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Albania: Government Suffers From Incompetence

Tirana, 26 November 1997 (RFE/RL) - Four months after the Albanian government took office and pledged to carry out administrative restructuring, international observers and advisers in Tirana are becoming increasingly impatient with the pace of reform.

True, the elections in June proceeded peacefully and the government managed to quickly reestablish public order. But fear is now growing that the government will display the same incompetence and corruption as did its predecessor. If that proved the case, it is unlikely that the authorities would be able to solve the country's daunting economic problems.

The tiny elite of foreign-trained specialists in top government positions appears committed to change and is working hard to achieve that aim. But the government is not only nearly paralyzed because of a huge budget deficit; it is also under pressure from various lobby groups that are demanding small favors.

Local government bodies are largely antagonistic toward the center because most mayors are from the opposition Democratic Party. Few Albanians, moreover, fully trust the judiciary, which has been a politicized institution throughout its history.

But the biggest obstacles to reform are probably the political cultural ones. Many state employees, from lowly clerks to high-ranking officials, lack a sense of duty and commitment. Many state officials at various levels display little concern for the work ethic or for the responsibilities of their office.

These attitudes have roots dating back to Ottoman times and account for the low productivity of much of the administration.

Another problem is that government salaries are low, compared with those of international organizations, NGOs, or even some local newspapers, which prompts many qualified people not to take government jobs. Poor remuneration also makes the administration vulnerable to corruption.

The biggest dilemma for the government is how to restructure the administration. On the one hand, there is a pressing need to fire many incompetent employees, downsize the administration, and hire fewer but better qualified people. On the other, leading officials of the Socialist-led government know they must not appear to be conducting political purges of Democrats while bringing back communist-era specialists.

Some observers feel that a political purge has indeed begun. The Socialist Party rank-and-file are a strong pressure group demanding that the still strongly centralized government create jobs for them in the administration.

Often the cabinet gives in, contributing to a perception of the government as "patron," as is customary in the Balkans. As was the case when the Democrats were in power, many Socialist Party members now appear to consider the state their property, not that of society as a whole.

Owing to a lack of tradition of civil society, most people are disinclined to fight for their interests outside the system of political parties and the patronage of those groups. Few are willing to organize themselves at the grass-roots level, to start local political initiatives or to defend their interests against either the government or big businesses. That passive attitude has been instilled by decades of authoritarian or totalitarian rule, during which people were unable to fight for their rights.

Another burden of the past is that many people associate any form of joint effort with communist collectivism and are thus reluctant to pool their resources for the common good. Agricultural productivity is stunted by the recent proliferation of dwarf holdings and unwillingness among peasants to form agricultural cooperatives. Thus, agriculture, which is potentially a source of wealth, remains primitive. The peasants lack the necessary vision or leadership to help make the country become more prosperous.

Both vision and leadership are also frequently absent in some government institutions, including state-run media. Politicians talk enthusiastically about transforming state radio and television as well as the news agency ATA into public corporations, like those throughout much of Europe.

A new law to regulate broadcasting is being drafted, but for the time being, nothing has changed. State radio and television do not have even a proper news room, while ATA still has its communist-era statutes. Until recently, no one seemed to have noticed that the news agency still obliges journalists to "conduct communist agitation and propaganda."

The author is a Balkan specialist based in Tirana. The story has been published as an endnote in RFE/RL Newsline.