Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. In December 2015 the Assembly approved decriminalization legislation preventing individuals with criminal convictions from serving as mayors, parliamentarians, or in government or state positions.
During the year authorities took additional steps to combat corruption. In July the Assembly unanimously approved constitutional amendments to approve a sweeping reform of the judiciary that included the creation of new anticorruption institutions. These included establishing an independent prosecutor’s office and investigation unit, the sole responsibility of which will be the investigation and prosecution of high-level corruption and organized crime. In August the Assembly approved a law on vetting aimed at reducing corruption among prosecutors and judges. The government also expanded the use of body cameras on police officers to deter street-level corruption.
A number of government agencies investigated corruption cases, but limited resources, investigative leaks, real and perceived political pressure, and a haphazard reassignment system hampered investigations. The Ministry of Justice reported that convictions at district courts decreased by 37 percent in 2015 compared with 2014. No data was available with regard to the convictions at appeals courts. In selective instances involving international actors, anticorruption agencies cooperated with civil society.
Corruption: Corruption was pervasive in all branches of government. At the beginning of the year, 75 corruption cases were pending, with an additional 29 cases filed through June. Through August the courts convicted 76 defendants of corruption; 25 cases were dismissed. There remained 121 defendants charged with corruption awaiting trial. As of July, the web portal established in 2015 to allow citizens to report corruption by public officials had received 14,752 complaints, 94 of which the coordinator referred for prosecution.
While prosecutors made significant progress in pursuing low-level public corruption cases, including corrupt prosecutors and judges, prosecution of higher-level crimes remained elusive due to investigators’ fear of retribution, a general lack of resources, and corruption within the judiciary itself. In September a court sentenced Spiro Ksera, a labor minister from the previous government, to 20 months in prison for abuse of office after he misappropriated 30 million leks ($240,000) meant to benefit the Romani community. In May authorities removed the mayor of the Dibra municipality, Shukri Xhelili, after broadcast of video footage in which he appeared to solicit sexual favors from a woman in exchange for a job. Xhelili appealed the decision to the Constitutional Court, which upheld his dismissal.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to disclose their assets to the High Inspectorate for the Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflict of Interest (HIDAACI), which monitored and verified such disclosures and made them available to the public. During the year the number of HIDAACI inspectors investigating declarations of assets and conflicts of interest increased from 12 to 28. The law authorizes HIDAACI to fine officials who fail to comply with disclosure requirements or refer them to the prosecutor.
As of September, HIDAACI had fined 253 individuals, including ministers, deputy ministers, Assembly members, and heads of institutions for not disclosing their assets, for delaying their submissions, or for conflicts of interest. HIDAACI reported that by August it had referred 63 new cases for prosecution. These cases involved 13 judges, two prosecutors, seven Assembly members, two ambassadors, and 39 local government officials on charges including refusing to declare, hiding, or falsifying asset declarations, money laundering, falsification of documents, and corruption.
Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to government information, but the government did not effectively implement the law. The process for making information public often was not clear, and officials were sometimes reluctant to release information. According to several NGOs, most information requests to ministries or municipalities were unanswered. 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.
Most government ministries and agencies posted public information directly on their websites. Businesses and citizens complained that the process lacked transparency and that authorities failed to publish some regulations and legislation that should be basic public information. Citizens often faced serious problems obtaining such information. Individuals could generally access government information free of charge, but there were instances in which officials charged processing fees to cover the cost of service for the institution providing the information. Noncompliance is punishable as an administrative rather than a criminal offense. Citizens may appeal denials of disclosure to the authority with which they filed the original request or in a civil court.