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Albania: Corruption Bill Aims To Investigate Property Claims Of Top Officials

According to a recent survey, the Albanian government is the most corrupt in Southeastern Europe. U.S. agencies working in Albania to help combat the problem say part of the challenge is that corruption is widely tolerated.

Tirana, 12 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The Albanian government has drafted an anticorruption bill aimed at stemming the single largest challenge to the country's development since the fall of communism in the early 1990s.

The draft bill foresees the creation of a special oversight body tasked with investigating the declared property holdings of some 5,000 high- and medium-ranking officials. It is scheduled to be passed by parliament by the end of the month and is likely to be signed into law shortly thereafter.

The proposed body, whose members will be elected by parliament, will enjoy broad jurisdiction extending all the way to the office of the president, and will have access to data from banks and private enterprises. All officials found to have lied about their property holdings, which the bill defines as unclassified information, will be subject to prosecution.

Ndre Legisi, the Albanian government's anticorruption minister, said: "[State officials] have been obliged to declare their property holdings since 1993, but the verification of those statements has been a shortcoming of the law. Politicians and high-ranking state officials should not dare to believe their property holdings are beyond any form of control and can be enjoyed irresponsibly."

The drafting of the bill was assisted by Management Systems International (MSI), a consulting firm that oversees similar projects in Central Asia. MSI was chosen for the project by the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, one of the main agencies spearheading Albania's anticorruption efforts.

Carlos Guerrero, a Bolivian-born American, has been MSI's Albania project director for 1 1/2 years. He said corruption in the country is treated as a way of life rather than as a blight that must be fought. "Unfortunately, Albanians are used to corruption, [and] they're tolerating it, because it's an easy way to do things. It's not the only country [that] has suffered this phenomenon. However, they don't realize the cost that civil society has to bear [as a result]. But it's tolerated, yes, it's tolerated by everyone. Sometimes the procedures are so bureaucratic that corruption is allowed. We have to try to reduce the opportunities for corruption," Guerrero said.

Part of the challenge, Guerrero said, is dealing with holes in the Albanian legal system. Many laws, he added, need to be "redefined and re-thought."

Other recent measures carried out with the help of MSI include the formation of a coalition of NGOs working on corruption-related issues. A new advocacy office assisting victims of corruption has filed more than 300 cases in less than three months.

Guerrero said the government has shown support for such efforts and has developed its own outline for an anticorruption action plan. Still, he added, much remains to be done. "We want to believe that yes, there is political support. In all the meetings we had, we have seen the will is there, but the will is not enough. We want to see the results. We still have to see some results," Guerrero said.

Guerrero said MSI is also involved in working to improve the credibility of government and public offices in the eyes of Albanian citizens. He said the government itself must do more to restore the faith of Albanians in their civil system.

Zef Preci is the director of the Albanian Center for Economic Research. While welcoming the latest effort to pass an anticorruption bill into law, he expressed doubt it will be any more successful than previous attempts. "I think the major problem of this law, as with many others, is that the aim is meeting international demand, trying to show the international community that we have the will to fight the negative phenomena of these times. Over the past several years, Albania has drafted numerous laws, but the everlasting challenge was their implementation," Preci said.

A recent USAID survey of Southeastern Europe concluded that Albania is the most corrupt country in the region, beating out Romania, Bulgaria, and the former Yugoslav republics. Prominent parliamentary deputies and tax and justice officials were included in a list linking authorities to corruption.

A National Albanian Bank survey conducted last year found that nearly all private entrepreneurs admitted to spending at least 10 percent of their profits on bribes.