adopted in Parliament on 2 June 2016. By Decree of the President of the Republic No.9647, the law entered into force on 8 July 2016. Its legal effects extend from 1 October 2016, with the exception of legal effects for internal whistleblowing for private subjects, which started on 1 July 2017. This was a commitment of the second and third Open Government Partnership (OGP) National Action Plans 2014-2016 and 2016-2018, and continues to be a commitment of the National Action Plan of 2020-2022.
Based on the Criminal Code, the Law on Whistle-blowing and Whistle-blower Protection considers as reportable criminal offences of corruption all illegal actions or inactions, as per the criminal legislation in force, related to any and all forms of active and passive corruption, abuse of office or power, exercising illegal influence in the performance of duties or decision-making, misuse of state budget revenues, illegal profits, bribery or grafts, as well as any other acts similar to the above.
The law provides three elements of a comprehensive law on whistleblowing:
• Mechanisms for reporting on corrupt acts;
• Mechanisms for investigating reported whistleblowing; and
• Mechanisms for protecting whistle-blowers from retaliation.
The law applies to all people working in the public and private sector and includes some of the best international practices on whistle-blower protection, such as:
• Credible protection of confidentiality;
• Protection from harassment that aim to create an aggravated environment for the whistle-blower;
• Prohibition of contractual agreements based on which the whistle-blower’s rights and protection are ruled out or limited;
• The option of transfer in case the whistle-blower chooses to not return to the same workplace and to relocate to another place to protect themselves from hostile reactions; and
• Charging with personal responsibility for retaliation against the whistle-blower.
Although four years have passed since the adoption of the law, the situation in local government units regarding the adoption of bylaws presents some problems. None of the ten largest municipalities in the country complied within the legal deadline of six months from the effective date of the law, with the requirement for the approval of special internal regulations on the procedure of reviewing the administrative investigation of signalling of illegal conduct or wrongdoing and on the mechanisms of protection of confidentiality. By 2021, only seven municipalities, namely Korça, Durrës, Tirana, Gjirokastër, Lezhë, and Kukës, had fulfilled their legal obligation to approve the relevant regulations, although two years after the legal deadline. Three other municipalities (Shkodra, Dibra and Vlora) had not yet approved these regulations.
Although state institutions and other stakeholders have been mostly focused on the legal and institutional infrastructure for implementing the legal requirements, 2017 marked the first results of the implementation of the whistle-blower protection legislations. Namely, eight cases of reports in state institutions have been administered by HIDAACI in 2017, which shows marginal changes in government practice for civic participation in reporting wrongdoings in institutions that are subject to this law.
Despite the importance of this commitment in creating a formal framework to strengthen the fight against corruption and address other malpractices, its implementation has not yet resulted in observable changes for increased public access to information on reported cases or changed practices of public accountability.
During monitoring carried out in 2020 by the Albanian Helsinki Committee, in the ten main municipalities of Albania, only one internal signalisation of illegal conduct or wrongdoing was registered (in Tirana Municipality). Respecting the confidentiality of the whistleblower, the signalling deposited by an identified whistleblower was initially addressed to the information office, which forwarded the signalling to the Directorate of Human Resources. The latter forwarded the signal to the Responsible Unit. A decision was rendered to start the administrative investigation by the Responsible Unit, while the whistleblower participated in the hearing, which was documented through a recording. Several days later, the whistleblower was called again by the Responsible Unit and was asked to file some documents as additional evidence; these additional documents were not filed by the whistleblower. The Responsible Unit set up at Tirana Municipality conducted an on-site verification at the Directorate where the signalisation was identified. The verifications carried out did not reveal any suspicions of any corrupt acts, therefore, this signalling procedure was closed.
A successful signalisation was recorded in 2014, when Fier police official D.Z. blew the whistle on the involvement of then-Interior Minister S.T.’s cousins in drug trafficking. D.Z. said drug kingpin M.H. and his ring members used a private car purchased from S.T. to sell drugs. For a long period, the Albanian prosecution did not consider D.Z.’s allegations. Rather, D.Z. – the whistleblower – was arrested and fled to Switzerland where he was granted political asylum.
Not until 2018 did Italian authorities arrest M.H. and members of his gang. A year later S.T. was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison for abuse of office. The sentence was reduced to 3.4 years and then changed to three years of probation. Albanian authorities still have not acknowledged D.Z. contribution to the case, and he remains on the wanted persons list.
In September, the Court of Serious Crimes cleared former minister of interior S.T. of drug trafficking charges but found him guilty of abuse of office and sentenced him to a three-year probation.
Disclosure is the act of routinely publishing and updating particular types of information, sometimes required by law, such as the financial interests of public officials. It can support anti-corruption measures by requiring the routine publication of assets and interests that could represent a conflict of interest. A conflict of interest arises, or can be perceived to arise, when the private assets or interests of public officials can improperly influence policies and decisions taken during the exercise of their official duties.
Disclosure requirements can build citizens' trust in the transparency and integrity of local decision-making. They also assist public officials in having regularly updated information that prevents conflicts of interest arising among employees. Disclosure of financial assets also provides important information to help clarify if elected officials or civil servants do not have wealth that is disproportionate to their income, either protecting them from false accusations or serving as evidence in the case of suspected illicit enrichment.
Service delivery at the local government level, whether it be construction or tendering of waste-management services, is often subject to conflicts of interest due to the proximity of local entrepreneurs to government officials. Confidence of the public and business that competition for local government tenders, for instance, is open to all without discrimination will be much greater if both elected officials and civil servants involved in design of the tenders and assessment of tender submissions have completed declarations of assets and interests (including of close family members).
It is important that the institutions responsible for gathering and monitoring declarations are provided with protection against political or other interference in their work, for instance through oversight by independent ethics committees. Likewise, local government officials should be provided with clear guidance on what to declare, and also on prevailing anti-corruption legislation. A well-implemented and regularly updated and monitored assets declaration system can complement the work of an effective prosecution service.
Disclosure is an important element in the conventions and standards against corruption listed elsewhere in this handbook. Of particular relevance are:
The system of declaration of assets and financial obligations has been one of the most important legislative steps in Albania, reflecting the key requirements of the UN Convention against Corruption. However, the legislation on the conflict of interest and its implementation has been hampered by a number of factors and, therefore, its application has been partial and fragmented. One of the main obstacles is the gap between the broad scope of the law and the inadequate capabilities to ensure its effective implementation.
The Law No. 9049 “On the Declaration and Audit of Assets, Financial Obligations of Elected Persons and Certain Public Officials” defines the rules for the declaration and audit of assets, the legitimacy of their sources, and the financial obligations for public officials, their relatives and persons close to them. As per Article 40, any violation of the obligations set forth in this Law may constitute a criminal offense or an administrative infraction, which is punished by fines based on the nature and degree of such violation.
The High Inspectorate of Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflict of Interest (HIDAACI) administers the declaration of assets and financial obligations, and the audit of this declaration, according to the specifications outlined in the laws of declaration and conflict of interests. Moreover, based on the Law No. 9367 “On the Prevention of Conflict of Interest in the Exercise of Public Functions”, the HIDAACI, in the quality of central authority responsible for the implementation of the said Law, manages and improves the policies and mechanisms regarding the prevention of conflict of interest; offers technical assistance and advice on legal initiatives undertaken by public institutions for the prevention of conflict of interest; and monitors, audits and evaluates the exercise of this Law, among its main functions.
In support of local government anti-corruption efforts, the HIDAACI has developed and make available the Guide for Prevention of Conflicts of Interest in Local Governance together with its Explanatory Manual. The Guide gives information on:
The Explanatory Manual for the Prevention of Conflicts of Interest in Local Governance aims at creating standards and unification of practices in administering and solving conflicts of interest at local level. In order to enhance disclosure and prevent conflict of interest, public authorities should act in accordance with the abovementioned Guide adopted by the HIDAACI and its Explanatory Manual.
The Municipal Council of Tirana has published its internal regulation which provides the rules and procedures of the Municipal Council. Article 12 of this internal regulation stipulates that councillors do not take part in the consideration and approval of the council's draft acts when they or their spouse, parents, children, siblings, parents-in-law, or partners have a conflict of interest in the matter being discussed in the Municipal Council.
The principle of transparency is applied to ensure that those affected by administrative decisions have comprehensive information about the results and implications of policies and about the process of decision-making. The public availability of information about government policies, programmes and activities enables citizens and local communities to gain a clear understanding of government actions, make informed choices, and participate in local decision-making processes. It also enables elected officials, those in government and those in opposition, to take informed decisions and to exercise effective scrutiny and hold the executive to account for their actions. In addition, access to information is essential for journalists and civil society representatives to effectively perform their watchdog functions and hold the government accountable.
Local government should make data available to the public in an accessible format and do so in a timely manner. This enables citizens and stakeholders to participate in decision-making processes from an informed perspective, and to monitor and evaluate government implementation of policies and decisions in order to hold public officials accountable for their actions. Transparency is achieved through a range of mechanisms, building on the right of citizens to access information. These include the disclosure of the financial assets and interests of senior public officials and elected office-holders, and the publication of information in accessible, intersearchable open-data formats.
According to the definition of the Open Knowledge Foundation, “open data is data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share alike.” Therefore, the concept of open data goes beyond the availability of public information and focuses on its use, out of which additional economic, social and political benefits are generated. To make it happen, the data published should be complete, permanent, non-exclusive, non-discriminatory, and non-proprietary, as well as provided by primary sources, in a timely manner and in machine-readable formats (more information here and here).
Limited access to public information negatively affects public trust towards public institutions, increases potential corruption risks, and restricts opportunities for various stakeholders to monitor government performance. It also inhibits citizens and stakeholders’ efforts to participate in policymaking and to design evidence-based policy recommendations for positive changes. The practice shows that access to information legislation and proper enforcement measures are an essential part of the enabling environment for citizens’ access to information.
Public procurement is considered to be one of the key areas susceptible to corruption. It accounts for around 12 percent of global gross domestic product, and in most high-income economies the purchase of goods and services accounts for one-third of total public spending. In short, public procurement is a significant area for potential corruption, collusion and other illegal practices. To avoid public procurement-related corruption risks, electronic means and platforms operating through open data solutions are increasingly available and used by government authorities to reform state procurement tendering procedures. Combined with open contracting (where bids and contracts are made public), the increase in fully accessible, well-publicised procurement processes opens tendering to more bidders and reduces the scope for anti-competitive practices and bribery.
Another important component of transparency principles is the openness of the financing of political parties and election campaigns, as it is important for the electorate to know the sources of financing, and how the money is spent, in order to make informed decisions and to understand which financial, political or other interests are supporting particular candidates or parties. The transparency of political donations is a preventive measure against the use of money emanating from illicit and criminal sources in politics and elections.
Finally, to ensure that state resources are used in an economical, efficient and effective way, the independence and institutional capacity of the body responsible for external audit should be secured. Members of the wider public should have the possibility to familiarise themselves with reports and major recommendations issued by the auditor. External audit is important to identify major challenges in the public sector, improve transparency and performance of public institutions, and design evidence-based policies.
In 2019, minor positive developments in local democratic governance in Albania were overshadowed by single-party control of nearly all municipalities following the main opposition party’s boycott of the June local elections. This unprecedented situation raised serious concerns over good governance due to the absence of opposition voices in the current four-year mandate.
In its fourth year of implementation, the territorial and administrative reform (TAR) process is showing the need for consolidation. The report titled “Functioning of municipalities in the framework of TAR,” carried out by the Albanian Supreme State Audit Institution (ALSAI) in 2018, found serious concerns in relation to local finances, fiscal autonomy, alignment of other laws with Law no. 139/2015 on “Local self-governance”, and legal ambiguities that may be misused to breach local government autonomy.
The European Commission’s 2019 Progress Report on Albania echoes similar challenges and also points to concerns over the civil service at the local level. National transfers still constitute 73 percent of the budgets of LGUs, which remain largely ineffective at collecting revenues and delivering quality public services.
Recent studies show that the average level of transparency with regard to access to information by local governments in Albania is 57% and approximately half of the 61 municipalities have adopted a transparency programme.
The country's political stalemate saw an opening in January 2020, when the ruling majority and the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition reached an agreement to take forward the electoral reform, to implement the recommendations of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR), ensuring transparent financing of political parties and electoral campaigns.
A robust law on access to information is not well implemented. Public procurement processes and public finances are frequently opaque, though parliamentary procedures are more open and accessible.
Access to information is the legal right for citizens to request and receive information from public authorities. It is often enacted by Freedom of Information legislation. As an integral part of the right of freedom of expression, access to information is a human right and everyone should have the right to access information from public bodies and public agencies in accordance with the principle of maximum disclosure subject to only a narrow, clearly defined, set of exceptions proportionate to the interest that justifies them (e.g. grounds of security or data privacy). More information here and here.
Access to information supports accountability, oversight of government, and monitoring of corruption. It is also critical to informed citizen participation in decision-making, and is therefore fundamental for the effective functioning of democracies. Free access to information empowers civil society to monitor and scrutinise the actions of local authorities, it serves to prevent abuse of power by public officials, and provides data for informed public debate.
The proactive publication of the maximum amount of information in the most accessible formats serves to reduce the need for citizens and stakeholders to file individual requests for the release of information. As well as providing the maximum amount of information electronically, local authorities should prioritise the designation of Freedom of Information officers in their municipalities. Such officers should prepare and publish detailed recommendations for both citizens and local authorities, and provide clear guidance on the appeals process in the event that a request for information is not granted. It is also important to analyse information requests from citizens and stakeholder groups, in particular trends and duplication, so that the authorities can subsequently release such information on a proactive basis.
Access to information is a fundamental component of a number of the conventions and standards against corruption listed elsewhere in this handbook. It also underpins a number of key UN human rights documents. The following specifically relate to Access to Information:
Access to information is an important mechanism to address transparency and accountability. Recent studies show that the average level of transparency with regard to access to information by local governments in Albania is 57% and approximately half of the 61 municipalities have adopted a transparency programme.
Article 15 of the Law No. 139/2015 “On Local Self-Government” and Law No. 119/2014 “On the Right to Information” (FOIA) stipulate that local self-government bodies are obligated to make all their acts and information accessible to citizens. They should be published on their official website and displayed places for public announcements within the municipality. Each municipality shall adopt a transparency programme and appoint a co-ordinator for the right to information ensuring access for all to information.
Further, Article 18 of the Law No. 119/2014 “On the Right to Information” establishes administrative offenses for those who fail to comply with the provisions of this Law and imposes pecuniary sanctions according to the degree of violation. The Commissioner for the Right to Information and Protection of Personal Data has the right to supervise and monitor the implementation of the Law, to conduct administrative investigations and to propose disciplinary measures against offenders.
Furthermore, Law No. 44/2015 “On the Code of Administrative Procedures” regulates the procedure for access to public administration, right for administrative requests, petitions, etc., that may be addressed to public administration authorities. The principle of one-stop-shop provided in this Code is a good legal basis regarding access to information.
To increase access to information at local level, especially for the poorest communities, local authorities shall adopt and keep updated the Transparency Programme, which shall be created in accordance with the standard format approved by the Commissioner for the Right to Information and Protection of Personal Data. By means of the Transparency Programme, local authorities should take into consideration the highest interest of the community, especially to ensure maximum access to public information and to make publicly available as much information as possible in order to reduce the need for individual requests for information.
In addition, local authorities shall create, keep and make public a register, which keeps track of the requests for information and includes the information made available in response. The register should be created in accordance with Article 8 of the Law No. 119/2014 “On the Right to Information” and as set forth in the Transparency Programme and following the standard format of the register issued by the Commissioner for the Right to Information and Protection of Personal Data.
The municipality of Korçë stands out for its good implementation of the legal regulations on access to information. According to a 2017 report by the Centre for Public Information Issues (INFOÇIP by its Albanian acronym), Korçë is the most transparent municipality in Albania based on five indicators:
In addition, according to an online monitoring process of the Albanian municipal websites carried out by the 2017 Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, the municipality of Korçë is ranked first among all municipalities in 2017, with a level of online transparency of 69%. The most transparent categories in the municipality of Korçë are financial transparency, implementation of the right to information and publication of municipal council meetings and decisions.
Open data is the publication of data and information in a format that may be freely used, modified and shared. The OECD states that open data is “a set of policies that promote transparency, accountability and value creation by making government data available to all”. By making data generated through the activities of public bodies available, government becomes more transparent and accountable to citizens. It also supports business growth and the development of services centred on citizens, and provides important data for research and innovation by public bodies, the private sector, and civic stakeholders.
The promotion of open data through one-stop portals can further increase the scope for interoperability of datasets in terms of search and analysis. The results can improve the efficiency and reach of service delivery and reduce corruption. Awareness-raising among stakeholder groups, the media, businesses, and the wider public can result in effective co-operation among different stakeholders and improvements in solutions on transportation, recreation facilities, parking zones, health services, and much more.
It is important to adopt consistent open data standards for all open data to ensure maximum interoperability and searchability of data. Local authorities should also ensure that qualified staff manage the municipality's open data publication, and train relevant employees in open data standards.
Open data is a relatively new phenomenon without officially endorsed standards. However, a number of useful guidelines exist:
As regards the state of open government data, Albania is ranked 37th in the 2015 Global Open Data Index. With regard to the legal framework, laws, published acts and updated legislation are available online through the Albanian Official Publishing Centre. Nevertheless, 59% of surveyed civil society organisations do not fully agree that draft laws, policies and laws are available to the public, and 54% of them do not fully agree that draft laws, policies and laws are published in a timely manner.
Lack of awareness and understanding of open data persists both in government institutions and public officials and among citizens. That said, there are initiatives in place to address this situation, such as the promotion of Open Government Partnership (OGP) values among local authorities, which was one of the partially achieved commitments of the OGP Second Open Government National Action Plan for Albania 2014 -2016.
On 18 February 2015, the Council of Ministers approved the decision No. 147 “On the Approval of the Document on the Open Data Policy and the Establishment of the Open Data Portal”. The OGP Third Open Government National Action Plan for Albania 2016 – 2018 foresees four major actions and 17 commitments to promote transparency and open data. Increasing the access to information and the modernisation of the public service are the two main actions that should be addressed by local authorities. A platform for transparency and innovation named OpenAlb has been established to ensure the successful implementation of the OGP commitments in the country.
In order to increase openness and transparency at local level, local authorities in Albania should engage substantially in developing open data tools in accordance with the Technical Standards for Publication of Open Data, which will improve public access to information and lead to greater levels of citizen participation. Co-ordination between local authorities and civil society organisations, businesses, think tanks and other actors is important to raise awareness and understanding of open data as a transparency mechanism for strengthening local governance.
Conceived in 2013 as an online one-stop shop, e-Albania is the governmental portal where citizens can obtain detailed information on public services and official documents electronically. The portal is administrated by the National Agency for Information Society and aims to improve service delivery, reduce service delivery time, avoid bureaucracies and reduce corruption of public institutions, including local self-government bodies. All of the 500 e-services offered on the portal are dedicated to a wide range of users, from unemployed citizens, business, property owners, businesses, students, elderly, Albanians living abroad, civic employees, etc. These services are classified by categories and institutions. According to the information available on the portal, the certificate services, which are administrated by local self-government bodies, are the most used electronic services on the e-Albania portal.
Public procurement refers to the process by which public authorities, including local authorities, purchase work, goods or services. It is an essential part of public service provision for local and regional authorities; efficient and cost-effective procurement is key to good governance.
As procurement involves a large proportion of public expenditure and the transfer of public resources to the private sector or non-profit organisations, it is particularly vulnerable to corruption. Public authorities should deploy new technologies to increase transparency over public procurement and encourage new economic actors to enter bidding processes in the confidence that free and fair competition is applied. By posting all tenders on a common online platform, the occurrence of unpublished tenders and direct awards will be minimised. Use of open contracting and open bidding solutions also allows greater scrutiny of the process, further reducing the scope for corrupt practices. Open contracting systems include a preventive effect, because officials will refrain from manipulating the contracting process if they know that comprehensive disclosure of the bidding and contracting processes will be revealed.
Local authorities should ensure that there is a comprehensive system in place to monitor compliance with public procurement legislation, and that there is a responsive mechanism for reviewing appeals and complaints, including prompt and comprehensive replies. Authorities should also monitor contract implementation, in particular time extensions and cost increases, to ensure that the benefits in terms of value for money and quality of delivery are not compromised during contract implementation.
The following international conventions and standards relate to public procurement:
Albania is doing moderately well in public procurement. Some progress was made in the past year, in particular by amending the law on concessions and public-private partnerships (PPPs) to remove the bonus for unsolicited proposal in line with the European Commission’s recommendations and the adoption of the new law on defence and security procurement. Further efforts are needed to improve compliance with procedures and prevent corruption in the procurement cycle.
In the framework of measures towards increased transparency and the fight against corruption, from 2009 all public procurement procedures in Albania are performed through an electronic platform. Application of the e-procurement system has been a big challenge and a great achievement at the same time, for Albanian public procurement system, comparing to the paper-based model.
Based on data analysis, and assessments done after several years of experience with the e-procurement platform, improvements have been done in 2016, further aiming to increase transparency in the procurement system.
Improving and using the e-procurement system, as a tool to increase transparency and fight corruption, helped a lot in improving the performance of the procurement system in Albania. The most important figures to illustrate the impact is the reduction of the number of unpublished tenders direct awards which decreased from 30% of the total number of procurement procedures (which represents the average during the period 2009-2017) to 2.5% in 2019.
The current core legislation in the field of public procurement consists of Law no. 9643, “On Public Procurement”, as amended, and the Decision of Council of Ministers no. 914/2014 “On the approval of public procurement rules”, as amended. These legal instruments are based on Directive 2004/18/EC on the coordination of procurement procedures for the award of public works contracts, public supply contracts and public service contracts” (Public Sector Directive), Directive 2004/17/EC coordinating the procurement procedures entities operating in the water, energy, transport and postal services sector”(Utilities Directive), which are already repealed by the new Directives of 2014, as well as in the Directive 2007/66/EC of the Parliament and European Council of 11 December 2007 amending Directives 89/665/EC and 92/13/EC as regards the increase of efficiency for public contract review procedures.
Also, the legislation in the field of public procurement contains two decisions of the Council of Ministers, which further regulate centralised procurement at governmental level, namely DCM no. 81/2018 “On the establishment, organisation and functioning of the Centralized Purchasing Agency” and DCM no. 82/2018 “On entrusting Centralized Purchasing Agency with conducting public procurement procedures, on behalf and in the name of the Prime Minister’s Office, Ministries and Subordinate Institutions, for some Goods and Services”.
In the field of public procurement, Albanian legislation includes the concessions and PPPs, which are ruled by Law 125/2013 “On concessions and public-private partnership”, as amended, based on Directive 2014/23/EU on the award of concession contracts. This law is also supported by three bylaws, namely: DCM no. 280/2020 “On the approval of the regulation on the functioning manner of the selection committee of concession/PPP projects and criteria for evaluating contracting authorities’ requests for support with specialized expertise”, DCM no. 285/2020 “On the organisation and functioning of the Concession Treatment Agency (ATRAKO)”.
Legal provisions related to the Procurement Ombudsman represent an additional guarantee to citizens and private entities.
Also, in the Cross-cutting Strategy for Decentralization and Local Government 2015-2020, one specific objective is the expansion of the reform of Internal Audit and Control, External Audit and Public Procurement to include local government. This aims at raising the level of Local Government Units to a achieve effective monitoring of the progress of reforms in the field of public financial management.
Albania has a central electronic public procurement portal administered by Public Procurement Agency, where tender and contract notices, and other important information and guidance are published. Use of the portal is mandatory, including for low-value procurement. Standard tendering documents for each type of procedure and contract are published on the PPA website, and the procurement forecast register is prepared and posted online.
By the end of 2019, the concessions registry contained information on 224 PPPs, five of which had been signed in 2019. Although required by law, value-for-money analysis is still not systematically carried out before approval of all PPPs. The Ministry of Finance and Economy made initial attempts to establish regular monitoring and reporting on PPPs. The technical skills and capacity to design and assess concessions and PPPs require further development.
The PPA has recently strengthened its monitoring role, and applies a monitoring system to assess procurement performance, procurement compliance and, since 2019, contract implementation, with information available for 1,006 contracts. The monitoring system is based on a variety of performance indicators. There is still a need for: (i) further support for contracting authorities; (ii) a strengthening of the e-procurement system; (iii) monitoring of contract implementation; and (iv) analysis of market trends in public procurement.
In 2015, the Public Procurement Agency together with the Public Procurement Commission and Supreme State Audit Institution (ALSAI) were the beneficiaries of the World Bank project "Improving compliance monitoring and enhancing transparency in public procurement in Albania", which started to be implemented in 2016.
The purpose of this project is to support the Government of Albania to improve and further strengthen the system of compliance monitoring with the public procurement law, improve the mechanisms of reviewing the complaints, capacity building of ALSAI regarding the audit of public procurement contracts in Albania, the creation of Electronic Archiving of Procurement Procedures.
PPA has continued to strengthen the capacities of the technical staff on its operational activities and has conducted online and informative sessions on the related legal framework.
Further, the development of E-governance was focused to make a difference on the central level and mainly in the government-business public service (Government to Business - G2B) and G2G (Government to Government). The establishment of the National Licensing Center, National Registration Center, the expansion of GovNET (G2G) infrastructure, the establishment of infrastructure for interaction, e-tax, e-procurement, e-customs, e-patents, e-fines services, Civil State National Register, as well as the issuance of biometric document, are some of the main developments that may be considered as good practice related to procurement.
External audit is the regular, independent scrutiny of accounts and financial information to ensure that public money is used appropriately and effectively. External audits are undertaken in accordance with relevant laws and rules to support those external to government to hold it to account. As well as audit of the financial statements of local budget institutions, external audit can look beyond finances to assessing the performance of government against its own objectives, or in providing programmes and services.
The external audit coverage in Albania is limited. As a matter of example, in 2013, only an 8% of public entities (accounting for 40% of budget spending) were audited. The independent Supreme State Audit Institution publishes an annual report on the implementation of the budget. However, there is currently no certification or audit opinion on the individual financial statements of central or local budget institutions or on the consolidated fiscal statement.
Article 13 of the Law No. 139/2015 “On Local Self-Government” stipulates that «local self-government units shall be subject to external audit by central government bodies with regard to the use of conditional and/or delegated funds provided by the State budget and/or funds of foreign aid, allocated to them according to the agreements signed by the central government». Moreover, as per Article 43 of the same Law, each local self-government unit is subject to external audit by the State Supreme Audit, and any audit report should be made available to the public. In exceptional circumstances, local executive bodies may be subject to audits conducted by specialised auditing companies.
The State Supreme Audit Institution (ALSAI) is the highest external audit institution in Albania. In accordance with its functions, rights and duties, apart from the audit role, the ALSAI can address criminal prosecution bodies when further tracking of audit findings is part of their competence and address the highest state bodies in case of noncompliance with its recommendations, as set forth in Article 15 of the Law No. 154/2014 “On the Organisation and Functioning of the State Supreme Audit Institution”.
In order to increase transparency on account standards and financial statements, public authorities should establish a sound internal budgetary control regime, produce publicly released annual reports and perform an external audit of those annual reports. Local authorities are advised to disclose and publish the external audit reports, and to adopt the Audit Reporting Guidelines published by ALSAI.
Fier is one of the largest municipalities in Albania. In 2016, with the support of the USAID Planning and Local Governance Project, the municipality has undergone an external assessment on public expenditure and financial accountability based on the Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability (PEFA) methodology, aiming to provide an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of municipal public financial management systems.
The weakness mentioned in the assessment of PEFA includes the challenges in the efficient use of resources and service delivery. This weakness is addressed by the external auditing reports prepared by the High State Control (HSC) which are prepared every two years. These reports of HSC have served as steps that help to remedy this weakness.
Financing of political parties and election campaigns is a necessary component of the democratic process. It enables the expression of political support and competition in elections. Principles governing the financing of political parties should include fairness in the distribution of state funding, strict rules concerning the transparency and limits on the size of private donations, ceilings on campaign expenditure, full transparency of funding and expenditure, independent election commissions, independent audit of campaign finance, and the consistent imposition of proportionate sanctions on candidates and political parties that violate the rules (such as fines or a reduction in state contributions to future election campaigns).
Clear rules and transparent reporting of political campaign financing and expenditures are essential to sustain trust in political candidates, political parties and government institutions. An imbalance in funding of political parties may result in an unfair advantage, handing undue influence to powerful narrow interests, running the risk that policies will be "captured" by narrow private interests, serving their goals over the public interest.
Mechanisms and rules on limits on party political financing, and on state financing of political campaigns, should be designed in a way that provides a level playing field for the different political candidates and parties competing in elections and serves to preserve the political forces' independence from financial supporters.
The following international conventions and standards relate to the financing of political parties:
In 2020, Albania addressed part of the OSCE recommendations for improving the organisation of elections. The passage of electoral reform, while partly positive, also included amendments that were added without the agreement of the opposition. Conclusions from the March European Union Council meeting stipulate that prior to the first intergovernmental conference opening negotiations between Albania and the European Union, “Albania should adopt electoral reform fully in accordance with OSCE/ODHIR recommendations, ensuring transparent financing of political parties and electoral campaigns”. Additionally, the negotiation framework, which had to be adopted by the Council, must reflect that Albania has implemented the agreed-upon electoral reform and that the Constitutional Court has issued a final decision on the lawfulness of the June 2019 local elections.
Financing of political parties is regulated by the Law No. 8580 “On Political Parties” and by the Electoral Code of Albania approved with Law No. 10019, as amended.
Paragraph 2 of Article 15/1 of the above stated law stipulates that «The financing of political parties is guided by the principle of transparency. Data on the financial resources of the parties, as well as on their expenses are always published”.
This law entitles the Central Election Commission (CEC) as the body responsible for monitoring and overseeing the funding of political parties, ensuring that it is in compliance with the rules set, and in order to do so, the political parties are obligated to submit their financial reports once per year to the CEC. Further, the CEC is entitled to decide the specific amounts of public funding that each party will receive in the form of annual financial funding provided by the law, following the instructions set by Article 19 of this law “On Political Parties”.
Article 23/1 of the Law No. 8580 “On Political Parties” stipulates that:
1. Each political party must record in a special register, according to the format approved by the Central Election Commission, the amount of funds received from each natural or legal person, as well as data related to the clear identification of the donor. In any case, the donor, at the time of donation, must sign a donation declaration, according to the format approved by the Central Election Commission. The list of persons who donate amounts not less than 100 thousand ALL, as well as the respective value, must always be made public.
2. The donation of non-public funds, with a value greater than ALL 100 thousand, should be done only in a special account, opened in a bank by the political party. The person responsible for the finances of the political party, within three months from the establishment of the political party, declares to the Central Election Commission the number of the bank account, opened for this purpose. The bank account number for each political entity is published on the official website of the Central Election Commission.
3. It is prohibited to benefit from non-public funds, carried out by entities that do not declare their identity or whose identity is clearly not defined by the political party beneficiary of the non-public fund.
4. Every expense incurred by the political party is performed and documented respecting the tax legislation in force.
This Article is very important in guaranteeing transparency in the financing of the political parties.
Chapter III/1 of the law “On Political Parties” named “Financial funds and expenditure of political parties during the election campaign” was repealed by the law no 135/ 2020.
Under Article 3, paragraph 5/1 of the Electoral Code is acknowledged also the importance of transparency in the “…Electoral subjects bear the obligation for transparency and publication of election revenues and expenditures towards the Central Election Committee CEC, the persons in charge of auditing or monitoring and the public”.
Article 86 of this Code expresses the sources of election campaign financing “The sources of campaign financing for electoral subjects are:
a) funds provided in advance from the State Budget for registered political parties as electoral subjects;
b) the income of the electoral subject itself created according to the law;
c) gifts for the electoral subject and its candidates, in monetary value, nature or services provided, according to article 92/1 of this law;
ç) loans or credits received from political parties or their candidates according to the law. In no case the value of a loan or credit should exceed the amount of funds, according to point 2 of article 92/1 of this law.”
Election-registered political parties have a legal responsibility to report their candidates' income and expenses, and candidates must also comply with adjustments to the allowable donation limit. Candidates on the multi-name list must also record all donations received, ensure that in-kind donations are properly evaluated and registered, and keep one copy of the statement signed by the donor. Candidates can accept donations over ALL 50 000 only through a special bank account, even if the donations are less than ALL 50 000 but are made through the bank. These donations must be credited to the special account declared at the time of registration. If the candidate decides not to accept such donations (e.g., the candidate decides that donations should be sent to the special party account for the campaign), then the candidate is not obligated to open a special bank account.
It is illegal if an electoral subject or even a candidate accepts a donation from a natural or legal person who does not declare his or her identity, or whose identity is unclear.
Aiming to increase transparency and to ensure compliance with the campaign finance rules, the Central Election Committee (CEC) is authorised to appoint persons who are tasked to monitor and follow the election campaign, including adherence to prohibitions on certain forms of campaigning. In addition, the CEC shall establish and maintain an online tool for citizens to report potential violations of campaign and campaign finance rules.
The law sets limits for donations and expenditures for campaign finance and provides disclosure requirements. The auditors selected by the CEC oversee the adherence to the campaign finance rules both before and after election day. The audit results will be published by the CEC, which can impose sanctions for financial violations. Several ODIHR Needs Assessment Mission Reports, interlocutors raised concerns over insufficient transparency of the campaign financing.
The amendments to the Electoral Code related to the structure of the CEC, aimed to address previous ODIHR recommendations regarding public and private financing of campaigns and its oversight, transparency of verification of candidate nomination documents, use of public resources for electoral purposes, legal protection of people reporting on misuse of administrative resources, electoral dispute resolution mechanism.
There are no specific good practice examples in Albania related to the financing of political parties.
“The right of citizens to participate in the conduct of public affairs”, including at the local level, is explicit in the European Charter of Local Self-Government, and the Additional Protocol to which states that “the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority denotes the right to seek to determine or to influence the exercise of a local authority's powers and responsibilities”. When local authorities consult with, and engage, citizens on the design of, and evaluation of, public services, they pave the way for better policy outcomes and also for greater mutual trust between citizens and government.
Citizen participation involves outreach to a range of local stakeholders, such as civil society activists, journalists, members of academia, business representatives, local communities, and active citizens. It is important that it is inclusive, taking into consideration the views of the wider public, expert stakeholders, and representative groups, including the vulnerable and marginalised. Moreover, stakeholder engagement must include outreach to those whose lives and interests will be affected by the implementation of the decisions under consideration. To ensure that such stakeholders are identified, public consultations should be launched before a commitment to action has been made or before a draft decision has been tabled. A more open consultative process first invites stakeholders to discuss and identify the problems, challenges and opportunities, then examines the different policy scenarios, before any decisions are drafted.
Participatory mechanisms can be grouped in the following categories that reflect different levels of engagement:
– informing the public about local priorities, government programmes and plans;
– holding consultations with the public and/or particular groups of people regarding public policies and collecting their experience or expertise;
– collaborating with the public and/or particular groups of people to develop solutions to local problems (including co-creation processes such as in the formulation of Open Government Partnership (OGP) Action Plan commitments);
– engaging local communities in decision-making processes through deliberative processes, voting (such as participatory budgeting and referenda), and other decision-making tools.
According to the Additional Protocol, “the law shall provide means of facilitating the exercise” of the right of citizens to participate. In order to ensure that the above-mentioned forms of participation are genuine engagement rather than token exercises, the consultation process around the formation of new policies and legislation needs to be backed up by laws, regulations and guidelines, and also by strong political will.
Inclusive policymaking must at the same time be effective, and the public should be well informed about their rights, opportunities and ways they can participate in local decision-making. The policymaking processes need to be clearly stated well in advance to enable citizens and stakeholder groups to prepare their submissions and interventions. Timeframes with clear entry-points for citizen engagement need to be published to ensure that citizen participation is a meaningful exercise, and the local authorities should provide feedback to those who make policy proposals or recommendations. The local authority should ensure that the viewpoints and positions of stakeholders are properly reflected and considered when adopting policies, and feedback should provide clearly stated reasons for the decisions to adopt proposals, or not to adopt them. This inclusive approach ensures that policies are relevant, evidence-based, cater to intersectional needs, and are responsive to public demands.
Local authorities also need to employ officials trained in managing public consultations and ensuring that the feedback to citizens is prompt and comprehensive.
Such inclusive approaches ensure that local authorities make better and more relevant decisions that reflect public interests and are well understood by all citizens. In tandem, local communities can develop a sustained capacity to voice their concerns, design solutions and monitor their proper implementation, resulting in improved public trust towards local service delivery.
Local Government Units in Albania made progress in improving their transparency, public participation, and participatory budgeting. A transparency program model for Local Government Units developed by UNDP’s STAR II project and the Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM) and adopted by the Commissioner on the Right to Information and Personal Data Protection, is under implementation in all 61 municipalities of the country. As a result of this project, all municipalities regularly publish decisions taken by their municipal councils online at “Vendime.al”, a portal developed by InfoChip- one-stop-shop platform for the delivery of public services at the local level. It is smoothly progressing since its inception in 2019 with the aim to meet the objective of functional municipal offices nationwide.
Municipalities have made further progress on public participation in local decision-making, especially in the area of participatory budgeting. However, the institutional framework for effective and inclusive participation needs further strengthening. Local-level implementation of the Law on public consultation remains unsatisfactory. An increasing number of municipalities disclose public information, with all 61 having appointed a local coordinator for the right to information.
The 2014 Law on public consultation, laying down the procedural norms for transparency and public participation in decision-making, is generally in line with European standards. However, its scope should be extended to government decisions. It requires reporting on how inputs from civil society organisations (CSOs) are taken into consideration, but there is little evidence of the use and effectiveness of the feedback mechanisms. No progress was made on public consultation in the adoption of sub-legal acts and the implementation of the Laws on volunteerism and social enterprises.
In general, Albania has an adequate and modern legislation in most fields, but the policy-making process is conducted through closed-door policies and limited to a narrow set of actors. The process of digitalisation of services to improve transparency and accountability, and to bring citizens closer to government, is unfortunately associated with missing figures and scarce documentation. Regarding open policy making at local level, the relationship between citizens and public officials is almost inexistent.
Budget transparency remains satisfactory with the publication of key budget documents. The annual budget, the citizens’ budget, and the list of public investments (including PPPs under the medium-term budget program) have been published. However, the timeliness of budget execution reports, in particular reporting on arrears, need to be improved. Also, information on state assets contained in this report does not allow for a full comparison with the original budget. Public participation in the budget process needs to be further strengthened.
The European Commission’s 2019 report for Albania underlines concerns with the government’s approach to citizen participation in decision-making and public consultations, such as the need for more meaningful cooperation with civil society, comprehensive feedback, and follow-up mechanisms. The report also highlights the government’s limited use of the public consultation portal and ineffective consultations with the private sector.
Open policy making is a broad term describing policy development that is transparent and participatory. It describes a way of making policy and decisions that draw on the latest interactive tools that open up policymaking to different stakeholders in an increasingly digital world. There is no one-way to do open policy making: different policy decisions will need different approaches.
Open policy making approaches enable governments to reach more informed and better designed policy outcomes through collaborative approaches that draw on a variety of perspectives and expertise. Different digital tools and analytical techniques are deployed so that policy is more evidence-based and data-driven. Models of engagement can include a representative citizens panel, crowdsourcing of policy ideas, or the use of collective intelligence to draw on the knowledge and expertise of a diverse public.
By the use of open data and citizen engagement, more informed, inclusive decisions can be reached, and more innovation applied in both the policymaking process and the resulting policy decisions. To maximise the possible gains of open policy making, local authorities could set up an open policy making team that publishes the data used to inform and shape policy decisions. and trains public officials in working with data to inform policymaking.
Although there are no specific open policy making standards, the following are useful points of reference:
Transparency, accountability, and access to justice are key operational principles recognized for good governance, thus, constituting the main pillars of democracy.
Corruption weakens public trust in government, hampers legitimate economic activity, threatens public resources and income, and negatively impacts public administration and service delivery thus poses serious and far-reaching risks to country development. In 2019, Albania was ranked 106/180 countries in the Transparency International’s Corruptions Perceptions Index. Furthermore, according to the 2019 Trust in Governance Opinion Poll, out of the 2500 Albanians surveyed, 87% perceived petty corruption to be either widespread or very widespread, meanwhile 85% perceived grand corruption to be either widespread or very widespread. As such, addressing corruption presents a significant challenge that requires measures throughout all levels of public administration.
The Albanian government has supported the multilateral initiative undertaken, such as the Open Government Partnership as one of the important tools that brings together government reformers and civil society leaders to promote increased access to justice, public services and increased accountability through accessible approaches, in order to improve the quality of information for the public.
Citizens’ initiatives are a legal right foreseen in Article 20 of the Law No. 139/2015 “On Local Self-Government”. Each community, via its authorised representatives, or not less than 1% of the inhabitants of the municipality, has the right to propose citizens’ initiatives to the municipal council on issues under the jurisdiction of the local self-government unit. Proposals presented to the municipal council as citizens’ initiatives which have a financial impact on the municipal budget shall be considered by the council according to the agenda and shall not be approved without the opinion of the head of the local self-government unit.
Article 20, paragraph 1, of the Law No. 139/2015 “On Local Self-Government” stipulates that ways and forms of presentation of citizens’ initiatives, their deliberation, and approval procedures shall be laid down in the statutes for the organisation and operation of the municipal council. To improve policymaking, local authorities should design and implement local action plans in order to bring new insights, perspectives, and expertise from local actors (citizens, civil society organisations, businesses, etc.). This will allow local governments to better link policymaking with the current needs and concerns of the population, and thus to a better implementation of local action plans and policies.
A very successful local initiative was the establishment in 2012 of the Local Citizens Advisory Commission in the municipality of Durrës, which consists of members of local civil society organisations, businesses, youth, women and underrepresented groups. It serves as an independent advisory body for the municipality of Durrës, strengthening citizen participation and supporting the municipality’s work towards decentralisation. The Local Citizens Advisory Commission meets on a regular basis to discuss issues related with budgeting, the annual fiscal package, the quality and delivery of local services, territorial planning and municipal priorities and projects.
One of the crowdsourcing forms of citizen participation, participatory budgeting invites citizens and community groups to propose new initiatives or improvements to public services that should be funded by the local authority. Different models include voting by citizens, often online, on different projects. It provides a way for community members to have a direct say in how public money should be spent. It creates opportunities for engaging, educating, and empowering citizens. It can also promote transparency, which in turn can help reduce inefficiency and corruption.
Participatory budgeting began in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in the late 1980s and has spread worldwide. To ensure that participatory budgeting is inclusive and reaches out to different groups, including minority groups and the disadvantaged, both online and in-person information events need to be organised, and support provided to citizens and different community groups and stakeholders in how to prepare a proposal for consideration. The introduction of gender-sensitive participatory budgeting can increase outreach and accessibility and can be planned in close co-operation with local civic groups with a focus on inclusion.
Although there are no specific standards for implementing participatory budgeting, the following serve as important reference materials:
Participatory budgeting is a process that brings local communities closer to decision making on the allocation of the municipal or public budget. In recent years, one of the most effective mechanisms implemented by municipalities is participatory budgeting. According to the Open Budget Survey 2019 index, the Government of Albania made eight out of eight key budget documents available to the public online compared to the 2017 Survey index, where the Government made seven out of eight key budget documents available to the public online.
Barring a few exceptions, local public officials are either not very used to engaging with people on technical planning and budgeting, or find them ill-equipped to do so, or simply do not see the importance of the voice of the people.
Articles 155 to 160 of the Constitution of the Republic of Albania and the Article 20, paragraph 2, of the Law No. 139/2015 “On Local Self-Government” state that proposals coming to the council as civic initiatives when they have a financial impact on the budget of the local self-government unit are reviewed by the council in the agenda and cannot be approved without the opinion of the mayor of the local self-government unit. Local government units are responsible to ensure that participatory budgeting is executed in accordance with the law.
Even though there is a positive trend in Albanian municipalities towards implementing participatory budgeting at local level, better implementation and harmonisation with the Participatory Budgeting Toolkit for Local Governments in Albania would enable more transparent and accountable local governments. In addition, this toolkit, which builds on international practices and tested participatory budgeting methodologies, provides tailored mechanisms to fit Albanian local government budget law and practices.
The municipality of Elbasan is one of the pioneer municipalities that have implemented participatory budgeting since 2004. Being aware of the low level of women’s participation in the participatory budgeting process of 2012, the municipality started to introduce gender-sensitive participatory budgeting in collaboration with two local civil society organisations. Considering the gender imbalance in the participatory budgeting process, the municipality collaborated closely with the media and local civil society organisations to discuss and stress the importance of equal participation of women and men in the process. In addition, training courses on facilitation skills were organised with municipal public officials in order to improve and elicit better feedback from women. Currently, the budgeting process works through consultation meetings organised in boroughs and villages under the jurisdiction of Elbasan, taking into account the views of women and men.
Public consultation is a formal, often legally required, process for citizens and other stakeholders to give their views at key stages of the policy process. It can be both online and offline, or a mixture of both. Its main goals are to improve efficiency, transparency and public involvement in important decisions. Done in a timely and effective way, public consultation can increase the quality of decision making, improve cost-effectiveness, render more sustainable policy solutions, and generate greater public trust in decision-making.
Different forms of consultation range from informing and consulting citizens to crowdsourcing ideas for policies, deliberative debates and assemblies where citizens can develop potential policy solutions to inform decision-making, and collaboration where social enterprises, civil society organisations or expert groups either participate in the design or delivery of services.
To improve both the inclusiveness and efficiency of public consultations, each local authority should aim to have a unit that takes responsibility for co-ordinating the guidelines and procedures for implementing public consultations, and for ensuring that they are in accordance with the prevailing legislation. Such a unit could also train officers in different departments on running public consultations. In the case of smaller local authorities with more limited resources, a unit in the central government’s responsible ministry, such as a ministry of regional development, could provide such training and support on co-ordinating and updating guidance and procedures for public consultations at the local level.
Although there are no specific standards for implementing public consultations, the following are useful reference materials:
A recent study by the centre “Res Publica” on public consultation shows that there is a very limited number of draft acts published on the official webpage of public institutions. In the report, it is also stated that only 18% of the monitored institutions have a register for the publication of draft acts, in compliance with the Law No. 146/2014 “On Notification and Public Consultation”. This is reinforced by civil society organisations’ experience, where more than half of them do not fully agree that draft and approved laws and policies are publicly available (59%) and that draft laws, policies and laws are published in a timely manner (54%). Two main concerns raised by civil society organisations relate to the quality of the consultation processes themselves. Firstly, the institutions do not take into consideration the recommendations provided by civil society organisations, and secondly, there is a lack of argumentation regarding this issue. In addition, the latter is in violation with the Law No. 146/2014 “On Notification and Public Consultation”.
The National Crosscutting Strategy for Decentralisation and Local Governance 2015-2020 stipulates that all decisions at the local level will be aimed to be taken with the participation of citizens and following equal, inclusive and transparent principles. In addition, the Law No. 146/2014 “On Notification and Public Consultation” specifies that local authorities should take all necessary measures to facilitate public consultation, including:
The same law obligates public institutions to publish all draft and adopted laws and policy documents. To this effect, an electronic register (www.konsultimipublik.gov.al) permits citizens and experts to consult draft laws and give their recommendations. The law’s requirements guarantee sufficient time (20 days) for civil society organisations to provide their opinion on the draft laws and policies. Also, the law stipulates that a summary of collected opinions should be made public and be part of the draft law package for approval. On the contrary, if the recommendations are not accepted, a summary of the reasons for non-acceptance should be made public.
Moreover, this law provides options for complaints in cases where the provisions for consultations are not respected, based on the claims by interest groups. However, the law does not foresee any administrative sanction against the public institution or the responsible person for notification and public consultation; and it does not foresee any procedure for appealing the decision of the public authority either.
To meaningfully increase citizen participation at local level, local authorities should develop a clear process of notification and public consultation in compliance with the Law No. 146/2014 “On Notification and Public Consultation”, including the review and consideration of recommendations provided by citizens and the reasons why any of the recommendations have been dismissed.
Regarding public notification and consultation, the municipality of Vau i Dejës is one of the municipalities that have considerably improved this mechanism. Evidence shows that public consultation for draft acts in the municipality of Vau i Dejës has considerably increased from 9% in 2016 to 86% in 2017, being one of the first municipalities to implement this citizen participation mechanism in an efficient way.
Public petitions enable citizens to raise issues with public authorities. The number of signatures collected can indicate the level of support for the issues raised. They aim either to raise the profile of the issue or to demand that specific actions be taken. Petitions are often inspired by civil society activity, but they are increasingly submitted through official, often online, platforms whereby petitions with a defined number of signatures will receive an official response.
It is important that the official response is provided promptly, and that clear and well-argued reasons are provided for the decisions taken or not taken in response to a public petition.
For public petitions to become a tool that resonates with the wider public, local authorities and civil society organisations should raise awareness of the nature of petitions and the procedures for gathering signatures and submissions of the petitions in their municipalities. Clarity should also be given on the status of electronic signatures to ensure that there is full transparency about the conditions that a public petition must satisfy to receive an official response.
The following international conventions and standards relate to public petitions:
Public petitions are an important mechanism for public authorities to engage with the people they serve and to protect the public interest, and for citizens to participate in the democratic process and influence the political debate and decisions. However, while public petitions are prevalent at central level, there is no official data about public petitions at the local level.
Article 104 of the Regulation of the Parliament stipulates the right of both individuals and groups to petition the government. No later than 45 days from the date of reception of the petition, the committee chairman of the public authorities presents the petition to the commission, also proposing legal alternatives and ways for its solution, or its rejection. The petition senders are notified for the steps taken and the solution of petition issues.
In order to enhance and support local reforms at local level but and at the same time meet citizens’ concerns, local authorities should develop and implement a comprehensive process on how to submit, handle and respond to public petitions in compliance with the Law No. 44/2015 “On the Code of Administrative Procedures”. The petition procedure shall be accessible for the public.
On 3 December 2016, on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a group of civil society organisations organised a demonstration and signed a petition to the municipality of Tirana. They required the local authority to respect the human rights and well-being of people with disabilities and to better implement social services for this group of people. The then deputy mayor of Tirana stressed that the municipality would support their requests.
Local referenda, which are widespread in Council of Europe member States, provide a mechanism for local authorities to sound out the citizens’ will on concrete issues that directly affect their everyday lives or for citizens to propose an initiative that they would like to see implemented, or even to block a planned decision.
When initiated by citizens or groups of stakeholders, a referendum might form part of a campaign against a perceived harmful impact on their livelihoods or the natural environment, such as a plan for a new industrial park, a tunnel to re-route cars under a river or some other urban development.
Where there is both legislation providing for local referenda, and guidelines on how to hold referenda, there is usually a minimum percentage of the eligible voting population whose signatures are required to initiate a referendum. In some cases, the mayor or elected council can also decide to formulate a question for a local referendum. Depending on the legislative framework, the referenda may be binding on the local government or consultative, where the final decision rests with the elected council.
It is important that the legislation and procedures are clear, so that citizens know the framework within which the results of a referendum will be acted upon, and what response is required from the executive or elected council of the local authority. As with public petitions, it is important to raise awareness of the procedures for gathering signatures and the status of electronic signatures to ensure that there is full transparency about the conditions that need to be met before a referendum will take place. Transparency on political party financing should also be applied to the funding of a referendum campaign, including ceilings on expenditure, and an independent audit of funding and expenditure.
The following international conventions and standards relate to local referenda:
The idea of developing referendums in Albania, has become the main subject of political debates, especially when dealing with political disputes and political debates fail to find consensus. Although every political debate mentions the idea of a referendum, once the political consensus is achieved the idea of a referendum is dropped.
Unlike many other countries of the world, where the organisation and development of referendums is common, Albania has seen only three referenda since the end of the dictatorship.
The first one was held in 1994 for the purpose of approving the new Albanian Constitution. The second was organised on 29 June 1997, together with the elections for the new parliament, where citizens voted whether Albania should be a monarchy or a republic. In 1998, the third referendum was organised to vote for the Constitution of the Republic of Albania.
Even though local referendums are one of the forms of expression of direct democracy in local governance where the citizens decide on issues of importance to the community, there is no practical case of any local referendum held in Albania.
Article 108, paragraph 4, of the Albanian Constitution stipulates that “self-governance in local units is exercised through their representative bodies and local referendums. The principles and procedures for conducting a local referendum are provided by law in accordance with Article 151 paragraph 2“.
Law 139/2015 "On Local Self-Government", recognizes the right to hold a local referendum. Specifically, Article 18, paragraph 2, of this law provides, amongst others, in that the "consultation with the public is done through taking the initiative to organise local referendums".
In the Electoral Code, the term referendum means the direct exercise of the sovereignty of the people, through voting, on a certain issue or law.
The set of rules on referendums dates back to 2003, when it was first provided by the Electoral Code, which has been subject to several amendments in the framework of contentious electoral reforms, nevertheless, provisions on referendum has always been excluded from being part of this process.
According to Article 132 of the Law No.9087, dated 19.6.2003 Electoral Code of the Republic of Albania, the initiative for a local referendum on a local government issue can be exercised by:
-10 percent of the voters registered in the voter lists of the respective local unit or 20 thousand of them, whichever is smaller, have the right to a local referendum on a local government issue in the respective municipality or commune.
-A number of municipal councils, representing not less than one third of the population of a county, have the right to request the holding of a referendum on a local government issue at the county level.
The local referendum can be held on an issue of local government that is also a matter of special importance. A referendum on the same issue cannot be held in the same local government unit without three years passing from the prior referendum.
Local referendums may not be held later than three months before the end of the mandate of the local government bodies, nor earlier than three months after the first meeting of the local councils. If early elections are announced in a local government unit, the Electoral Code requires that the procedure for conducting a local referendum in that unit be suspended until three months after the beginning of the mandate of the local government body. Another condition for the requests for referendum is the fact that those requests that fail to go through all the procedures set out in the Electoral Code, by March 15 of each year, regardless of when they are submitted, are postponed until the following year.
For the administration of local referendums, the Electoral Code entrusts the Central Election Commission (CEC), a body which performs this task through Local Government Election Commissions (LGECs). The CEC administers the local referendum in accordance with the procedures provided for the conduct of local elections, emphasising that this task should be performed for as far as it is possible or necessary.
According to the type of act or issue raised, the Albanian Constitution provides for three types of referendums: constitutional, legislative and referendum on an issue of particular importance. Article 150 para 3 states that: “principles and procedures for conducting a referendum, and its validity, are provided by law”.
Based on this constitutional provision, the Assembly of Albania approved the Election Code, law no. 8609/2000. Referendum issues are addressed in articles 114-128 of this Code These provisions, with minor and not essential changes, were also included in the Electoral Code adopted by Law no 9087/2003. The Electoral Code legislative reforms carried out till 2008, did not treat, in any case, the issue of referenda. Law no.10019/2008 “The Electoral Code of the Republic of Albania”, as amended does not contain at all provisions on referenda, but a transitory provision, article 185, stating that "provisions for referendums (Part IX of law no.9087/2003) and any part of its related provisions shall remain in force until the adoption of the new law on general and local referendums.
The administration of the referendum process and the disclosure of their outcome shall be made in accordance with this Code. Although the Electoral Code approved by Law no 9087/2003, was abolished, its ninth part "Referendums" was upheld. Until today the law on referendums is not approved.
The analysis of the Electoral Code provisions regarding referendums shows deficiencies, uncertainty, and incompatibility with the Constitution in some cases. This is evidenced by the Venice Commission and OSCE / ODIHR findings.
The Code does not address referendum campaign funding issues related to source of funds and their use, transparency, reporting and audit of these expenses.
One of the good practices is the Localgate.al initiative (www.portavendore.al), which functions as a platform in support of local democracy. This is an initiative of the Open Society Foundation for Albania (OSFA) and ‘Lëviz Albania’ (‘Move Albania’), implemented with the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, which aims to provide information to the citizens and civil society organisations regarding the function, competencies and specifics of local self-government units.
The platform aims to promote referenda as a form of local democracy and provides simplified information on how to conduct referenda (including local ones).
In the absence of ethics and public accountability, corruption and malpractice are allowed to thrive, which undermines the foundations of a peaceful, prosperous and just society.
Corruption is a major challenge to democracy and the rule of law. It results in decisions and resource allocation that do not reflect the interests of the public and concentrates political power in the hands of the few. It in turn causes political leaders and institutions to lose legitimacy and public trust, which reduces their ability to govern.
Corruption poses a great threat to sustainable development, increasing poverty and inequality. Consequently, strengthening local self-government and their active participation in the fight against corruption is one of the essential preconditions for democratic development. Corruption at the local level is a specific phenomenon and requires a specific approach tailored to municipalities.
Corruption also causes local and regional authorities to be inefficient and ineffective in exercising their duties. It results in decisions being made not on the basis of what is in the interests of society at large, but what is in the self-interest of decision-makers and their associates. It leads to public money being misspent, with contracts being awarded to inferior providers and budgets being misallocated. At its worst, it enables public officials to misappropriate money and resources, using their position to get rich to the cost of those they have a duty to serve.
One of the major challenges for societies worldwide is the development of accountable and transparent systems that provide effective public services. Because of their proximity to the public, local governments are well positioned to deal with this challenge and to fight and prevent corruption at local level.
Under the current trend of decentralisation, local authorities are given not only resources, but also the discretionary power to use those resources. Thus, local governments have the potential to either reduce corruption and improve public services at the local level or, conversely, increase corruption and worsen the quality of service delivery.
Corruption can also result in public officials being appointed on the basis of favouritism rather than merit, meaning that local and regional authorities do not have access to the brightest and best talent. This in turn creates a fertile environment for further corruption and reduces even more the efficiency and effectiveness of the administration.
Inefficient and ineffective organisations, staffed by individuals who gained their positions on the basis of criteria other than merit, result in poor-quality public services and infrastructure, thereby eroding public trust and the legitimacy of public institutions. More importantly, however, they result in significant human costs, including poverty, deaths, illness, and restricted life chances.
Finally, corruption harms economic development. It leads to public money being directed to uncompetitive businesses, rather than those that offer more innovative or cheaper products and services. Uncompetitive markets, coupled with the negative impact of corruption on the quality of local public services and infrastructure, means that businesses do not have a solid foundation (of staff, security, investment, etc.) on which to build. In the end, this may cause private and international investors to avoid investing in an area.
According to the European Commission’s 2020 Progress Report for Albania (covering the time period May 2019 - October 2020), the country has made good progress in the fight against corruption. Albanian authorities strengthened operational, coordination and monitoring capacities in the fight against corruption, thus meeting the condition for the first Inter-Governmental Conference.
Albania has continued its efforts towards the establishment of a solid track record on investigating, prosecuting, and trying corruption cases. Although the vetting of the members of the judiciary is an administrative process, it is relevant to assess the concrete results by Albania to fight corruption. These have included the dismissal from office of several high-ranking magistrates, including at Constitutional Court and High Court level. In 2019, there were two final convictions for passive corruption of judges, prosecutors, and other officials of the judiciary.
In 2019, there were 262 first-instance convictions involving lower or middle-ranking officials compared to 294 first-instance convictions in 2018. In 2019, there were 246 final convictions at appeal level involving lower or middle-ranking officials compared to 289 final convictions in 2018. Further efforts towards establishing a solid track record in the fight against corruption have been made, although it remains a long-term objective that continues to require further structured and consistent efforts. While the number of ongoing investigations remains high, to date, final convictions in cases involving high-level officials remain limited. The newly established specialised anti-corruption bodies (SPAK- Special Anti-Corruption and Organised Crime Structure and the Anti-Corruption and Organised Crime Courts) are expected to significantly strengthen the overall capacity to investigate and prosecute corruption.
The establishment of the Special Prosecution Office on Corruption and Organized Crime in December 2019, one of two entities constituting the Special Structure on Anticorruption and Organized Crime, resulted in 327 new criminal investigations and 65 requests sent to court as of November 2020. While prosecutors made significant progress in pursuing low-level public corruption cases, including corrupt prosecutors and judges, prosecution of higher-level suspects remained rare due to investigators’ fear of retribution, lack of resources, and corruption within the judiciary itself. In September, the appellate court remanded the conviction of a former interior minister for retrial. In November the Special Prosecution Office filed charges against a former prosecutor general for hiding assets and seized several of those assets in December.
In the Law On the Organization and Functioning of Institutions to Fight Corruption and Organized Crime, the Special Prosecution Office carries out the criminal prosecution and represents the accusation on behalf of the state at the Court of First Instance against corruption and organized crime, at the Court of Appeal against corruption and organized crime, and at the High Court as well, it takes measures and supervises the execution of criminal decisions, as well as performs other duties charged by law.
The Special Prosecution Office performs its functions independently, through special prosecutors, who are appointed by the High Prosecution Council in accordance with this law.
The National Bureau of Investigation, as provided in Article 5 of the law, is a specialized structure of the Judicial Police, which investigates criminal offenses in the criminal jurisdiction of the Special Prosecution, according to the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
The National Bureau of Investigation is composed of investigators and Judicial Police Services according to this law.
The head of the National Bureau of Investigation, investigators and the services of the Judicial Police are directed and controlled by the prosecutors of the Special Prosecution.
One of the important formal legal efforts to address is the issue of corruption and organized crime is the Inter-Sectoral Strategy against Corruption 2015-2023.
In this Strategy there are defined a set of General Indicators and Specific Objectives consisting of a triple approach: prevention, suppression, and awareness. This strategy’s vision is “Transparent Albanian institutions with high integrity that guarantee qualitative and incorruptible service and have gained the citizens trust.”
In April 2020, the Ministry of Justice reported that 12 out of 18 objectives of the Anti-corruption Strategy and 53 out of the 97 measures were fully implemented during 2018. However, an ALSAI (Albanian Supreme State Audit Institution) Performance Audit Report on “The implementation of the anticorruption strategy” found several loopholes in the Strategy and its Action Plan related to the relevance of the objectives, incoherence between the Strategy and Action Plans, lack of involvement of the non-state actors in the implementation, and lack of institutional memory in the implementation.
However, overall, corruption remains widespread and is a serious concern.
Bribery is the promise, offer, acceptance or solicitation of a personal advantage (e.g. gift, loan, reward, favour, etc.) in exchange for an unethical or illegal action. Bribery results in decisions not being taken in the public interest, which reduces public trust in institutions and leads to poor public services.
The following international conventions and standards relate to bribery:
Less than half of Albanian citizens (44%) claim to have had experience with bribery in 2015. Bribery is more prevalent in rural areas than in urban areas and bribes are given in the form of cash and in-kind contributions. Mostly, bribes are paid to facilitate bureaucratic procedures, or to avoid deficiencies and bottlenecks in the public sector. The most common reasons for paying bribes cited by businesses are: to “speed up business-related procedures” (39.1 per cent of all bribes), “making the finalisation of a procedure possible” (16.8 per cent), “receiving better treatment” (7.2 per cent), “reducing the cost of a procedure” (6.6 per cent) and “receiving information” (2.8 per cent). At the same time, almost one out of seven (13.5 per cent) bribes paid serve no specific immediate purpose for the businesses paying them, suggesting that these are “sweeteners” given to public officials to “groom” them for future interactions in the interest of the company.
The Government has launched several online portals to report bribery and other forms of corruption.
Based on Article 244 of the Criminal Code, the active corruption of persons exercising public function is defined as «promising, direct or indirect proposal, offer, or giving, to a person, who exercises public functions, of any irregular benefit for himself or a third person in order to act or not act in relation to his duty, is punished by imprisonment from six months up to three years».
As per Article 245 of the Criminal Code, the commission of this same offence by high state officials and local elected representatives is considered an aggravating circumstance and, thus, the penalty in this case is imprisonment from one to five years.
As regards passive corruption committed by persons that exercise public functions, it is defined in Article 259 as follows: «Soliciting or taking, directly or indirectly, any kind of irregular benefit or of any such promise up to the value of 50 000 Albanian lek (ALL) or the equivalent in foreign currency, for himself or for a third person, or accepting an offer or promise deriving from an irregular benefit, by a person who exercises public functions, in order to act or not act in the exercise of his duty, is punishable by imprisonment of from two up to three years. The same act, when the irregular benefit or the promise of such a benefit is over the value of ALL 50 000 or the equivalence in foreign currency, is punishable by imprisonment of from three up to eight years ». As with active corruption, and as stipulated in Article 260, the penalty for passive corruption by high state officials or local elected officials increases from four up to twelve years.
In 2016, the police announced the arrest of the mayor of Bërzhitë. He was found guilty of passive corruption for accepting a bribe of EUR 4 500 for the issuance of a parking permit to one of the hotels of the area. An arrest warrant was issued for him, and he was found guilty in absence and sentenced to 5.4 years in prison. The ex-mayor of Bërzhitë submitted a petition for release to the Tirana District Court on 7 April 2016, justified with the cause that he suffered from a severe respiratory disease. No further information has been announced by the Courts since then.
A conflict of interest is where an individual is in a position to derive personal benefits from the actions or decisions they take in an official capacity. Conflicts of interest – either if they are actual, perceived or potential – result in decisions that are, or are considered to be, unfair and self-interested. This reduces public trust in institutions and results in worse outcomes for the public.
Conflict of interest is also covered by the following international standards and guidelines:
Study findings suggest that the management and prevention of conflict of interest in Albania has been deficient due to the frequent amendments of the regulatory framework and lack of law enforcement. The reported cases of conflict of interest focus almost exclusively on the conflicts of interest of financial or economic nature. Local governments, as a result of the decentralisation process and their increased interactions with the public, have been increasingly exposed to the risk of conflict of interest. The cases of conflict of interest are mostly related to building permits, procurement, and use of public spaces. One of the efforts to address this issue is also the approval of the Inter-Sectoral Strategy against Corruption 2015-2020. In 2014, legislative amendments in laws related to the declaration of assets and the conflict of interest were approved, increasing the number and frequency of audits from the High Inspectorate of Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflict of Interest (HIDAACI).
According to Article 3 of the Law No. 9367 “On the Prevention of Conflicts of Interest in the Exercise of Public Functions”, as amended, conflict of interest is a «situation of conflict between the public duty and the private interests of an official, in which he has direct or indirect private interests that affect, might affect or seem to affect the performance, in an incorrect way of his public responsibilities and duties».
Article 29 of the above stated law provides restrictions on mayors and chairmen of regional councils, who cannot be chairmen of CSOs, conduct economic activities, be members in managerial organs of private or civil society sectors, and possess shares or capital in a commercial company. The central authority responsible for the implementation of this law is the HIDAACI. In Article 44, this law provides a range of administrative penalties. Based on the type of conflict of interest, the fines range from ALL 30 000 to 500 000. The Law also stipulates disciplinary measures in Article 45.
Conflict of Interest is mentioned also in Article 4 of the Law No. 9131 “On the Rules of Ethics in the Public Administration”, Article 46 of the Law No. 152/2013 “On the Civil Servant”, and Article 26 of the Law No. 9643 dated 20.11.2006 “On Public Procurement”. Other related secondary legislation and HIDAACI regulations are important pieces of legislation related to Conflicts of Interest. Conflict of Interest is not provided as a criminal offence in the Albanian Criminal Code, even though it is mentioned in many laws, such as the law No. 9367 “On the Prevention of Conflicts of Interest in the Exercise of Public Functions”.
The High Inspectorate of Declaration and Control of Assets and Conflict of Interest (HIDAACI) has started an administrative investigation into a suspected conflict of interest against the former mayor of Mallakastër.
The HIDAACI investigation followed the media coverage about a tender held by the municipality of Qendër Mallakastër in 2012 – which was won by a company owned by the brother of the former mayor.
The HIDAACI started the administrative investigation for the verification, treatment and resolution of the suspected case of conflict of interest and, since the suspected case of conflict of interest is in the field of public procurement, the Inspectorate also referred the case for further follow-up by structures of the Public Procurement Agency, the institution responsible for the implementation of the law on public procurement.
In a written response, the former mayor denied being in a situation of conflict of interest regarding this tender, arguing that the procurement procedure was controlled by the Supreme State Audit Institution.
No further information about the continuation of the investigation has been announced by the HIDAACI.
Embezzlement is the illegal appropriation of money, goods or other resources by an official to whom they have been entrusted. This results in the loss of public money, which reduces the capacity of authorities to act in the interests of the public, resulting in worse services and outcomes for people. It also undermines public trust in government.
As one type of corruption, embezzlement is covered by the following international standards and guidelines:
Only 8.2% of civil servants perceive embezzlement as very prevalent. In addition, according to public servants, embezzlement is one of the less witnessed corrupt practices. Despite of this perception given by public officials in the study, the practice shows that there are many cases of embezzlement reported by the Supreme State Audit. Moreover, there are some cases reported which have been successfully examined and ruled by the judiciary.
As defined in Article 248 of the Criminal Code, abuse of office is understood as the «deliberate accomplishment or non-accomplishment of actions or failures to act, in violation to the law and constituting the failure of a person, who carries out public functions, to do his duties regularly, in cases when it has led to bringing him or other persons unjust material or non-material benefits or when it has brought damages to the legitimate interests of the state, citizens, and other legal entities, when it does not constitute another criminal offence, is punishable with imprisonment up to seven years».
In addition, based on article 246, «appropriating a public title or office accompanied with the actions pertinent to the holder of the title or office, constitutes criminal contravention and is punishable by a fine or up to two years of imprisonment. If the act is committed for embezzlement purposes or has encroached the freedom, dignity or other fundamental rights of the citizen, it is punishable by a fine or up to five years of imprisonment».
Embezzlement is mentioned also in Article 57 of the Law No. 152/2013 “On the Civil Servant”, and in Article 13 of the Law No. 9131 “On the Rules of Ethics in the Public Administration”.
The Special Prosecution Against Corruption and Organized Crime (SPAK) decided on 6 July 2021 the measure "Arrest in prison" for the mayor of Lushnja. After a one-year investigation by SPAK, this mayor was arrested as suspected of committing the criminal offence of “Embezzlement”, along with 10 other officials of Lushnja municipality; they are suspected to be involved in corrupt affairs for the tender of 24 million ALL that would rehabilitate the irrigation canal in the two villages Bishqethëm and Bitaj. While the investigation finds out how the equality in the tender was violated by the Bid Evaluation Commission and the Procurement Unit, SPAK claims that the mayor abused his office in other cases, such as the mismanagement of the fuel owned by the municipality, which was used for the needs of children of mayor’s friends and some of his officials.
The Prime Minister dismissed the mayor of Lushnja with the decision no.407 on 6 July 2021.
About the continuation of the criminal proceedings, the case is still ongoing in the Anti-Corruption and Organised Crime Court.
Fraud is the use of deceit in order to gain an unfair or illegal advantage. Fraud erodes public trust in government and reduces the capacity of government to act. It often results in the loss of public money, which harms public services and the ability of governments to address the public's needs and aspirations.
As one type of corruption, fraud is covered by the following international standards and guidelines:
Based on study results, 36.7% of civil servants perceive fraud as a more or less prevalent corrupt practice in the Albanian civil service. Men dominate among those having witnessed embezzlement, fraud and influencing of unfair decisions. Measures to stamp out fraud are contained in the New Customs Code, which as regards Customs offenses and penalties, is based on the proposal of the European Commission and on best practices of EU member states. The new tax administration IT-system allows a simplification of processes and reduces the opportunities for fraud and corruption. As per the Law No. 112/2015 “On Public Financial Inspection”, the Anti-Fraud Coordination Service (AFCOS) is appointed in Albania to facilitate the co-operation with relevant institutions in the European Union.
Based on Article 143 of the Criminal Code fraud is defined as «stealing property through lies or abuse of trust is punishable by a fine or up to five years of imprisonment. This very act, when committed in complicity in the detriment of several persons, or more than once, is punished by imprisonment from two to six years and, when it brings about serious consequences, it is sentenced by imprisonment from five to ten years».
In 2016, the Krujë Prosecutor’s Office indicted a former mayor of Krujë municipality and four other local public officials for theft through abuse of office. The defendants had allegedly misused emergency funds allocated by the Ministry of the Interior, amounting to ALL 20.5 million, for the channelisation of a stream to avoid flooding. As a result of the investigation, the prosecutor informed that the real value of the project is much lower, thereby concluding that the former mayor and the private company which won the procurement process have stolen over ALL 8 million. The District Court of Krujë sentenced the former mayor to two years in prison and then he was placed on probation for a period of three years. In addition, the court decided to deprive him of the right to exercise public functions for a period of three years. The case is currently ongoing in the Supreme Court.
Nepotism is the exploitation of an official position to unfairly benefit a family member or friend (e.g. through giving a job or favour). Nepotism, and other forms of favouritism, results in local and regional authorities not having access to the brightest and best talent. This in turn creates a fertile environment for further corruption and reduces the efficiency and effectiveness of the administration.
As one type of corruption, nepotism is covered by the following international standards and guidelines:
Data show that recruitment procedures in Albania’s public sector suffer from lack of transparency. More than 36% of applicants who did not get a job think that somebody else was employed due to cronyism or nepotism, while an additional 25% believe that somebody else was hired due to bribery. Nepotism prevails among the most witnessed corrupt practices at the workplace, which may be because Albania is a country where social networks are very strong. Due to that, many nepotistic practices in Albania are based on the personal relationships and the network of social interactions.
In Albania, there is no specific law on nepotism. However, Article 5 (“Private Interests”) of the Law No. 9367 “On the Prevention of Conflicts of Interest in the Exercise of Public Functions” mentions private interests of an official as those interests that conform with, contain, are based on or come from relationships of family or cohabitation, of friendship, and any other juridical civil relationship, among others.
On 27 January 2006, two decisions of the Council of Ministers were approved. The decision of the Council of Ministers No.43 “On avoiding nepotism and influence of power on the hiring and career of personnel of the public administration” and the decision of Council of Ministers No.44 “On avoiding nepotism in the public administration” which provides:
“Employees related to each other by family relationship, cognation or marriage are prohibited from exercising their duties within a public institution. The cause for the termination of employment is the existence of any of the following connections:
a) family ties: spouse / cohabitant, son, daughter, and their children.
b) cognation relations: parents, siblings and their children, aunts or uncles.
c) family relationship: parent, child, brother / sister of the spouse, as well as spouse / cohabitant of the children”.
However, these decisions were deemed as incompatible with the Constitution.
The Constitutional Court found that the above-mentioned decisions imposed a restriction on the right to work for the citizens. The right to work is guaranteed under Article 49 of the Constitution.
“Everyone has the right to earn a living by lawful employment, which he has chosen or accepted. They are free to choose the profession, the job, as well as the system of his professional qualification.”
Also, Article 17 of the Constitution guarantees that:
1. Restrictions on the rights and freedoms provided for in this Constitution may be imposed only by law for a public interest or for the protection of the rights of others. The restriction must be in proportion to the situation which has dictated it.
2. These restrictions may not infringe the essence of the freedoms and rights and in no case may they exceed the restrictions laid down in the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Constitutional Court considers that this provision, in the way it is formulated, has not left the possibility of delegation to any state authority other than the Parliament, as a representative body. The expression "only by law" means that if it is necessary to limit a right provided for in the Constitution, then this assessment is at the discretion of the legislator and not to other bodies, including the Council of Ministers.
The unconstitutionality of the decisions not only lies in the fact that the decisions of the Council of Ministers have an effect on previously established relationships, but also because of violation of the principle of proportionality, as employees affected by these decisions were not provided with another job
Related to the regulations made by the decisions of the Council of Ministers regarding the retroactive effects, it should be noted that even if these restrictions were made by law, according to the criteria of Article 17/1 of the Constitution, the principles mentioned above should be applied.
For these reasons, these decisions are invalidated as incompatible with the Constitution.
With the invalidation of these decisions of the Council of Ministers, the legislation on nepotism remains weak, as the only related legal provision is Article 5 (“Private Interests”) of the Law No. 9367 “On the Prevention of Conflicts of Interest in the Exercise of Public Functions”, as amended. Nepotism is not foreseen as a criminal offence in Albania but it is considered an administrative offence and it is punished by a fine varying from 50’000 ALL to 300’000 ALL.
At the moment there are no examples of relevant case law.
The misuse of administrative resources[i] during the electoral processes involves unlawful or abusive behaviour on the part of politicians and civil servants, who use human, financial, material, in natura and other immaterial resources to influence the outcome of elections, and thus undermine the fairness of the election itself.
[i] For the purpose of this etool, «administrative resources are human, financial, material, “in natura” and other immaterial resources enjoyed by both incumbents and civil servants in elections, deriving from their control over public sector staff, finances and allocations, access to public facilities as well as resources enjoyed in the form of prestige or public presence that stem from their position as elected or public officers and which may turn into political endorsements or other forms of support», as defined in: “Report on the Misuse of Administrative Resources during Electoral Processes”, Study No. 585/2010, European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission), Council of Europe, 16 December 2013, Strasbourg. Available here
The misuse of administrative resources during electoral processes is covered by the following international standards and guidelines:
The misuse or abuse of administrative resources (sometimes referred to as “public resources” or “state resources”) during parliamentary and local election campaigns in Albania has been one of the most recurrent concerns over the last two decades, as reported by international election observers. In the context of the parliamentary elections of 2017, the Parliament convened an extraordinary session on 22 May 2017 to take actions related to the electoral process. Among other measures, a political agreement between the two main parties led to the establishment of an inter-ministerial structure in the form of a Task Force to prevent the abuse of public officials in the electoral process. Also, to prevent the risks of the misuse of administrative resources, penalties were introduced for public servants who might be involved in campaigning.
Although significant steps have been made at national, local and regional levels, elections have their own characteristics, which make them especially vulnerable to the misuse of administrative resources. Therefore, specific actions may be required for local and regional elections.
At the local and regional levels, elected representatives usually have personal ties to the territorial community in which the election takes place. Likewise, their relation to public employees and civil servants working for the municipality is often particularly close.
Moreover, local elected representatives and/or employees frequently have functions which are relevant during the electoral campaign, such as the allocation of places for campaigning. Municipal employees may also have tasks related to the preparation of the elections, for instance, as members of polling station commissions. Such functions may give them possibilities of interference in favour of the incumbent or the party/parties in power, which may be problematic in local and regional elections.
On 22 May 2017, in the above-mentioned context of reforms, the Parliament of Albania approved amendments to the election legal framework. These amendments were adopted to the Law No. 8580, “On Political Parties”, the Law No. 97/2013 “On Audio-visual Media”, and the Criminal Code. The amendments introduced new requirements to campaigning, campaign finance, and advertising in broadcast media, as well as established new electoral offences and increased sanctions for existing ones. However, the reform process lacked transparency and consultation with stakeholders, and the late timing created significant difficulties in the implementation of key aspects of the election administration.
The amendments to the Law No. 8580 “On Political Parties” aimed to limit campaign spending. They largely constrained the use of electoral promotion materials at urban level and prohibited paid political advertising in media outlets, television, and radio channels. Furthermore, Article 88 of the Electoral Code of Albania prohibits the use of public resources for the support of electoral subjects.
In line with the amendments to the Law No. 8580 “On Political Parties”, the revision of the Law No. 97/2013 “On Audiovisual Media” determined the prohibition of paid political advertising in media outlets during the electoral period. However, the legal framework still fails to regulate political advertising, paid or unpaid, hidden or direct, beyond the electoral period, as well as in written and online media within or beyond the electoral campaign.
As regards the Criminal Code, Articles 325-332 (Chapter X) provide for 15 criminal offences which threaten the freedom and integrity of free elections.[i] The new criminal offenses introduced in 2017 include the abuse of public function for electoral activities, the use of other peoples’ identification documents, and more detailed prohibitions on vote-buying and vote-selling. Article 328/a (Using the public function for public electoral activities) is of a particular relevance:
«The use of the public goods, the function or the state activity or of the financial or human resources by an employee, who carries out a state duty, to favour a political party or a candidate in the elections constitutes a criminal offence and is punishable by imprisonment of one year to three years».
[i] The 15 criminal offences affecting free elections are: Obstructing electoral subjects (325), Falsification of election material and election results (326), Intentional damaging of electoral material (326/a), Violating voting secrecy (327), Voting more than once or without being identified (327/a), Active corruption in elections (328), Using the public function for public or electoral activities (328/a), Passive corruption in elections (328/b), Intimidation or abuse against participants in election (329), Obstructing voters (330), Abandonment of the duty by the members of electoral commissions (330/a), Violating the voting rights (331), Obtaining or using the identification documents illegally (331/a), Abuse of military authority (332), and Abuse of police authority (332/a).
During the pre-electoral period of the 2017 Parliamentary Elections (January-February 2017), some decisions of the municipal council raised suspicions of abuse of state resources as the number of persons receiving social assistance benefits, which are intended for families with very low incomes, in particular people with disabilities, increased.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) released the mobile phone application ‘Vote 2017’ as an instrument to report corruption. In total, 22 cases were reported through this mobile phone application in relation to vote integrity and freedom, out of which 19 were submitted on Election Day (25 June 2017). In addition, through the telephone line established by the CEC, the official reports confirmed that in the period from 25 to 28 June, a total of 240 cases were reported. None of these cases was forwarded to the prosecution and the CEC explained that the reported cases were incomplete. Moreover, the majority of ministries made available alternative reporting mechanisms, such as phone lines, and public officials assigned for the specific purpose of receiving cases of corruption during the electoral campaign and voting. In general, the number of reported cases was low, but the Ministry of Interior was an exception, with 484 cases reported for penal offences related to electoral processes. Based on official communications with the prosecution offices of the judicial district courts, there was a low number of procedural materials submitted for criminal offences that threatened the freedom and the integrity of the election, and there is no information about the phase of the investigations or any imposed penalties.
Regarding administrative penalties for the participation of employees of local government units in electoral activities, only 45 municipalities responded to the Task Force established for the 2017 election. According to the related summary report prepared by the Task Force, the municipality of Skrapar dismissed two employees and suspended one for participating in electoral activities during working hours. Other municipalities did not specify the reasons for dismissal. Only some of these cases were related to local officials, such as the mayor of Vlorë municipality, who was suspected of «obstructing electoral subjects». Yet, there is no information about further investigations and penalties imposed by the responsible authorities.
During the Parliamentary Elections of April 2021, despite a robust legal framework in place to prohibit the misuse of administrative resources and minimising the advantage of incumbency, ministers continued to campaign during official engagements.
Extortion is the use of coercion to obtain money, goods, services or some other advantage from an individual or institution. Beyond the damage it does to the victim, extortion reduces public trust in government and can discourage business growth and investment in the area.
As one type of corruption, extortion is covered by the following international standards and guidelines:
Extortion has been a problematic criminal activity in Albania and, though not in very high numbers, it is a criminal form that has assumed organised features. In the cases adjudicated by the First Instance of Serious Crimes Court during the time period 2008-2012, about 18% of the judgements had to do with extortion.
While the prevalence of extortion for businesses in Albania amounts only 0.5%, the data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report on Business, Corruption and Crime in Albania shows extortion is a cause for concern. Extortion is a very serious crime in which the perpetrators try to obtain money or other benefits from a company by threatening or intimidating managers or employees. In some cases, extortion is also presented as the offer of “protection” from damages to property or persons. Sometimes extortion can be linked to organised crime groups, who have the power and the means to make a credible threat towards a business with potentially dire consequences if their demands are not met.
On the Research Report of Gender and Corruption in the Albanian Civil Service, among the corrupt practices scoring highest under the “not prevalent” response appear to be extortion. Women more often than men see extortion (including sexual extortion) as not prevalent (22.9% of the women as compared to 16.7% of the men) or little prevalent (33.3% of the women as compared to 31.3% of the men). Likewise, more men than women believe that extortion is highly prevalent in the Albanian Civil Service (6.3% men vs. 4.2% women).
The 2020 Crime & Safety Report on Albania published by OSAC (Overseas Security Advisory Council) states that the Albanian government is making a concerted effort to improve the country’s law enforcement capabilities and reduce corruption. Organized crime has a noted impact on Albania, with a network of criminal organisations involved in drug trafficking, extortion, bribery etc.
Based on Article 109/b of the Criminal Code, “Forcing through blackmail or violence for submission of the wealth (Extortion)”, is defined as «Causing a person, through blackmail or violence, to do or not do a certain action, in order to unjustly gain wealth or any other benefit, for themselves or for third persons, is sentenced with imprisonment from two to eight years.
The same act, when committed by using or by threatening to use a gun, torture, inhuman and humiliating acts which have caused harm to the health, are sentenced by imprisonment of from seven to fifteen years.
When the crime has caused the death of the person, it is sentenced by life imprisonment».
In October 2019, the State Police notified the public about the operation “Repeaters” executed by the Serious Crimes Against Life and Property Sector in the Local Police Directorate of Tirana, under the direction of the Prosecutor of the Court of First Instance for Serious Crimes. Two people were arrested and one more was declared wanted. They were suspected of being authors of several cases of extortion (forcing through blackmail and violence for submission of wealth).
The investigation materials were forwarded to the Prosecutor’s Office at the First Instance Court for Serious Crimes to continue the prosecution procedure.
No further information has been made public related to this case from the national instances or the media.
Clientelism is the promise and acceptance of a personal benefit (e.g. gift, loan, reward, favour, job, etc.) in exchange for political support. It is often based on an unequal relationship between a patron (e.g. political leader) and client (e.g. voter). Clientelism results in decisions that reflect the special interests of a few, rather than the wider public interest, leading to unfair and unjust outcomes.
As one type of corruption, clientelism is covered by the following international standards and guidelines:
Concerns over accountability, transparency, and the capacity of local governing bodies to deliver quality services remain a pressing matter in Albania. Clientelism is a phenomenon widespread throughout the Western Balkans, but it manifests itself in various forms and ways, which are difficult to identify and scientifically verify.
Besides employment, the inclusion of families within the social aid scheme in the months prior to elections is a form of clientelism, especially important for low-income families. Cases of decision-making by local institutions which increased the number of persons receiving social aid during the pre-election period in 2017 indicate the persistence of this form of political clientelism.
Albanian legislation on parties is restrictive for regional, local, and religious parties, and prohibits ethnic parties. However, if the lobbying phenomenon continues to develop as it is expected, the relevant legislation and the current parties’ profile will need to be reviewed. As long as the state continues to be the biggest employer, clientelist methods will continue to damage the quality of administration and other public sectors. Simultaneously, the negative effect is twofold: those who benefit are identified with the party in power, those who lose are identified with the competitive alternative of the current party in government and expected to repeat in case of victory of their team, the same selective and clientelist process.
According to Article 328 of the Criminal Code “Active Corruption in Elections” provides that “offering or giving money, material goods, the promise of a job or other favours in any form, to the voter or other related persons, in order to obtain the signature for the nomination of a candidate in the election, to vote in a certain way, to participate or not to vote, or to engage in illegal activities in support of a candidate or political party, constitutes a criminal offense and is punishable by imprisonment of one to five years.”
A clientelist and corrupt relationship has been established between political parties and a number of citizens in Albania: “you give me a job- I give you my vote”.
During the pre-electoral period of the 2017 Parliamentary Elections, the police in Korça arrested a man who, according to their report, promised employment to a young individual in exchange for his vote for the Socialist Movement for Integration (in Albanian language ‘LSI’). The police found in his automobile the voters’ lists, contacts, telephone numbers and ALL 20 000 which, according to the executor’s office, would have been used to buy votes for LSI. Call registrations of the arrested individual were seized by the police and submitted to the prosecutor’s office as proof and evidence of vote buying.
On 28 June 2017, the Korça District Court imposed the security measure of “prison arrest” for this individual. One month later, on 24 July 2017, the Korça Court of Appeals decided to release the suspected person with the argument that there was no danger of escaping and that he could not destroy the evidence of investigation.
The Prosecutor’s Office sent the case to the court, but after several court hearings, the prosecutor of the case decided to withdraw the criminal case.
Patronage is the use of an official position to appoint a person in a public office based on favouritism, often in exchange of political support. It can be closely linked to the concepts of clientelism, cronyism and nepotism. Patronage results in decisions being made not on the basis of what is in the interests of society at large, but what is in the self-interests of the decision maker and their associates. It violates the boundaries of legitimate political influence and the principles of merit, and leads to public money being misspent.
As one type of corruption, patronage is covered by the following international standards and guidelines:
Since the misuse of administrative resources during electoral processes is the most widespread manner to use patronage as a form of corruption, the following international standards are of relevance:
The most common corrupt practices in Albania that seem to contribute to the high levels of perceived corruption include favouritism, such as nepotism and patronage.
During electoral periods, patronage networks employ vote-buying/selling as a method to collect votes in exchange for different forms of favours/support.
In order to decrease the levels of patronage in Albania, several changes were made to the Electoral Code related to employment during election campaign. Considering the electoral campaign of the parliamentary elections of April 2021, not much progress has been made.
The Electoral Code of Albania in Article 3, under “General Principles”, paragraph 7, provides: “Except as otherwise provided by law, it shall be prohibited to provide electoral subjects with the opportunity to use equipment, funds and materials that are public property, as well as with other individuals who are working in the public administration of any level”.
The Electoral Code of Albania also includes regulations such as: “During the election campaign, employment, dismissal from work and job transfers, in public entities or public institutions are prohibited, except in justified cases.
Also, it is prohibited for the employees of the state administration that during the working hours and within the premises of the state institutions, to participate in activities of a political nature, or that benefit a political party or candidate in the election campaign. An employee of the state administration is prohibited from using public goods, state function or activity or public financial, material, human resources, in order to favour a political party, coalition or candidate in elections.
The employee of the state administration has the right to participate in the political or electoral activities of an electoral subject or candidate, only after the official working hours and outside the premises of the state institutions.
At the moment there are no examples of relevant case law.