While the law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption in the executive branch was widespread and pervasive. The education system remained corrupt, and officials sometimes required bribes from students for them to matriculate or pass examinations. Doctors and other medical personnel frequently demanded payment to provide what should have been free government services.
A lack of progress in key institutional reforms impeded the Albanian Customs Service, especially in the areas of recruitment, testing, staffing, and day-to-day personnel supervision. Bureaucratic inertia within the customs service and political interference associated with staffing also slowed international community efforts to revise customs legislation and implement needed changes, leading to perceptions that customs procedures and revenue collection were inefficient and subject to abuse.
While the government prosecuted and often convicted numerous low- and mid-level officials for corruption, prosecuting higher-level officials remained problematic, and high-profile defendants usually were found not guilty, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.
On January 16, the Supreme Court acquitted former deputy prime minister Ilir Meta of corruption charges in a controversial ruling after excluding a videotape from evidence which purportedly showed him discussing a bribe.
The law prohibits government ministers and their close family members from owning a company directly tied to their official responsibilities. Since its inception in 2003, the High Inspectorate for the Declaration and Audit of Assets (HIDAA) has received assets declarations from officials. During the year HIDAA sent five cases to prosecutors for further investigation and facilitated the resolution of 43 conflict of interest cases. In September the assembly enacted amendments to the law which increased by an estimated 300 the total number of public officials required to declare their assets. HIDAA fined 43 individuals for delaying their submissions and for conflict of interest. Asset declarations are public based on the HIDAA organic law as well as the law for the right of information of official documents. The law clearly identifies which assets, liabilities, annual revenues, and interests public officials must declare. It also includes assets and income of spouses and adult children. The law requires officials to file annually their declarations as well as when they enter and leave office.
Enforcement agencies do not actively and sustainably collaborate with civil society in most cases. Agencies will passively cooperate in selective instances that are normally brought to its attention by international actors, in many instances at the request of civil society. The government’s use of slogans promoting “zero tolerance” of corruption often suppress reporting and promote data manipulation indicating that corruption does not exist.
The government prosecuted corrupt officials and managed complaints regarding police corruption through the ombudsman and the Internal Control Service of the Albanian State Police. For much of the year, broad immunity provisions for judges, members of parliament, and other high-level officials prohibited not only prosecution but any use of investigative measures, hindering the government’s ability to prosecute high-level corruption. On September 18, the assembly passed legislation enabling prosecutors to start investigations against judges, assembly members, and other high-level officials.
The government’s task force against organized crime coordinated anticorruption activities. The task force includes several ministers and heads of independent state-owned agencies, such as the public electricity company, and representatives of the police and intelligence organizations. State police participation includes the Financial Crimes Directorate and their Anticorruption Sector as well as the Criminal Intelligence Analysis Directorate. Both directorates report to the deputy general director in charge of the Department Against Organized and Serious Crime.
The joint investigative units to fight economic crime and corruption (JIUs) are multiagency units that investigated and prosecuted public corruption and other financial crimes. The JIUs continued to bring cases in numerous sectors with extensive corruption.
The Ministry of Interior reported that state police investigated 433 cases related to corruption and financial crimes during the year, and arrested 82 persons. The courts confiscated $17.3 million in assets related to these crimes.
Corruption in the judiciary was pervasive. Many judges issued rulings that did not appear to have any basis in law or fact, leading some to believe that the only plausible explanation was corruption or political pressure. On July 26, the Tirana District Court acquitted a technician who erased from the digital video recorder at the Prime Minister’s Office all photographic images of the January 2011 violent protest in which four persons were allegedly killed by Republican Guard officers.
On September 18, the assembly amended the constitution to limit the broad immunity enjoyed by judges that prohibited prosecutors from investigating or prosecuting corruption allegations until they made a public request to the High Council of Justice. Few judges were prosecuted for corruption because most criminal investigations must remain secret, at least initially, to be successful.
The law provides public access to government information, but the process for making the information public often was not clear, and officials were sometimes reluctant to release information. The law stipulates that the right to access information can be restricted when information is categorized as classified or when such a release would violate the protection of personal data. The law specifies a 40-day time frame for the responsible public institutions to provide the required information. In general accessing government information is free of charge but there are specific cases where processing fees are rendered to cover the cost of service for the institution providing the information. Noncompliance is punishable as an administrative rather than a criminal offense. All citizens may appeal for review a disclosure denial to the authority that filed the original request and/or at a higher level. It can also appeal to the court.
In February the Albanian Media Institute conducted a survey to measure the government’s responsiveness to public requests for government information. Of the 250 requests for information reviewed in the survey, 152 received a response. Of the 98 requests that were refused, journalists submitted 40, while 58 came from private citizens.
The law requires public officials to release all information and official documents with the exception of classified documents and state secrets. Citizens often faced serious problems in obtaining such information. Most government ministries and agencies posted public information directly on their Web sites; however, businesses and citizens complained of a lack of transparency and the failure to publish some regulations or legislation that should be basic public information.