New civil society report on Albania: Anti-corruption legislation in place but loopholes remain 

28 July 2023 –

Click on the report to download it in English!

A new report by the Institute for Democracy and Mediation finds that Albania has recently put in place provisions for the prevention of corruption and asset recovery (Chapter II and V of the UNCAC), but lacks effective implementation in practice and adequate financial and technical capacity of institutions to fight corruption effectively. The report is intended as a contribution to the UNCAC implementation review process in its second cycle, produced with technical and financial support from the UNCAC Coalition.

Albania’s judicial reform made international headlines in July 2016. In a bid to prevent corruption, the entire judiciary was overhauled through the re-evaluation of judges and prosecutors and the establishment of new institutions to implement such processes and govern the judiciary. Part of the re-evaluation process has been the full audit of the asset declarations of the magistrates, which has burdened the High Inspectorate for the Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflict of Interest with the monumental task of verifying and investigating the declarations of more than 800 judges and prosecutors.

Though Albania has made advances in preventing corruption, institutions’ lack of internal audits and a general lack of proactive engagement to investigate and sanction corruption offenses remains a barrier in implementation. Loopholes within public employment and public procurement also still need to be addressed. Albania’s domestic legal frameworks for asset recovery cover most essential legal requirements under the UNCAC. Still, a lack of international cooperation on asset recovery cases has led to very few cases. The establishment of the Agency for Media and Information in 2021 has further centralized the control of the information content that is made public by government institutions, whereas the misuse of the secrecy clause is widespread.

The official UNCAC review process in Albania was scheduled to begin in 2016/17, but has experienced significant delays. The governmental experts list is the only document available on Albania’s UNODC Country Profile page, while the self-assessment checklist is still currently under desk review. A country visit by peer reviewing countries Azerbaijan and Liberia is planned for spring 2023, but no date has been set for it yet. Civil society is expected to be involved in the country visit.

For all the detailed findings, read the full civil society parallel report in English.

Main findings

Anti-Corruption Bodies and Policies

Anti-corruption policy in Albania is coordinated at the executive level. The Ministry of Justice, as the national anti-corruption coordinator, is responsible for convening representatives from other line ministries, law enforcement agencies, and independent oversight institutions to draft the national anti-corruption policy. Albania’s national anti-corruption policy has three main approaches – (i) preventive, (ii) punitive, and (iii) awareness and education – which are outlined in the Inter-Sectoral Strategy against Corruption 2015-2023.

Despite some progress in building up the capacities of anti-corruption institutions in Albania, they continue to be inadequate to meet the objectives of their mandates, which are becoming more challenging to be rigorously implemented as international standards of public participation, transparency, data protection, and public procurement continue to accumulate and increase due to the country’s EU accession process. Both for HIDAACI and the Supreme State Audit Institution (SSAI), the other main body responsible for anti-corruption policy, there is a general lack of human resources and technical capacities that prevent these oversight institutions from effectively fulfilling their mandates.

Public Sector Employment

Civil service competition procedures allow for appeals to be made in the preliminary selection phase. This is an important practice to ensure that candidates are not automatically disqualified, but are offered the opportunity to provide explanations and supporting documentation that would help them argue that they meet the basic criteria.

The Law on Decriminalization includes broad provisions that prevent potential candidates with criminal records from running for public office. It has led to the prevention of such candidates from running, and to the dismissal of unlawfully-elected public officials. Additionally, the High Inspectorate for the Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflict of Interest and the Public Procurement Commission have introduced e-filings for asset declarations and complaints, respectively.

However, measures to build integrity in the public sector are insufficient and ineffective. The legislation lacks clear provisions to address the issue of the revolving door and other conflict of interest situations, while the procedures and institutional framework to prevent conflicts of interests are either missing or are completely ineffective. 

Political Financing

The civil service and political party financing regulatory framework have been gradually improving over time. This is supported by the Electoral Code (in Albanian), which sets clear minimum and maximum thresholds for monetary and in-kind contributions, forbids donations from non-Albanian public and private entities, and aims to curtail spending in political campaigns

However, the lack of institutional proactivity coupled with regulatory loopholes and the lack of capacities undermine the establishment of a professional, apolitical, and competent civil service, as well as the establishment of a rigorous political party financing regime. Similarly, despite some improvements in the anti-money laundering legal framework, strategic deficiencies have kept Albania under enhanced scrutiny from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

Codes of Conduct, Conflicts of Interest and Asset Declarations

The Law on the Rules of Ethics in the Public Administration provides the ethical guidelines for the conduct of civil servants, but there are no provisions on ‘revolving door’ situations. Although the law forbids public officials from being engaged in secondary profit-making activities during official working hours, they may be allowed to engage in such activities if allowed by their superior.

An important improvement by the High Inspectorate for the Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflict of Interest and the Public Procurement Commission in Albania is their introduction of e-filings for asset declarations and complaints mechanism, respectively.  The legal framework requires asset declarations of public officials to be published on the official website of the institution, with confidential and personal information being redacted. Although asset declarations are not currently being actively published on the website, they can be provided upon request.

Whistleblower protection

The High Inspectorate for the Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflict of Interest is responsible for coordinating the national policy on whistleblowing, as well as conducting investigations on whistleblowers’ claims. In cases where the whistleblower has been damaged, they can legally sue in a court and ask for reparations. The establishment of the Network of Anti-Corruption Coordinators within the Ministry of Justice in 2021 has added legal and institutional uncertainty of responsibilities regarding whistleblower complaints and institutional integrity more broadly.

Medium to large public and private entities are legally required to establish a whistleblower unit responsible for processing and investigating claims, but in practice they lack the time to effectively process and investigate whistleblower reporting. Sources or whistleblowers who report on corruption or provide information to the media have been exposed to pressure and often refrain from reporting, due to fear that their identity will be revealed. By way of illustration, in 2021, the Special Prosecution against Corruption and Organized Crime (SPAK) ordered the seizure of computer servers of a media outlet after they refused to reveal their sources.

Public Procurement

One of the best practices in the field of public procurement in Albania is the reduction of public procurement procedures by direct negotiation without prior notification of the contract. In 2021, only 143 procedures, or 3.4% of all realized procurements were conducted through direct negotiation. This is a significant improvement compared to 2017, where 2234 procurements, or 31.8% of all public procurements carried out by the Public Procurement Agency during that year, were carried out using the method of negotiation without prior notification of the contract. Furthermore, the Public Procurement Agency publishes data on public procurement procedures through its open data portal. The Agency added the portal in 2022 as it had not previously been a practice to publish procurement data in an open data format.

Despite these positive developments, there remains a high number of cancelled public procurement procedures. In 2021, 1042 of the public procurements announced in the Public Procurement Electronic System were cancelled, while in 2017, 2428 procedures were canceled. Additionally, the Albanian Government has not established a robust governance structure for defense and security procurement processes, although it has attempted to transpose the provisions of the relevant EU directive.

Access to Information & Participation of Society

Public bodies are reluctant to disclose politically sensitive information which could expose cases of corruption, even after a complaint has been submitted. The cases identified by the report related to public procurement contracts or construction projects deemed harmful to the environment or cultural heritage. Lengthy court procedures followed by appeals often last for several years until a final verdict is reached, and are discouraging particularly for journalists for whom timely provision of information is crucial, as otherwise, it loses value.

A precedent set by the administrative courts that ordered the temporary execution of decisions has enabled effective access to information in some politically sensitive matters. In these cases, the court ordered public bodies to provide immediate access to the required information (in Albanian), without the claimant having to exhaust all judicial remedies as a precondition to receiving such access.

Regarding public participation in decision-making, there is a lack of political will to organize genuine and effective public consultation processes. Public participation, awareness, and trust in such processes are low. Some efforts to increase the transparency of consultation processes and enable public participation include the live streaming of parliamentary sessions and some municipal council meetings, as well as the approval of detailed guidelines on public consultation processes at the central government. Regarding the treatment of journalists, there is no anti-SLAPP legislation in force in Albania to ensure protection from harmful lawsuits aiming to silence public participation and job-related threats against journalists and activists are not effectively investigated.

Anti-Money Laundering

The national Financial Investigation Unit of Albania has been properly established, enjoys the necessary competences, and has the mandate to investigate money laundering cases independently. In addition, the General Directorate for the Prevention of Money Laundering has established a good ongoing training and capacity and awareness building program for reporting entities, as it has trained over 4500 reporting entities in the last three years to help raise compliance.

According to the latest MONEYVAL follow-up report on Albania, the domestic AML regime is largely compliant with most FATF recommendations (29 out of 40). Nevertheless, Albanian institutions have not addressed strategic deficiencies in the national AML regime within the deadlines set by the FATF. National authorities do not maintain comprehensive and disaggregated data and statistics on money laundering cases throughout the reporting/intelligence, investigation and judicial phases.

Asset Recovery

While the legal framework for the return and disposal of assets in Albania is strong, it does not include provisions on compensation of victims. Furthermore, the mandate of the Agency for the Administration of Seized and Confiscated Assets does not clearly outline its responsibilities regarding the seizure, confiscation, return, or disposal of assets in international penal cases. This is reflected in the low number of exchange of requests for assets seizure or confiscation in the country. Albanian authorities had executed two requests in 2020 and two in 2021, whilst foreign authorities had executed only one in 2021.

Key recommendations

In its report, the Institute for Democracy and Mediation makes several recommendations to the Albanian authorities to ensure the full implementation of the UNCAC in Albania, among them:

  1. Adopt relevant legislation that seeks to increase the human resources and technical capacities of independent oversight institutions to improve their performance.
  2. Pursue proactive investigations by the Agency for Police Oversight that target corruption amongst the top leadership of the Albanian State Police to ensure that the police are led by officers of high integrity and professionalism.
  3. Revise the recruitment and promotion system to prioritize policy expertise for members of the TMC and provide to the public upon request the decisions taken by the selection committees.
  4. Establish an effective regulatory system to ensure that there are appropriate mechanisms that address conflict of interest in the public administration and in HIDAACI.
  5. Align the provisions on political party financing in the Electoral Code and in the Law on Political Parties to ensure that legal loopholes regarding the level of contributions and contributions from foreign sources are closed.
  6. Adopt legislation in the Albanian Assembly to regulate third-party financing and the financing of national referenda.
  7. Publish an analysis of public procurement data and assessments of the implementation of public procurement policy to ensure the transparency of public procurement policy.
  8. Adopt legislation in the Albanian Assembly on the return and disposal of assets that include clear provisions for the compensation of victims of corruption and for the mandate of the Agency for the Administration of Seized and Confiscated Assets on international cooperation for the seizure, confiscation, return, and disposal of assets.
  9. Ensure that legal exemptions from disclosure of information are not misused by public institutions to deny access to information.
  10. Investigate thoroughly job-related threats against journalists and activists to ensure a conducive environment for professional journalism.
  11. Identify and assess the money laundering risks of each sector through the oversight authorities set forth in the national AML law (Bank of Albania, Financial Oversight Authority, Public Oversight Board, Albanian Chamber of Advocacy, Ministry of Justice) under their mandate and design regulations to ensure that they effectively prevent money laundering.
  12. Take a more proactive approach to coordinate anti-money laundering policy by the Anti-Money Laundering Coordinating Committee to ensure that financial and law enforcement authorities operate in a well-regulated regime.
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