Albania suffers from state capture, massive corruption and an elusive judiciary, says latest watchdog report

Many vacancies are yet to be filled in Albania following a massive reform of its judiciary

Tirana, Albania | 1 April 2021 (Tirana Echo) – Albania suffers from state capture and grand corruption schemes, while the reform of its corrupt judiciary has stalled, says the latest comprehensive report by Transparency International and the Institute for Democracy & Mediation published in Tirana this week.

Although the findings cover the past 12 years, the report is a blow for ruling socialist government of PM Edi Rama, who is currently seeking a third term in power in the upcoming April 25th parliamentary elections.

The report which presents an examination of grand corruption cases and tailor-made laws from 2008 to 2020, marks an important initiative for a civil society group in evidencing the phenomenon of state capture in Albania, whereby powerful individuals, institutions, companies or groups within or outside a country conspire to shape the small Balkan nation’s policies, legal environment and economy to benefit their own private interests at the expense of the public.

Its authors correctly point out that it was not until recently that “capture tendencies” have been demonstrated beyond the judiciary, which since 2014 is undergoing a massive reform under US and EU pressure.  

Thanks to a thorough examination of the past 12 years, TI and IDM have managed to expose the processes through which public officials, the private sector and the judiciary shape the network that enables state capture in Albania.

The findings show there is a strong relationship between public officials, the private sector and the judiciary, a partnership which has been growing progressively by exploiting public assets and the provision of public goods in a country where accountability is almost inexistent while impunity prevails.

Transparency International is the first reputable watchdog to cast doubts over the implementation of a milestone reform of the judiciary which began in 2014 and adopted by the Albanian Parliament in 2016 under strong US and EU pressure, conditioning Albania’s start of EU membership talks with its successful implementation.

The report says that while politicians – mainly in central government but also in local government – and the private sector get together to exploit the country’s rich resources, a corrupt judiciary ensures impunity for these activities and furthers corrupt profit-making schemes.

Despite the need for judicial reform, its implementation has created further legal uncertainties due to its slow progress in the process of re-assessing judges and prosecutors and their eventual replacement with vetted ones. This process has stalled some of the judicial processes of high-profile cases affecting the country’s energy, transportation and defence sectors. Furthermore, the examination of the judiciary’s handling of recent corruption cases suggests that the undue influence of the executive branch over the judiciary is still present, and professionalism and the integrity of judges and prosecutors remain elusive”, notes the report.

The implementation of the reform, which was steered by US and EU experts, remains a significant challenge while the process of vetting judges and prosecutors has been slow.

Although many former judges and prosecutors have been ousted from their positions, the establishment of new justice institutions and the filling of their vacancies is marked by delays which have negatively affected the functioning of the existing justice infrastructure.

Problems exist in terms of citizens’ access to justice and juridical efficiency, especially regarding the functioning of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court which have been inexistent over the past few years. The failure of the Supreme Court to operate normally because of the dismissal or resignation of its judges has affected access to justice and the efficiency of the adjudication of cases.

Furthermore, the report notes that tailor-made laws facilitate grand corruption schemes based on special procurement procedures which ignore basic principles of transparency, integrity and parliamentary oversight.

Most of the bills originate from the government of Albania, but government documents do not provide comprehensive rationale for the proposals. While vague provisions in the Law on Public Consultation enable the government to bypass consultation procedures, recommendations from civil society are seldom taken into consideration”, notes the report.

Last year, Albania was granted the green light by member states to start negotiating with Brussels on EU accession alongside North Macedonia, although an intergovernmental conference is yet to take place for both countries, which would kick-start the talks.

EU countries, reluctant of further enlargement and focused on managing the Covid-19 pandemic, have shown little appetite towards accepting new members from the Balkans, a region largely considered as a hub of corruption and organized crime structures.

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