Albania in reverse

By bne IntelliNews July 26, 2010

Genc Kondi in Tirana -

According to Freedom House, corruption and the judiciary remain the biggest obstacles to Albania's democratic process, which appears to actually be going in reverse.

The independent watchdog says in its 2010 report that while Albania's "democracy score" has improved over the last decade, it has gotten worse since the high point reached in 2005. The main causes of this are the stubbornly high level of corruption, the compromised judiciary and, most worryingly, a lack of credible strategy by the government to deal with these issues.

Freedom House claims the judicial system is not entirely independent, with the government continuing to intimidate judges and prosecutors when bringing politically sensitive cases to court. "Two ministers were accused of abuse of office, but their cases were dismissed by the High Court on procedural grounds," it notes.

Albania still lacks a comprehensive strategy on judicial reform. As a result, parliament could not adopt the draft law "On Establishment of Administrative Courts and Administrative Dispute" that was submitted by the government at the end of 2008, which would establish specialized administrative courts and shorter judicial procedures for administrative disputes. The business community supported the adoption of the law, considering it an important step toward shortening judicial administration processes. "This is a bad news for investors," says Ervin Bushati, economic secretary of the main opposition Socialist Party in Albania.

Corruption continues to be a widespread phenomenon in Albania and the perception of corruption in various public services is high and seems actually to be getting worse. For example, a US Agency for International Development poll conducted at the beginning of 2009 found that, "almost half of the sample (48.5%) believes that corruption has increased in comparison to the previous year, while 38% think that it has remained the same." And Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Albania 95th, down 10 positions from the previous year. "The ranking shows that Albania remains one of the most problematic countries in the region with regard to the fight against corruption," Freedom House notes.

Immunity of high officials continues to be an obstacle in the fight against corruption, which was used as grounds for dismissing the criminal case against Minister of the Environment Fatmir Mediu in relation to the Gerdec ammunition plant explosion, which killed 26 people in 2008. Government efforts to tackle corruption have stalled at the strategy stage or are only selectively applied. Furthermore, the government's anti-corruption strategy lacks a concrete timetable and mechanisms.

Freedom of the press also appears to be getting worse. Technology might have advanced, but the legislative framework governing the media has not. According to Gjergj Erebara, who works for the investigative outfit BalkanInsight, Albanian journalists are under pressure from many sides, including the tax authorities. "The situation now is even harder, because of the financial difficulties of [media] owners," he says.

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