Nations in transit 2004

Executive Summary: 

Albanian democratization brings to mind the legend of Sisyphus: it is marked by periods of progress followed by serious setbacks that bring it repeatedly to the starting point. The country held great promise in the years immediately following the collapse of Communism, particularly in 1992, when the Democratic Party (DP) came to power. Albania was the regional success story in terms of market and institutional reforms. Civil society and independent media began to develop and voiced important criticism against emerging undemocratic practices by the DP. The violent collapse of the entire state apparatus in 1997, following parliamentary election fraud and widespread savings losses in deceptive pyramid schemes in 1996, wiped out most progress made until then. The Socialist Party (SP) was voted into power.

In developments reminiscent of 1992, the country began to rebuild. The SP made progress in establishing state institutions and the rule of law. However, the country also rapidly succumbed to rising state capture by powerful economic interests and organized crime. The consolidation of media, business, and political interests has produced a powerfully invested status quo that distorts governance and encumbers both the peaceful rotation of power and the conduct of free and fair elections. More than a decade after the collapse of Communism, Albania still faces the challenge of holding free and fair elections.

Local government elections in October 2003 were a major event. Although the ruling SP sustained its majority, the opposition made significant gains. Hopes that these elections would mark the beginning of a tradition of free and fair electoral processes were seriously disappointed owing to widespread irregularities with voter lists in the country's major cities. Violations in election administration in the capital, Tirana, were documented in one-third of the city's voting centers.

The destabilizing effect caused by the flawed electoral process in 2003 was compounded by the failure of Prime Minister Fatos Nano to fill ministerial vacancies in his government. The crisis resulted from an ongoing power struggle within the SP between Nano and former Socialist premier Ilir Meta. This brought reforms to a halt and jeopardized Albania's negotiation of a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union (EU). The SP congress on December 12 saw Nano reelected as party chairman with 80 percent of the vote and marked the end of the SP crisis. In late December, Nano reshuffled his cabinet, and Parliament approved his nominations for new ministers; the Meta faction no longer possessed the votes required to block the process.

Electoral Process. Local elections in October 2003 were viewed as an important test for Albanian democracy, and a series of preelectoral developments were cause for optimism. A bipartisan committee successfully reformed the electoral code, and agreement was reached between the two main political parties to balance their representation in key electoral institutions such as the Central Election Commission (CEC). Media coverage of the campaign was fair and balanced, and the conduct of police forces on election day was above reproach. However, numerous flaws were noted in the electoral process. First, the ruling SP reneged on its promise regarding representation on the CEC and manipulated events to gain an absolute majority in the commission. There also were significant irregularities with voter lists, and the voting process in Tirana was poorly administered. Albania's rating for electoral process remains 3.75.

Civil Society. Albania's civil society sector remained donor driven in 2003, thus limiting its ability to voice or represent domestic concerns and priorities. Civil society is largely perceived as a collection of nongovernmental organizations that offer good employment and financial opportunities for well-educated people; its work is viewed with skepticism by the general public. However, there have been some tangible results in the work of civil society, owing to its improving ability to raise awareness of important issues through lobbying and advocacy. For this reason, Albania's rating for civil society improves from 3.75 to 3.50.

Independent Media. During 2003, Albanian media made some progress in terms of enhancing its professionalism. Another positive step was the fair and balanced coverage it offered during the local election campaign. However, the media's postelection coverage proved biased in favor of the ruling SP. Albanian media continued in 2003 to function as an oligarchy in the hands of a limited number of people, mainly businessmen who use the media to promote their own business interests and political ambitions. This circumstance was exacerbated by government intervention that severely distorted the media market. Owing to the progress in the media's coverage of elections, the rating for independent media improves from 4.00 to 3.75.

Governance. At the start of 2003, Albanian governance was marked by stability and assurances by the SP that it would pursue needed reforms. However, during the last six months of the year, clashes among competing factions within the SP prevented the fulfillment of the party's promises. As in the past, this interparty conflict paralyzed public administration and slowed reform. Parliament failed to perform its legislative and oversight roles effectively, and the opposition had little room to function. Albania's governance rating remains 4.25.

Constitutional, Legislative, and Judicial Framework. Albania is governed by a modern constitutional, legislative, and judicial framework. Although legislative improvements were made in all three areas during 2003, enforcement of the new provisions proved problematic. In addition, the Constitutional Court and the High Council of Justice suffered from a loss of credibility over the year as they struggled to maintain their independence from the current government. Albania's rating in this category remains 4.25.

Corruption. Albania made limited progress in the fight against corruption in 2003. Petty corruption was widespread, with surveys indicating that the public perceived it to be most prevalent in the health services, customs, and the judiciary. State capture and organized crime appeared to be on the rise. Although Albania showed some progress in fighting human trafficking, few advances were made overall in fighting organized crime and its links with public officials. Owing to the increased prevalence of state capture, Albania's corruption rating worsens from 5.00 to 5.25.

Outlook for 2004. The SP congress on December 12, 2003, opened the way for Prime Minister Nano to reshuffle his cabinet and secure Parliament's approval of several new ministers. The new cabinet, coined the "Alliance for Integration," resulted from intense negotiations between SP factions and their political allies. Given the SP's internal volatility, the new cabinet must work to satisfy various conflicting interests within the party. This in turn raises doubts about the government's ability in 2004 to accelerate reforms and push forward Albania's integration into the EU. In light of Nano's appointment of ministers whom he accused of corruption and ties with organized crime not more than two years ago, it seems even less probable that the fight against corruption, monopolies, and organized crime will gain momentum.

Electoral Process: 

Albania is a parliamentary republic. Its president, elected by Parliament through a qualified majority of three-fifths, has limited and largely symbolic powers. Parliament itself is a unicameral body, whose 140 members are elected every 4 years. One hundred seats are filled through elections for single-member districts; the remaining 40 seats are filled through proportional voting for party lists. The threshold for gaining representation in Parliament is 2.5 percent.

Local authorities are also elected according to a mixed system. Mayors and heads of communes are elected through a "first past the post" majority system. Municipal and communal councilors are elected in proportional voting for party lists. The number of seats won by each political party in a municipal or communal council is in proportion to the percentage of valid votes it receives.

Albania has a very poor record of holding free and fair elections. Except for the 1992 parliamentary and local races and the 1994 referendum, the results of all post-Communist elections have been contested or boycotted by one of the parties involved. It was partly for this reason that the local elections held on October 12, 2003, were by far the most important political event of the year. Both local political actors and the international community, which had pushed successfully for electoral code reforms early in the year, considered these elections a test of Albanian democracy.

Parliament passed a new electoral code, Law 9087, on June 19, 2003. Despite vocal opposition by smaller political parties, the law provides for single round elections. The law also guarantees a politically balanced Central Election Committee (CEC). This provision was particularly important to opposition parties, which previously had not recognized the CEC as an independent institution. Furthermore, the new law stipulates that important decisions in the CEC will require a two-thirds majority. Finally, the code provides for politically balanced election committees for local government and contains provisions on media conduct during elections that are designed to ensure balanced coverage of campaigns.

Although the new law provided reason for optimism, some of its provisions failed to materialize in practice. On September 4, the High Council of Justice (HCJ) appointed Ms. Deshira Subashi as a new member of the CEC, replacing an existing member whose mandate had expired. Subashi was proposed by the Socialist Party (SP), and her nomination gave the party an absolute majority (five out of seven members) in the CEC. To achieve a politically balanced CEC, a representative of the Democratic Party (DP) should have been appointed instead. Despite objections by the opposition and calls by the president for a politically balanced CEC, Subashi's appointment was not withdrawn and ultimately undermined the legitimacy of the electoral process. On September 14, political polarization was heightened when the government issued a normative act concerning the use of police forces on election day without consulting the opposition parties. A delay in releasing funds to registered parties for their campaigns also intensified problems.

Despite these challenges to a democratic electoral process, the campaign was conducted in a very calm atmosphere, and no interventions by the police were reported on election day. Additionally, media coverage of the election was judged fair by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the National Council on Radio and Television (NCRT). Although both factors marked a significant improvement over past elections, the media's postelection coverage proved less balanced, with disproportionate and more positive coverage granted to the ruling party. By contrast, the police fulfilled their duties in full compliance with the electoral code, representing a significant break with the past.

In the local elections, the SP won a slim majority over the DP. According to the CEC, voter turnout at 45.75 percent was the lowest since 1991. One reason for this could have been the irregularities in voter lists, which excluded considerable numbers of people from the voting process. Turnout for the 2000 local elections, on the other hand, was considerably higher at 62.19 percent.

Election Results as of January 23, 2004--Central Election Commission

Political Party or Coalition* Percentage Won in 383 Out of 384 Local Units
Socialist Party (SP) 34.64
Democratic Party (PD) 32.42
Social Democratic Party (SDP) 5.31
Republican Party (PR) 3.37
Agrarian Party (AP) 3.23
Social Democracy Party (DSP) 2.91
Democratic Alliance Party (DAP) 2.83
Human Rights Union Party (HRUP) 2.77
Monarchic Movement Party (MMP) 2.31
New Democratic Party 2.19

*Table excludes independents and parties receiving 1.5 percent of the vote or less.

Voter list irregularities were most pronounced in the main cities, especially in the capital, Tirana, and in the second largest city, Durres. The opposition documented thousands of cases of voters who either could not find their name on the voting list or were unable to find or reach their voting center. In its fourth interim report, the OSCE remarked that "voting list irregularities were anticipated, but the scale was larger than expected." Local observers, such as the Society for Democratic Culture, noted serious voting list problems as well. The opposition claims that the SP manipulated the voting lists, while the government argues that the irregularities were of a technical nature caused by inaccuracies in the civil registry. The OSCE's conclusions matched the government's.

Despite voting list irregularities, the election was administered well in most of the country. However, in Tirana--which accounts for nearly 30 percent of the country's electorate--irregularities were widespread and cast a shadow over any improvements.

Voter preferences in Tirana tend to reflect the overall strength of parties nationwide. Therefore, losing the Tirana municipality in the 2003 local elections would have been a fatal blow to the SP, which had invested heavily in its rising star, Tirana mayor Edi Rama, with financial support, media coverage, and political rhetoric. Visible improvements in Tirana's infrastructure were by far the SP's strongest asset, with the party's internal crises disaffecting voters and threatening public support for the party in general. The DP set victory in Tirana as its primary goal as well and devoted considerable energy and resources to defeating Edi Rama. Its campaign tactics included accusing Rama of corruption and setting up a parliamentary commission to investigate the charges.

Voting in Tirana was problematic on several levels. First, considerable numbers of citizens, mostly opposition DP sympathizers, it seemed, were unable to vote owing to voting list irregularities. Second, the vote was poorly administered, resulting in a series of procedural irregularities and violations that affected ballot boxes and ballot counting. In response, Tirana's CEC, dominated by DP members, refused to accept the vote count and declared the opposition candidate the winner. The national CEC declared Edi Rama the winner and the SP the winning party. The CEC's ruling was made with five votes for Rama and two against--a decision that mirrored the body's membership of five SP and two opposition representatives.

The DP took the CEC decision to the electoral college, which on December 3, 2003, ordered repeat elections in almost one-third of the city's voting centers. It was the first time in Albania's post-Communist history that the judiciary decided against the ruling party in a matter of such political importance. The new election took place on December 28.

The DP's request to include those citizens who had been excluded from the voting lists in the first round was turned down by the CEC on grounds that there was no such provision in the electoral code. The same argument was put forth by the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights representative, Ambassador Robert Barry. As a result, the elections took place largely with the same voting lists used in the first round. Voting was conducted in an orderly fashion, with no major incidents registered. According to the CEC, participation was only 27 percent and Edi Rama received the greatest number of votes; Rama was thus officially declared the winner.

According to Ambassador Barry, the elections were "two steps forward and one step backward." On the one hand, there were notable improvements in many areas, particularly with respect to the role of the media, the police, and the judiciary. Yet problems with voting lists persisted and even worsened in some cases. Ultimately, the elections failed to meet democratic standards. At the very heart of this failure remains the lack of political will to conduct free and fair elections.

Civil Society: 

In May 2003, the Albanian Parliament passed two laws that regulate nongovernmenal organizations (NGOs): Law 8788, "On Not-for-Profit Organizations"; and Law 8789, "On the Registration of Not-for-Profit Organizations." The laws' passage marked the end of a four-year period during which civil society organizations insisted on the adoption of a complete legal framework that would govern their activity. The process was open and inclusive, building on the input and participation of several civil society leaders, and resulted in a modern legal framework that aims to promote the development of a vibrant civil society sector. The legal framework sanctions the right of NGOs to engage in economic activities, within certain limits, in order to be sustainable. However, more work must be done to provide big businesses with incentives, such as tax cuts, to finance civil society's activities.

In general, the legal and regulatory environment for civil society is free of excessive state regulation. In 2003, however, numerous NGOs failed to register under the new law. As a result, there were numerous reports of unwarranted intrusions into NGO financial affairs by the tax police, who based their findings on business tax regulations rather than existing NGO tax regulations. Civil society leaders also objected to the requirement that NGOs must register in the Tirana District Court, which is inconvenient for NGOs based in other parts of the country.

Estimates of the number of civil society organizations in Albania range from 400 to 800, with only 200 actually considered active. The number tends to rise in times of crisis, when greater funding is available from international donors. Most Albanian NGOs are shaped by and reflect donor priorities, since they are not financially viable on their own. Domestic sources of funding are almost nonexistent, and there are no clear government policies that encourage public or private support of the sector. Therefore, the fortunes of most groups rest almost completely in the hands of foreign donors. This is one reason Albania's civil society groups have a limited impact. Most activities can best be described as top-down, donor-driven initiatives rather than genuine grassroots movements.

A number of civil society organizations engage in advocacy in Albania. However, few represent specific interest groups, and even fewer enlist or mobilize substantial membership. In 2003, the Albanian Coalition Against Corruption (ACAC) advocated successfully to push through Parliament Law 9049, "On the Declaration and Control of Assets and Financial Obligations of the Elected and Some Other Public Officials." The MJAFT! (ENOUGH!) movement was organized in 2003 by a group of youths with funding from a number of Western embassies. MJAFT! was organized to focus on a broad range of issues, including corruption and women's rights. It has received extensive media coverage and has conducted successful lobbying efforts in Parliament aimed at increasing budgetary allocations for education. MJAFT!'s major challenge remains to transform itself from a successful public relations campaign into a genuine movement by enlisting and mobilizing more members.

According to the Civil Society Index developed by the U.S. Agency for International Development, NGOs lack organizational capacity. In this respect, there is a growing disparity between Tirana-based NGOs and those in other cities. Transparency in management and board decisions is lacking. Even in Tirana, most NGOs are identified with a single strong leader who provides the dominant management model. Although most local NGOs have a board of directors as required by law, this entity rarely functions in any real capacity. Volunteerism is not generally encouraged. Most groups are concentrated in Tirana.

Even with a new legislative framework in place, Albanian civil society should not be understood solely as a collection of NGOs and think tanks. Unfortunately, other segments of society, such as religious organizations, labor unions, farmers organizations, and other similar interest groups, are rarely recognized as important elements of civil society. Religion does not play a significant role in everyday life. In addition, labor unions, farmers associations, and other production-oriented interest groups are weak. Their role is negligible owing to high levels of informality, limited industrialization, and other factors that characterize the Albanian economy.

The Albanian Constitution does guarantee the right to form trade unions, and workers exercise this right in practice. The labor code, Law 7961 adopted in 1995, affirms the right of workers to form trade union federations or confederations. A minimum of 20 persons can form a trade union. The two main trade unions are the Confederation of Trade Unions of Albania (KSSH) and the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Albania (BSPSH). Between them, they represent slightly under 200,000 workers. The KSSH maintains links with the ruling SP, while the BSPSH supports the opposition DP. The Council of Employers' Organization represents employers' interests. Political polarization is another reason labor unions are not successful. That is, their political affiliation undermines their credibility and ability to promote membership interests, which in turn reduces their capacity to mobilize human resources.

Universities and the educational system in general are free of political propaganda, but they are subject to political influence to varying degrees. For example, certain educational institutions have had to accept political appointments, especially at the high school and elementary school levels. In some ways, universities are more independent. For example, deans of important faculties--who are elected by the members of those faculties rather than appointed by the Ministry of Education--feel freer to openly voice their criticism of governmental policies and officials. Nevertheless, universities do depend on the Ministry of Education for funding and lack autonomy in administering their own finances. Limited state resources undermine the ability of universities to conduct research and play a greater role in the development of Albanian society.

Independent Media: 

No journalists were imprisoned in Albania during 2003, nor were any media outlets shut down by the government. Likewise, progress can be noted in both the quantity and quality of Albanian media. Nevertheless, it is far from free.

At the heart of Albania's failure to ensure a free and independent media is the consolidation and merging of powerful business, political, and media interests. The dividing lines among these areas are blurred, in part because of the so-called Berlusconi syndrome, which refers to business tycoons who become politicians. Problems also arise when businesses invest in or subsidize media outlets that in turn provide positive coverage of the government. The businesses do so to curry favor and thereby protect existing interests or improve their chances of winning new contracts or favorable privatization deals from the government. When criticism of governmental policies is voiced, it results mainly from clashes among factions in the ruling party. As a result, most print and electronic media now favor the ruling SP in their reporting and are less sympathetic and often hostile to the opposition.

Rather than a source of profit in their own right, the media are often instruments for enhancing profits elsewhere. In the majority of cases, media outlets are not financially viable and hence not subject to market forces. This is evident from the sheer number of media outlets in such a small market. In 2003, the National Council on Radio and Television reported that 54 radio stations and 79 television stations were licensed for broadcasting in Albania. This is up from 34 radio and 62 television stations--including 6 cable operators--in 2002, according to the Albanian Media Institute. The total number of newspapers and magazines in 2002 was 95 and 70, respectively, as reported by the same source. There are 19 daily newspapers. According to the 2002 IREX Media Sustainability Index, an advertising pool of $5-$8 million a year is insufficient to sustain such a large number of media outlets.

Furthermore, circulation rates for print media are low and decreased further in 2003, due partly to the proliferation of electronic media. Circulation and distribution are in private hands, but the infrastructure is weak and does not function well. Shekulli, with an average circulation of 22,000 copies, is by far the leading newspaper in the country. Smaller papers have remained in the market despite much lower circulation rates (at times only several hundred copies) and very low prices.

Government subsidies to media outlets that produce sympathetic coverage, through state advertising, for example, contribute to and sustain distortions in the media market. According to Ambassador Osmo Liponnen, head of the OSCE's office in Albania, some 60 percent of media advertising is paid for by budget-financed or state institutions. Media outlets that are critical of the government rarely receive government funding. Furthermore, private businesses are increasingly wary of advertising with antigovernment media groups lest they risk financial inspection. In 2003, there were instances of the government attempting to put pressure on media outlets. In March, for example, financial police were sent to TV Klan to inspect one of its lotteries and eventually closed down the broadcaster. Most media analysts denounced the move as an attempt to influence Klan's coverage of the government.

Given the close ties among media, businesses, and politics, editorial independence in Albania is quite limited. The situation is compounded by the lack of work contracts between journalists and employers. According to a report issued in 2003 by the Ministry of Work and Social Issues at the request of the Parliamentary Commission on Media, numerous media outlets operating in the capital have not fulfilled their obligation to insure their employees. A high concentration of ownership combined with high levels of job insecurity makes journalists vulnerable and undermines their professional independence. Investigative journalism is therefore underdeveloped because it poses too many risks. Major obstacles to the development of investigative journalism include government interference in scoop stories, the implication of government officials in organized crime, and the absence of financial incentives for investigative journalists.

The National Council on Radio and Television regulates broadcasting in Albania. Its powers are sanctioned by Law 8410, "On the Public and Private Radio and Television in the Republic of Albania." The NCRT is responsible for licensing television stations and distributing national broadcasting licenses. The only two stations that have a national broadcasting license are TV Klan and TVA, both close to factions in the SP. Having boycotted Parliament when NCRT was set up, the opposition is not represented in this regulatory body. National television stations would appear to be protected from NCRT enforcement of legal provisions, such as the obligation to cover at least 85 percent of the territory with their signal or to declare profits on a yearly basis. This constitutes an important tool of coercion over these media outlets.

There was some improvement in the broadcasting of public television, as indicated by the increased space allocated to opposition parties. However, public television continues to be used as a medium for government propaganda, regardless of the political party in power. To alter this situation, the SP--after coming to power in 1997--changed the status of public television from a state-owned station to a public television channel under parliamentary control. Additional legislation was passed in 2003 requiring public television to have a balanced board of directors, five from each of the two major political parties, as well as five representatives from the civil society sector. The opposition perceives the majority of elected representatives from civil society to be close to the ruling majority, which gives it the two-thirds majority needed to elect the executive director of this institution. The existing director is a known protege of Prime Minister Nano.

Unfortunately, the most positive development in electronic media in 2003--the fair and unbiased coverage broadcasters provided of the local election campaign--took place mainly because the new electoral code stipulated clear penalties for outlets if they did not provide such coverage. Predictably, coverage deteriorated in the postelection period as the main electronic media outlets reestablished their propensity to leave little room for the opposition in their programming.

Law 9124, "Against Media Piracy," which went into effect in 2003, stipulates that media outlets can broadcast only programs that they own. While a positive step forward in the regulation of Albania's media market, there is concern that the law might lead to the creation of monopolies among the majority of electronic media, which cannot afford on their own to buy quality programs. A number of local television channels have already closed.

Article 22 of the Albanian Constitution states, "The press is free. The freedom of press is guaranteed by law." However, the absence of a specific law protecting the rights of the press has meant that journalists are often left defenseless against a rising number of libel suits, brought mainly by public figures. Support is now growing for the adoption of a law that would enhance the juridical standing of journalists, especially since punishment for libel and defamation tends to be harsh and has been used to silence criticism of the government.

According to Law 7895, defamation of public officials and national symbols can result in penalties ranging from a fine to three years in prison. Although prison sentences for defamation were not issued during 2003, there were frequent instances of fines and lawsuits against individuals who had been outspoken in their disapproval of government policies and public officials. The editor in chief of the daily Tema had several pending court cases in 2003 for libel and defamation charges. When such cases are brought before the courts, the tendency is to shift the burden of proof from the plaintiff to the defendant. Furthermore, according to Human Rights Watch, public figures have certain procedural tools for investigating defamation that give them an unfair advantage over ordinary citizens.

Although there are roughly 10 media associations in Albania, they do not effectively protect and promote journalists' interests. There has been much talk and a few attempts by both professional journalists and government institutions to establish the Order of Journalists, an independent professional organization that would license journalists. Such a body has not been established owing to concerns that its independence could be compromised by whatever political party is in power. Without such an organization, however, it is difficult to ensure and enforce higher standards of journalism. There is a media code of ethics, but there are no instruments for enforcing it. This undermines the already low levels of media professionalism in the country.

Judicial Framework and Independence: 

The Albanian Constitution of 1998 provides for basic human rights, including freedom of expression and association, religious freedom, and business and property rights. In practice, there is no systematic attempt by the state to curb these freedoms; however, neither is there a systematic effort to ensure them.

The Constitution also embodies the principle of separation of legislative, executive, and judicial powers. The extent to which this separation exists in practice is affected by the nature of Albania's parliamentary system, Albanian political culture, and the way in which judicial institutions were set up after the 1997 collapse of government. These factors result in far less separation of power in practice than is sanctioned by law.

Albania has a three-tiered court system: district courts (or courts of first instance), courts of appeal, and the Supreme Court. To safeguard their independence, members of the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court are proposed by the president and elected for nine-year terms by a qualified two-thirds majority of Parliament. However, the ruling SP has enjoyed a qualified majority ever since it returned to power in 1997. Thus, the head of the Constitutional Court was a former senior official in the SP. The Constitutional Court itself has often been accused by both the opposition and factions within the ruling majority of making politically motivated interpretations of the Constitution. During the 2001 parliamentary elections, it was criticized for inconsistent rulings when deciding on parliamentarian mandates. In a similar fashion, the High Council of Justice has not been free from political influence. In 2003, it appointed Deshira Subashi, an SP-backed candidate, to the CEC and thus gave the SP an absolute majority in that body just before local elections.

The HCJ comprises 15 members, 9 of whom are judges elected by the National Judicial Conference; the remaining 6 members include the minister of justice, the president, the chief justice, and other high-ranking officials. The HCJ's main role is to appoint, transfer, discipline, and dismiss judges and to regulate the work of the judiciary in general. Constitutional provisions give the HCJ independence from the executive and legislative branches. However, some legal experts believe the HCJ's independence does not necessarily translate into accountability. Such experts are skeptical that a body made up almost entirely of judges can fairly fulfill its duty of disciplining its peers--that is, other judges.

Despite the passage in 2001 of Law 8811, "On the Organization and Functioning of the High Council of Justice," the HCJ lacked a proper administrative structure until well into 2003. The establishment of an administration and provisions for its internal regulation were key developments during the year. Though the process is incomplete, improvements in the HCJ's functioning could already be seen by year's end. Nevertheless, according to the conclusions of the National Judiciary Conference, held December 4 and 5 in Durres , there is still room for better transparency "in the...selection of candidates for judges, basing [decisions] on their capability, integrity and record." Although judges are still appointed or transferred by the HCJ in closed-door meetings, the quality of appointed judges has been improving steadily owing to the Magistrate School, which provides intensive three-year training for law students.

Both the HCJ and the Ministry of Justice have a Directory of Inspection. This has raised concerns among many judges, who argue that investigations by the Ministry of Justice are unconstitutional and violate the independence of the judiciary from the executive. The Ministry of Justice, on the other hand, argues that such inspections enhance accountability; otherwise, in its estimation, the judiciary would become a closed, unaccountable structure. In half of all disciplinary cases in 2003, penalties against judges proposed by the minister of justice were harsher than those approved by the HCJ.

In a similar fashion, the judicial police are under the authority of both the Ministry of Public Order and the General Prosecutor's Office--further crippling the police's investigative authority, which was already weak, and handicapping the prosecutor's ability to argue cases in court. This partly explains the mild sentences given by Albanian courts for apparently serious crimes. The problem also lies with the judges, as corruption within the judiciary seems to go unpunished. Out of a total of six judges disciplined in 2003, only three were relieved of their duties. In only one case was a judge actually prosecuted, but not on charges of corruption. According to the Southeast European Legal Development Initiative, the Albanian public perceives the judiciary as highly corrupt.

Besides corruption, the Albanian judiciary is beset with operational shortcomings and a debilitated capacity for enforcing decisions. According to the Albanian Coalition Against Corruption, there are excessive delays in handling civil and criminal cases. Other problems include poor and inappropriate premises and a lack of computerized databases. The Tirana District Court has made some progress in this regard with its regularly updated and easily accessible Web site. However, there is much room for further improvements and reductions in procedural delays. Between January 1 and October 11, 2003, for example, 41 percent of all civil cases heard in the Tirana District Court took more than six months to complete. Complicating matters is a dysfunctional Bailiff's Office with low enforcement capabilities. From a total of 15,444 rulings in 2002, 4,201 had been executed by the end of February 2003. The Bailiff's Office executed more decisions in 2003 (4,900) than in 2002 (3,700), as recorded in the yearly report of the Ministry of Justice.

There seems to have been improvement in the work of the general prosecutor, as indicated by an increase in the prosecution of organized crime in the first nine months of 2003 compared with 2002. However, it is difficult to conclude whether this is due to the increased efficiency of the prosecution or the rise in organized crime and trafficking in general. In 2003, 366 out of 664 persons accused of trafficking were sent to trial, as reported in the daily Shekulli. These figures show improvement over the first nine months of 2002, when of 213 cases opened against traffickers, only 37 went to trial; 176 were ultimately dismissed owing to a failure to collect sufficient evidence or as a result of procedural error, as reported by the Commission of the European Communities.

In a positive development, the Court of Serious Crimes was set up in July 2003. The government also prepared a draft Law on Witness Protection that, if passed, will complement the new court's operation. By year's end, though, the Court of Serious Crimes still did not have a proper budget or a proper premises from which to operate. It is also unlikely that the Law on Witness Protection will prove useful in a country as small as Albania. For such a law to work, shelter would have to be provided in neighboring Western countries, which, while pushing for this law, have not proved very cooperative in this regard. Therefore, the establishment of the new court remains chiefly a legislative improvement.

Other such improvements during 2003 include passage of Law 9090, "On Arbitration"; Law 9109, "On the Legal Profession," which regulates the relationship between the Ministry of Justice and the Chamber of Lawyers; and amendments to the existing "On the Judiciary in the Republic of Albania" law calling for better pay for judges and prosecutors. Amendments were also passed to Law 9102, "On the Functioning and Organization of the Prosecutor's Office in the Republic of Albania." It remains to be seen whether these legislative changes will produce tangible results.

Albania's penal code has been under constant revision, though mostly in an unorganized and haphazard fashion, according to Rustem Gjata, former head of the Constitutional Court. It does guarantee the presumption of one's innocence and access to independent counsel, as well as the right to a free and fair trial. In July 2003, the Albanian Parliament ratified the "Optional Protocol of the Convention Against Torture or Excessive, Inhumane, and Degrading Punishment." Nevertheless, in practice detainees are not protected from excessive delays and improper detention. Given Albania's limited prison capacity, it is not unusual for detainees to be placed in the same premises as convicted criminals. Cases of abuse in the hands of the police are the rule rather than the exception. In the most notorious case of 2003, a detainee from the southern city of Korca died in the hands of police from excessive beating. The Albanian Human Rights Group and the Albanian Helsinki Committee have made public a number of additional cases.


Since 2000, the Albanian government has produced a yearly "anticorruption strategy" along with an anticorruption matrix that outlines specific priority areas and objectives. In 2003, the four pillars of this strategy were prevention, institutional reform, human resources, and increased transparency. An anticorruption monitoring body has been set up to oversee implementation of the strategy against corruption. Several other bodies function at the ministerial and interministerial levels. There is an interministerial anticorruption committee that coordinates and prepares the anticorruption plan. Internal auditing controls have been set up within ministries as well. Furthermore, there is a department in the Ministry of Public Order that works against economic and financial crime.

Although Albania is one of the leading countries in the region in terms of anticorruption legal reform, no clear progress was made in the fight against corruption in 2003. The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index for Albania was the same in 2003 as in 2002--2.5 out of 10, with 1 being the most corrupt and 10 the least corrupt. Likewise, according to the Commission of the European Communities, "Although Albania has developed...a number of mechanisms to fight strong systematic corruption, actual progress in this area remains insufficient. Albania has demonstrated its capacity to develop action plans, prepare matrices and set up institutions with the specific intent to fight corruption.... Fighting corruption requires full commitment and political will."

Albania faces two types of corruption: petty corruption and state capture. Petty corruption is found in most areas of Albanian life. Thus, according to a survey conducted by the Albanian Institute for International Studies in September 2003, 52 percent of the respondents admitted to having given a bribe to government officials during the last year, out of which 25 percent were directly asked for bribes. The incidence of corruption was perceived to be highest in hospitals, customs services, and courts, in that order, claims the Early Warning System Report. In another survey by the United Nations Development Program, 82 percent of respondents gave corruption as the main reason Albania is poorer than other countries. These findings concur with those published in 2002 by the Southeast European Legal Development Initiative, in which Albanian respondents displayed the highest level of tolerance for corruption.

Corruption is also problematic in the business sector. In a survey performed by the World Bank in 2002, 47.5 percent of businesses declared that corruption was a major obstacle to the operation and growth of their businesses. Most pointed to customs and trade regulations as primary hindrances. The source of corruption does not seem to be excessive government regulations or registration requirements, but rather their implementation and unpredictability. Thus, the majority of businesses responded that interpretations of laws and regulations affecting their businesses were not consistent and predictable. Another major obstacle businesses faced were anticompetitive practices, according to a 2002 survey by the World Bank Group.

Likewise, state capture in 2002 was on the rise compared with 1999, according to the most recent World Bank data available. State capture in Albania is a two-way process. On the one hand, powerful businesses control politicians and affect the legislative process. On the other hand, politicians and government officials own businesses or TV outlets and use the state to their own benefit, creating and sustaining monopolies and anticompetitive practices. The existence of such conflicts of interest became evident in March 2003, when, owing to threats by the International Monetary Fund to stop financing Albania's budget deficit, the Albanian Parliament was forced to close duty-free shops, which have long been considered a channel for smuggling. The decision barely passed, since many parliamentarians either owned or were shareholders in such shops. The opposition's proposal to close down customs stores as well was rejected straightaway. It was also publicly known that some members of Parliament owned or were shareholders in these operations as well. Such failures to pass much needed laws are increasing because, owing to financial difficulties, political parties are inviting powerful businessmen to become part of the political process. In the absence of a Law on Conflict of Interest and in view of low enforcement capabilities, such occurrences present significant problems.

On April, 04, 2003, Parliament did pass Law 9049, "On the Declaration and Control of Assets and Financial Obligations of the Elected and Some Other Public Officials." A similar law had existed since 1995, but no implementing agency was ever set up to enforce it. Approval of the new law, drafted in close cooperation with the Albanian Coalition Against Corruption, emphasizes principles of transparency and impartiality. Article 16 provides for the High Inspectorate, a body that will carry out asset and liability controls. However, this body has not yet been endowed with its own budget and employees. Furthermore, the government has refused to elect a representative of the ACAC as head of the institution and has appointed its own leader instead. This move raises doubts about the existence of the political will to enforce the law.

At various times, the state has enforced legislative and administrative processes to prevent, investigate, and prosecute corruption by government officials; however, these tend to be low-level officials. According to Harald W. Mathisen of the Christian Michelsen Institute, interview material indicates that those judges, police officers, customs officers, and the like who are fired generally lack political support or access to the power structure of the former minister or director. It is important to emphasize, though, that the Law on Civil Service has reduced opportunities for abusive practices, although it has not yet passed the final test: a power rotation from one political party to another. The High State Audit, on the other hand, is not a powerful institution, and its reports, even when they point to substantial levels of abuse, either fail to prompt the General Prosecutor's Office into action or, when they do, cannot provide sufficient evidence to support the case. This body is an advisory one, after all. Parliament approved Law 9009, "On Internal Auditing in the Public Sector," in 2003 in order to increase transparency, but Mathisen reports that the Department of Internal Auditing has also been used as a political tool.

State capture by organized crime seems to be on the rise, and it is a development of even greater concern. There have been open accusations in this regard by both the current prime minister, Fatos Nano, and the former prime minister, Ilir Meta. In an October 2003 interview on one of the main public television channels, Nano accused Meta of having connections to organized crime. The next day in a press conference, Meta replied that "Nano is the only person implicated in criminal affairs I have cooperated with." The U.S. ambassador to Albania made similar allegations in public, while addressing the students of the Magistrate School, declaring that he had information about high-ranking public officials implicated in organized crime. These statements came after revelations in 2003 of an increasing number of high-profile crimes.

To improve the legal framework for fighting organized crime in Albania, Parliament amended the "On Preventing Money Laundering" law in 2003. However, the focus in the revised legislations is on prevention rather than the investigation and prosecution of money laundering once it has occurred. Furthermore, no sentences have been issued thus far for money laundering.

Under these circumstances, the media finds it difficult to give wide and extensive airing to allegations of official corruption and state capture by organized crime. The media have on occasion denounced corrupt practices by high-level officials, but more often than not, these reports tend to be part of the inner political struggle of the SP, where one faction releases compromising information to injure the other. The absence of proper investigative journalism and state protection for journalists, combined with the symbiosis of political and business interests at the highest levels, paralyzes the media in their ability to provide proper coverage of these events. Furthermore, there is no specific legal protection for whistleblowers or anticorruption activists.


The main factor that shaped and impacted Albanian governance in 2003 was the crisis inside the ruling Socialist Party. The situation developed between April and May after the reemergence of a faction--loyal to former prime minister Ilir Meta--that accused current prime minister Fatos Nano of personalizing and concentrating power in his own hands. The crisis escalated on July 22, when Meta officially resigned his post in the Nano government as deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, along with Minister of Integration Sokol Nako.

After discharging Luan Rama, the minister of public order, for involvement in a public scandal, Nano managed to replace only the minister of integration and failed to secure the necessary majority in Parliament to fill the two remaining vacancies. The crisis was resolved only after the SP congress of December 12, 2003, when Nano was reelected party chairman with 80 percent of the votes, marginalizing the opposing faction that had formed around Meta. This opened the way for Nano to reshuffle his cabinet and swear in his new ministers in late December. In some cases, Nano appointed ministers whom he had previously (not more than two years earlier) accused of corruption and ties with organized crime. This protracted infighting negatively impacted governance in 2003.

Historically, such political crises in Albania have sent ripples throughout the public administration. According to various analysts, an important cause of such disruptions is the existence of "parallel structures in governance." That is, power and control over state institutions is not exhorted only through institutional channels, and prime ministers tend to place members of their inner circle in key positions, along with the institutional titular. Once in power, for example, Nano began to appoint members of his trusted inner circle to key roles in the customs agency and at major state-owned companies. As a result, political infighting often spurs institutional changes that are eventually reflected at lower levels of public administration.

The 1999 Law on Civil Service protects civil servants from arbitrary dismissal. The Civil Service Commission is charged with the law's enforcement. The true test of the law will come when authority in the country next changes hands and the current opposition takes control.

Overall, the quality of public administration has improved in Albania. Competition for jobs is more competitive, and the number of applicants per position is on the rise, according to the Departament of Public Administration. Nevertheless, since the ultimate selection of a candidate is in the hands of the head of the respective public institution, there is still room for abuse. There are also instances in which competition for a position is mostly a formality, with the final selection having already been made.

In 2003, one of the main achievements in governance was the official opening of negotiations with the European Union (EU) on a Stabilization and Association Agreement. During the year, Albania closed 6 out of 10 required chapters of the agreement. However the process suffered setbacks when the government's instability delayed reforms vital to the agreement's completion. During his last visit to Albania on November 7, 2003, the head of the EU negotiating team, Hans Reinhard Priebe, warned that the slow pace of reforms threatened the entire process.

In general, Parliament does not have the resources it needs to fulfill its lawmaking and investigative responsibilities. Additionally, it lacks sufficiently trained and experienced staff. According to a survey conducted by the International Republican Institute in January 2003, almost half of all members of Parliament do not receive regular information on legislation they discuss in their committee. A survey in 2003 by the Tirana-based Center for Parliamentary Studies pointed out that parliamentary committees were not functional. Parliamentarians missed meetings, came unprepared, or kept meetings very short. The report also noted that Parliament does not possess the expertise and infrastructure to scrutinize government policies and legislation.

The budgetary process is another good example in this regard. Although the budget is discussed in open meetings and in the presence of media, Parliament is not usually given enough time to scrutinize it in detail. Quite often the budget is approved en bloc--a fact that has made the process opaque. There are also discrepancies between the fiscal package and the government program, yet there is insufficient time, resources, and political will to pursue them.

Although the opposition's ability to engage in oversight and investigative functions has improved, some of its efforts appear to be politically motivated. In April 2003, for example, an investigative commission was established to look into charges against Tirana mayor Edi Rama of corruption and abuse of public funds. The opposition's efforts were widely viewed as a political move to discredit Rama in the approaching local elections. In response, members of the commission were not allowed on municipality premises. The opposition's investigative commission on pyramid schemes received even less support in terms of access to information.

Owing to fighting within the SP, Parliament became livelier and engaged the opposition to an unprecedented extent during 2003. For this reason, many policy debates were channeled here rather than in other forums. Furthermore, the volume of work accomplished by Parliament in 2003 was greater than in 2002.

With few exceptions, both plenary and committee meetings of Parliament were open to the media. This stood in stark contrast with the central government and public administration, where the media had far less institutional access. In an order issued on August 20, 2002, the prime minister decreed that "the directors of the departments and directories in the apparatus of the Council of Ministers...are forbidden to communicate with the print or electronic media in order to issue information on their official duties." Such orders strengthened an already closed and secretive institutional culture in Albanian public administration.

As indicated by the October 2003 elections, local government has assumed greater importance in Albania. The country has ratified the European Charter of Local Self-Government, and Parliament has passed a series of laws that provide the necessary legislative framework for local autonomy, including the transfer of property to local governments and the decentralization of finances. As a consequence, local governments have gained substantial control over roads, lighting, and urban planning, while their ability to raise local revenue has expanded. In 2003, local revenue sources accounted for an estimated 56 percent of total local government revenues. However, further decentralization is still needed, especially with regard to water supply management and public education.

Despite ongoing fiscal and administrative decentralization, local governance in Albania remains hostage to political developments at the center. The process of decentralization has been shaped by the uneasy coexistence of the two main political parties, the SP and the DP. According to the Albanian Institute for International Studies, whenever one party has control over the central government and the other party over local government, decentralization slows and local governance deteriorates.

Likewise, the existing electoral system for municipal councilors promotes political polarization and exposes local government to political shocks that emanate from the central level. Councilors are elected through a purely proportional system from closed party lists. Therefore, they are accountable to their political party first and their community second. In times of heightened political polarization, this loyalty places party priorities above community needs.

2004 Scores