Editorial: The inevitable political dimension in the fight against organized crime

Editorial: The inevitable political dimension in the fight against organized crime

A frequent complaint of police forces, prosecutor’s office and majority politicians whenever organized crime is discussed is that politicizing matters will make solutions harder, will decrease the legitimacy of law enforcement in the eyes of the public and erode trust

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Editorial: Citizens need to know why the intelligence chief resigned

Editorial: Citizens need to know why the intelligence chief resigned

Visho Ajazi, the head of Albania’s intelligence service, SHISH, has resigned without giving any reasons for his decision. This abrupt resignation has raised many questions, particularly because it happened in the context of new political developments in the country –

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The Parliamentary Commission, like the next theatre farce

The Parliamentary Commission, like the next theatre farce

By Dardan Mustafaj Like all compatriots at home and abroad, I also closely followed last weekend’s events. The work of the parliamentary commission, where not only its members, but also other parties involved, are experienced jurists who have practiced high

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Editorial: Eroding the public’s trust in equality before the law

Editorial: Eroding the public’s trust in equality before the law

The case of former Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri is not obeying the classical rule of public tumult in Albania: let three days go and everything shall pass. The request of prosecutors to the Parliament to allow his arrest was struck

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Albania’s poor judiciary reputation holds back Austrian, German investors

Albania’s poor judiciary reputation holds back Austrian, German investors

By Hans Spernbauer* I have been working in Albania for more than 10 years and I have been trying to bring companies from Austria and Germany to Albania. We are also very successful in different areas, especially in the agricultural

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Mother Teresa helped me to find Albania and paradise

Mother Teresa helped me to find Albania and paradise

By Jose Pinto* When back in my birthplace – Portugal – and later on, in other countries where I had the pleasure  to work like Mexico, Brazil, Egypt , UAE and many others, I have never stopped from hearing and getting inspired from Mother Teresa,

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Editorial: A scandal to shake the government

Editorial: A scandal to shake the government

Albania’s Socialist Party government has been shaken this week by potentially the most damaging scandal it has had to face since coming to power in 2013. Wiretaps from Italian authorities of Albanian cannabis traffickers seem to serve as proof of

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Editorial: 33 deputies to rule them all

Editorial: 33 deputies to rule them all

In a departure from tradition, which saw deputy ministers usually get appointed quietly by ministers themselves without much public presentation, the current 33 deputy ministers of the ‘Rama 2’ cabinet were announced as publicly as possible during the Assembly of

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Editorial: The bells toll for Albania’s labor force

Editorial: The bells toll for Albania’s labor force

In the Albanian psyche, it is often said, one avoids to do checkups at the doctor because what you don’t know can’t hurt you. As such, major issues get neglected until there is nothing that can be done about them.

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Editorial: Crime is winning

Editorial: Crime is winning

In a famous TV series entitled ‘Narcos’, a CIA operative converses with an agent of DEA, the primary agency engaged in the fight against narco- trafficking. The exasperated DEA agent complains that the other agency is not helping to win

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                    [post_content] => A frequent complaint of police forces, prosecutor’s office and majority politicians whenever organized crime is discussed is that politicizing matters will make solutions harder, will decrease the legitimacy of law enforcement in the eyes of the public and erode trust in the reforms. Most of these complaints remain valid. Using scandals, investigations, police operations and generally crime statistics for the sole purpose of putting on a show and instigate a reaction from militant audiences is indeed harmful.

When one goes beyond political rhetoric and into examining political actions: trying to influence criminal justice procedures for personal protection and/or political gains is one of the key factors that for so many years has rendered the justice system into the most corrupt, reviled and ugly corporation in Albania. 

However there is an unquestionable political dimension that needs to be addressed in the fight against organized crime which in Albania is closely related to the worrying situation about narcotics trafficking.

It is this dimension that was key to this week’s event of presenting, with quite some fanfare, a new police operation, entitled “The strength of the Law” and a Special Police Task force against organized crime. This task force shall be assisted by FBI agents as well as Western prestigious law enforcement agencies representatives from Germany, Italy and the UK. The event was used by the international community to once again decry the links between politics and crime and lament the toll that it is taking on the citizens live and wellbeing. Some concrete names that ring the ears of the Albanian public were mentioned once again: former mayors and MPs with very dark pasts and ties to some of the most influential crime syndicates.  Some of them constitute epic failures of the justice system as well: having set them free unjustly. All of them are examples of failures of the political system to guard itself and a failure of the capacity to self-cleanse.

It is this same system however that international actors turn to whenever they need assurances of stability and continuity. The slightest popular perception, even if not legitimate, that the international community is taking sides is very harmful in this key fight. Furthermore, what is necessary is a larger and harder debate that includes the meaningful and welcome jabs about “eating the big fish” but goes beyond them in really promoting and detailing the mechanisms that will constitute the “catching nets”. This starts with the clear warning to Albanian society itself that it needs to step up its own commitment to this fight. If the criminals of the Albanian bands did not stretch their heavy hands into the streets of London, Hamburg, Antwerp or Genoa one wonders if all the experts from abroad would be here. And hopefully the situation will improve enough for them to be able to leave.

Severing the ties between politics and organized crime is one of the most difficult things for every state. Albania can learn a lot from its neighboring Italy, for its long and still ongoing fight against mafia: the sacrifices all social actors need to make, the clear cut breaks with the past, the legitimate rules that are needed to build a different future, the courage necessary to persevere. Albania might be in the first steps and the assistance of the international community is a must at this stage.  However the fight is here and it needs to start with acknowledging with all strength by the local actors the political dimension of the problem rather than accommodating it.

Albanian political class needs to build a solid resistance to the temptation offered by organized crime, through mainly eliminating the impunity that has existed so far, learning the lesson the hard way if necessary. The Albanian society needs a healthy internal immune system that is ready to fight recognizing the first signs of a virus takeover and punishing them at least electorally and even better openly in the realm of the public debate. The fight against organized crime needs solid technical capacities but it is definitely not the fixing of a technical glitch. It is a painful and departure from a pervasive and perverted political modus operandi.

 
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                    [post_content] => Visho Ajazi, the head of Albania's intelligence service, SHISH, has resigned without giving any reasons for his decision. This abrupt resignation has raised many questions, particularly because it happened in the context of new political developments in the country – tied to an investigation of alleged ties of the former interior minister with cannabis traffickers.

SHISH has been heavily involved in preventive and discovery efforts in the war against cannabis in Albania. It is not a secret that the intelligence service is often the right tool to address the fight against organized crime – including drugs trafficking.

Of course this is on top of other state security concerns, including terrorism prevention. Albania's intelligence service has managed to prevent terrorist attacks in the past, in cooperation with partner services. All efforts to be applauded.

So then, what is behind this resignation?

The opposition says Ajazi resigned due to government pressure as a result of the involvement of SHISH in the detection of drug trafficking and the investigation involving Saimir Tahiri, the former interior minister.

The fact that Ajazi has not spoken publicly and not given any reason for his resignation has led to some confusion.

The resignation happens when the relations between yesterday's allies, SP and SMI in the opposition have changed in a negative way and Prime Minister Edi Rama and President Ilir Meta are not in good terms. Their consensus is needed to sack and approve the head of SHISH.

So where does Ajazi's resignation stands in this context? Most Socialists and media tied with the left have seen Ajazi as a man nominated by former Democratic Party Prime Minister Sali Berisha and thus naturally allied with the opposition. So his resignation is seen in that context. Rama needs a more trusted person as top spy.

Even so, in such a microscopic place that behaves as if it were the center of the world, there are other scenarios for the engagement – pressure from outside powers etc – conspiracy theories that sometimes rise in this region.

But is it completely possible that none of the above explanations is true. The explanation can also be more mundane, not related to performance or political conflicts – neither with the commitment of SHISH to drugs and its interstate traffics, neither with the reform in justice nor with the prime minister, President or foreign powers. It could have been something personal. The problem is that the intelligence chief has resigned and has given no explanation.

That is wrong. The heavy inheritance when the intelligence service heads left office to be hanged or shot – during the communist regime – is over.

Albania is a democratic country, and citizens need to know the motives of why the intelligence chief resigns. We need to set Western democratic standards – and those require transparency.

 
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                    [post_content] => By Dardan Mustafaj

Like all compatriots at home and abroad, I also closely followed last weekend’s events. The work of the parliamentary commission, where not only its members, but also other parties involved, are experienced jurists who have practiced high functions, particularly grabbed my attention. 

I expected to see discussions and decisions that would create important precedents for institutional development, for the ‘creation of a state’, as we are told and served for breakfast, lunch, dinner, everywhere and at any time.

Imagine my disappointment when from the first minute of the discussions, the Parliamentary Commission gave itself the role of a Court, which is beyond the role and constitutional function of this commission. It is not part of the duty of the Parliamentary Commission for Immunity and Mandates to judge alibis and evidence, their existence, their sufficiency, their deciding power or the conviction created by them! The reason is not just a principle, but also practical. The constitutional principle of coherence in abiding the law would limit the decision making freedom of Courts, which would not be able to maintain a position different from that of the Parliamentary Commission. In practice, Courts, but also the accused, would find themselves in a situation extremely threatening to their protection because if the Commission would evaluate the evidence sufficient to allow arrest, then it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to oppose this evidence in front of the Court. 

What is the role of the Parliamentary Commission for Immunity and Mandates in this specific case then? The answer is simple: the Commission evaluates whatever is not in the evaluation focus of the Courts. Based on European Parliament practices, it appears when Parliamentary Commissions inquire a proposal for the removal of immunity, they should evaluate the following: first, whether the facts for which the deputy is accused are related to his parliamentary activity, and second, if he has fumus persecutionis, so, if the actions of the Prosecutor Office don’t act legally or seek the truth, but aim at stalling the political activity of the deputy. 

In Mr. Tahiri’s case it is evident that, first, he is not accused for actions committed as part of his deputy function, and second the Prosecutor’s Office made that proposal, in a quest for the truth, to avoid a chance to hide evidence and furthermore the deputy has not partaken any parliamentary activity or proposed a legal initiative, which might be at risk from this accusation. 

Moreover, the Commission crossed all limits when it also conducted the analysis of the opportunity for arrest, which is an exclusive competence of the Court! It is ironic to remember that, during the time this deputy was Minister of Interior, people were arrested for assumingly stealing electricity, for assumingly building a fence with no permission, even because cannabis was planted on their lands, despite the lack of proof they’d planted it. 

On the other hand we have deputies who, though being mentioned in the talks of international criminals, they should not be arrested, deputies that even though are filmed beating another deputy in Parliament, should not be denounced because hitting can be an expression of opinion! If you don’t believe me, read decision nr.3/4, dated 10.06.2015, of the High Court, especially paragraph 30, and I cite, “[acts] defined by the Prosecution as penal acts of hitting due to duty according to act 237 of the Penal Code, belong or not to the forms and ways of expressing positions, opinions and vote during the Parliamentary activity, guaranteed by point 1 of act 73 of the Constitution and granting the lack of civil and penal responsibility of the deputies.” Dominique Strauss-Kahn was the Head of the IMF and the future president of France and was arrested solely on the testimony of a hotel cleaner. In this specific case, the Parliamentary Commission was holding reports and surveillance by Italian authorities, as well as testimonies by ex-police officers, and yet the Prosecutor’s Office proposal has not been approved! 

The Parliamentary Commission for Immunity and Mandates put on its following ugly show this weekend. As always, when decisions are taken on unprincipled basis, the day comes they turn against you. The day will come when this dangerous and grotesque precedent of ‘creating a state’ will be used against the very same people that enacted it.

The moral of this story is this: let’s establish and build a state, even though we remove some bricks from its foundation from time to time, when it collapses, we can blame the designer.     

 
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                    [post_content] => The case of former Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri is not obeying the classical rule of public tumult in Albania: let three days go and everything shall pass. The request of prosecutors to the Parliament to allow his arrest was struck down by a majority vote and the affair has kept the political, social and media debate roaring. 

What happened in the Parliament’s council of mandates was unprecedented. The duty of the body is not to review the evidence. That's the job of courts. Parliament is simply supposed to let the justice system do its job, not take over its duties.

Yet, that is what happened, in the eyes of many. Even-though the Socialist Party did allow the investigation to go forward, the fact that persecutors cannot arrest Tahiri means they cannot do their job properly. Perhaps more importantly, it erodes the public trust in the justice system and the universal value of equality before the law.  

The ruling majority and prime minister kept changing their minds and narratives, wanting it both ways. Tahiri out of the party and investigated, but not arrested, much to the fury of the opposition. Ultimately parliament decided not to fully lift the immunity, no matter how the prime minister tries to spin it. But what impact will this matter have? 

Long term it harms the idea of rule of law in Albania. It has hurt the public's trust that the law is equal for all regardless of public post or money in the bank.

It feeds into the narrative that drug money has affected the whole country, empowering criminals and corrupt politicians who would like to perpetuate the impunity trend. 

There are questions as to how drug cultivation and traffickers could get so strong without the involvement of law enforcement agencies and state structures -- including political parties, especially with allegations that millions of euros have gone into electoral campaigns.

What will happen to Tahiri is unknown, but how this case was handled by the ruling majority shows that the entire platform the Socialist Party had proposed on rule of law and reforms is now in jeopardy. It's simple: a thriving crime scene and its connections to politics cannot fit the image of a NATO member country that hopes to join the EU. 

It's part of a trend. An MP kills a pedestrian in car crash, for example, leaves the crime scene and never faces charges. Prosecutors say they want to arrest an MP on charges of ties to organized crime, and parliament won't let them. 

The message to the Albanian in the street is clear: those who are politically-connected are immune. Whatever good will and trust for justice reform there was among the Albanian public has now gone out of the window. 

Prosecutors seek to fully investigate Tahiri over the wiretaps provided by the Italian justice where allegedly his name is mentioned frequently by some Albanian narco-lords. The opposition says that unless he is arrested, he has the power to impede the investigation.

Recent constitutional changes strip MPs off their immunity letting prosecutors investigate but still keep some protection in place when it comes to making an arrest. Major stakeholders in this debate have gone into political spin mode. The Prime Minister makes noise with his 8 am party meeting with tiring long form speeches and with his arrogant and unethical behavior to journalists. 

The opposition makes noise declaring the end of the world: the fall of the government, the reign of the bands, the dissolving of the state. And then it stays quiet when reminded of its own skeletons in the closet. 

Overall, the entire affair has the country mesmerized and in a negative atmosphere. 

Truth is the first victim of this mess. Public trust is the second. The fate of this case is still very unclear. Much will depend on how the justice system decides to go on with the case and whether a trial takes place. The case is becoming above all a buzz kill, hurting the trust and the emerging hope in the public pulse concerning key reforms -- and the hope of getting Albania’s EU bid unstuck. 

 
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                    [post_content] => By Hans Spernbauer*

I have been working in Albania for more than 10 years and I have been trying to bring companies from Austria and Germany to Albania. We are also very successful in different areas, especially in the agricultural sector, in the metal sector and in the wood sector, where we have gathered many connections, business transactions and of course many experiences.

In the recent weeks, there have been many newspaper articles about the economy, how the economy can be better developed and where are its shortcomings. However, many of these articles go beyond reality. The real problems are still present for example in the lack of legal certainty or in the lack of quality in the company itself and in its employees.

In the last 10 years, we have brought to Albania many heifers, gilts and also day old chicks for layers. We are very active and we consult farmers on the food recipes composition and its quality and we also bring to Albania mineral mixtures for the optimal food recipes. However, we have also provided a lot of facilities in accordance with EU standards by supporting investors in setting up the standards.

We have also achieved for suppliers from Austria or Germany to trust Albanian companies or the Albanian jurisdiction and the legal security. After a customer did not meet a payment obligation, the Austrian company filed a complaint. What then followed was an Odyssey that should not happen in EU membership interested countries. The lawsuit was placed in 2011 and since then it has been shifted more than 20 times because a judge did not appear in court, because the appointed court expert had been rejected or because of  an expert’s opinion that goes beyond reality. It has been noted that there was not really any interest to create clarity, even though the facts were clear. That has led to a ping pong game between the court and lawyers and we still do not have any decision. This is not an isolated case. Many more cases files not to say quite all of them stays in the shelters of the courts waiting for a final decision, for the other judicial session to be held, for the judge, prosecutor, expert or lawyer to appear in court etc.. And these is what happens in all the levels of the judiciary, in quite all types of cases starting from the most problematic, the property cases to the most sensitive, the penal cases.

Austrian and German companies from the agricultural sector are connected in unions and they also get information from the Chamber of Commerce and they all know that in Albania you can only deliver with prepayments. There is no trust in the legal security of the Albanian courts. People have the impression that the court administration deliberately for any reason, such as staff shortage, ignorance, lack of knowledge or lack of interest, delays the proceedings. The scandal of the hidden files in the District Court of Tirana emphases more the people’s impressions and doubts about the judiciary system. 300 files which were supposed to be submitted to the High Court were hidden in the archives of the Tirana Court, even though there was a recourse against them. Although the responsible subordinates were fired and penal charges were made against them, there is a suspicion that other courts may have been in scandals of this nature as well. The decision not to send these files to the High Court turns out to have caused an endless Calvary of patience for the citizens for almost a decade waiting for justice and not finding solutions.

You have the feeling that the foreign company will eventually give up and say: "I cannot get the money, but that means also that the industry will be informed not to do business with Albanian companies”.

In one other case, we also needed 3 years for a judgment in favor to the Austrian company, but the defendant company has gone bankrupt, obviously in consultation with the court and leads its business further under another name, with the same managing director, and in the same way as before. This is also known to all companies in the animal food industry in Austria. The reputation of Albanian jurisdiction is therefore bad and is very difficult to convince companies from Austria and Germany to do business with Albanian companies. This leads to the fact that EU quality standards can be very difficult to implement in Albania.

On the other side, for example, the metal sector lacks in the quality of its personnel and its production capacities. These companies are looking for cooperation partners in Albania or qualified welders for projects all over the world. In Albania there is a lack of qualified technicians of all kinds, especially welders, electricians, metal workers and other skilled workers. There are many training institutions in this field but very few of them certify the quality of these trainings.

Only the qualifications according to EU standards of Albanian welders and of the Albanian companies correspond to the quality standard of the EU. It is not always a problem of poor education. On the contrary, graduates from some universities in Tirana are very well trained and are also praised by Austrian and German companies which are surprised by the knowledge of these graduates. But even these graduates and also many more qualified professionals are leaving the country finding job opportunity to more developed countries in the West. “Brain Drain” phenomenon is implicating serious consequences in productivity.

In the IT sector, more and more projects are being relocated to Albania, outsourced from Austria and Germany. But in the field of skilled workers, metal workers, welders, and electricians, the training is far from the EU standards. Here should be done more. EU certificates should be required not only from the Albanian companies, but as well from the state institutions. It does not help if only a few companies are trying to achieve EU standards, but the quality of the standard has to be adapted to the EU standards for productions in Albanian companies, in order to strengthen the production economy. State institutions with their regulatory roles should do more regarding this aspect not only by asking for EU standard qualification trainings to the workers but also by controlling the quality of the trainings. The accreditations of the training institutions would be the solution to ensure that the trainings that they provide meet an acceptable level of quality.  As I mentioned before there are many training institutions for skilled workers in Albania but only few of them certify the quality of these trainings or the abilities provided. The skilled worker ability needs to be tested against an agreed benchmark or standard in order to get a valuable certification, a valuable proof of ability.  This process of testing known as assessment if it is carried out by an external assessor which meets the EU standards of assessment would deliver confidence in services. The skilled workers with these certifications would be a valuable input for many companies in Albania especially in the metal sector and would increase their productivity. The accreditation of these training institutions would offer support to business, economy and society.

According to the latest data released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Albania ranks at the last place in European level for the number of the ISO certificates. This is one of the main reasons why the Albanian businesses continue to experience difficulties for their products merchandising and in exporting their products abroad where the competition is even stronger. The lack of these certificates makes them unable to guarantee the standard of their products. It should be noted that the more certificates a business has the easier it is for it to penetrate in foreign markets through its products. Business also must be more aware in this direction if they want to expand or to export or to develop a long term trustworthy relationship with their clients. By guaranteeing the quality of the product or the service, businesses boost their chances to success.

 

* Managing Director of AIEx Tirana - Austrian Institute of Excellence
                    [post_title] => Albania's poor judiciary reputation holds back Austrian, German investors
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                    [post_date] => 2017-10-23 20:30:17
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-10-23 18:30:17
                    [post_content] => By Jose Pinto*

teresaWhen back in my birthplace – Portugal – and later on, in other countries where I had the pleasure  to work like Mexico, Brazil, Egypt , UAE and many others, I have never stopped from hearing and getting inspired from Mother Teresa, the world famous Albanian icon of charity and kindness. In my life, there was not a single day that I did not think how giant her work was.

I was born in Madeira, the Island of Eternal Spring, from two parents who strongly believed in the good deeds stemming from believing in God. So, when I heard about Mother Teresa, I was so happy to cherish my constant love for this woman who arrested the attention of the whole world with her captivating personality and became the source of inspiration for all the coming generations.

Mother Teresa helped me to learn more about Albania from the distance. But time came to put feet on this country. The very first minute I did, all my thoughts on ALBANIA, perceived through her figure, proved so right. I immediately realized how blessed is the Albanian land and how beautiful are its people. Their smile, their kindness, their unique welcome killed me the very moment I landed in the international airport, called after “Mother Teresa.”

What a flawless coincidence!

I remember it like yesterday, though three years have passed by, that when I got on the plane to come to Albania,I immediately felt the Albanian friendliness and welcome when two Albanian youngsters, coming from US to visit their grandparents, started to chat with me warmly, politely but with so much hearth that I felt like never before. After getting to know whether this was my first time in Albania, they shared with me what to visit, what kind of food to taste and what sightseeing to enjoy most while they were talking restlessly about Berat, Gjirokastra, Butrint and other places within this wonderland that captivated my heart.

Furthermore, the immigration officer at the airport best personified the Albanian welcome when she addressed to me: “Welcome to Mother Teresa Airport, Mr. Jose!” I told to myself “What a surprise! as most of the immigration officers cut it short with their straight faces  Then, she asked me whether this was my first visit to Albania. I replied back: “not the very first time, but the very first minute Madame.”

“Wow,” she replied adding proudly “Welcome to our country, have a good time, enjoy and see you again.”

These are the people of the Albanian land, blessed by Mother Teresa. There are not enough pages to write about them and their international icon – Mother Teresa.

As Jose, I have a philosophy, gained from this immortal Lady, which I use it in my daily life and work. Life is a road which opens up as by magic for any person, who enjoys a spiritual purity and is characterized by integrity and values. For such people, the road widens up, the obstacles disappear, and trees on both sides even smile at you. Why so?

Because highlighting the Person, who has contributed to the humankind, is something which even the Lord, itself, agrees to. And this Person, who is acknowledged by humankind and the Lord itself, knows no age.

Some may argue that such people not often win. Still I will go by Mother Teresa’s saying: “Keep doing good, even if you are hurt.” and "if you are honest and sincere people may deceive you .Be honest and sincere anyway."

And many other verses that are written on the wall of Mother Teresa home for children in Calcutta-India.

Many other quotes that make me reflect every day like "Never bother about others’ opinions", "note all of us can do great things” or“we CAN do small things with great love"
                    [post_title] => Mother Teresa helped me to find Albania and paradise 
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                    [post_date] => 2017-10-20 09:53:51
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                    [post_content] => Albania's Socialist Party government has been shaken this week by potentially the most damaging scandal it has had to face since coming to power in 2013. Wiretaps from Italian authorities of Albanian cannabis traffickers seem to serve as proof of ties between government and police officials and drug traffickers.

Former Interior Minister and current Socialist MP Saimir Tahiri, mentioned by name in the wiretaps, is in the eye of the storm, but regardless what happens to him personally, the wiretaps indicate the problem was systemic.

The opposition has been hurling these accusations for years. But without any public proof, no action has been taken.

That's why it is very important for the justice system to do its work and thoroughly investigate this case and for the truth to come out, so both the Albanian people and the international community can make informed decisions.

The threat to Albania's national security and international standing as crime networks become more powerful is also evident. We have called for this to be addressed time and time again. Perhaps this latest scandal will be the turning point to allow authorities to act decisively.

So far it appears that the Italian wiretaps show that organized crime did not have a clearly-defined border between it and state structures and that the capture of political structures inside the parties is possible. They also show evidence that dirty money was used to finance electoral campaign. At this time Albanians appear to be asking themselves: How far up does this influence go?

Not a lot of time has passed since Prime Minister Edi Rama reached the highest point in his political career. He won a strong second mandate and no longer has the need to form a coalition with any party. The Albanian people gave him full control of the country’s “driving wheel,” as he put it.

Rama appeared so strong that many analysts were already predicting a third and fourth mandates for Rama – turning his re-born Socialist Party into the natural ruling party of Albania. All that, of course, barring any major scandal.

This is that major scandal. And the government will be clearly shaken by it, even if it does not show so in public.

The main opposition Democratic Party had pitted its political hopes primarily on proving that its repeated accusations of ties between Rama’s government and criminal networks were true and that drug money had affected the outcome of the elections.

It now has that public proof as drug traffickers arrested by Italian authorities say that at least some of the money they had to pay in bribes to Tahiri went into to the campaign of the Socialist Party. This direct proof is unprecedented even by Albania's rough and tough political standards.

This is the greatest hit to the political credibility of the Socialist government in quite some time, and it looks as if the party is willing to no longer protect Tahiri publically until the situation is clarified.

However, few Albanians would believe that Tahiri, if accusations stand, would have acted alone. As the wiretaps suggest he was raising money for the party, not just himself.

The opposition, which has found in this scandal a unifying cause, is now asking for Rama’s resignation and Tahiri’s arrest. The days to come will show what will happen. But the scandal has clearly weakened the government and strengthened the opposition.  

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: A scandal to shake the government
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                    [post_date] => 2017-10-13 06:51:36
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                    [post_content] => In a departure from tradition, which saw deputy ministers usually get appointed quietly by ministers themselves without much public presentation, the current 33 deputy ministers of the ‘Rama 2’ cabinet were announced as publicly as possible during the Assembly of the Socialist Party. A typical party meeting was definitely a curious venue and time for a team which according to the Prime Minister himself signals an attempt to look outwards, a break from tradition of picking party people.  The deputies are at the core of his so personal political project called ‘PS Plus’- some loosely defined attempt to govern more inclusively. 

A more careful inspection of the list however shows a consistent group of people with longtime ties to the Prime Minister himself since the period he was a mayor of Tirana, a pool from which he is known to preferably select people renowned for their loyalty. This group is so well known to the public that there are certain nicknames invented to funnily refer to it including “Rama’s women” pointing to the fact that it is a nicely gender balanced bunch. The group also includes lifelong friends of the PM, interestingly placed well outside their expertise field.  This cluster is then sprinkled for fun and show with some oddities such as the 4 deputies from Kosovo, mostly very young, a move that has raised many eyebrows abroad and even in Kosovo itself.  Other oddities are added, and then presented as decisive outsiders. Stir well. Serve chilled. 

First of all, this is not to say that the choices are at fault. Perhaps the majority of them are quite capable professionals, some with impressive education backgrounds and even solid performance track records. However if they are picked for loyalty or even worse for show, one is left to wonder at what really their task list will consist of. Shall they be Rama’s emissaries, a permanent check on the ministers who this time are under strict indicators that will be monitored periodically? 

Finally some consideration should be given to the number itself which will make a little dent in the state budget with all the salaries coming through. The logic is that deputies will take care of specific sectors especially in the ministries that merged different areas of governance becoming mammoth structures, ‘too big to fail.’ In spite of this need, the spiked number of deputy ministers does undermine the effort to consolidate the state. After all does the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural development really need 4 deputies? 

Indeed the ‘PS-Plus’ project including these deputies points at something else. Considered in combination with the much pumped co-governance platform ( with a carefully chosen title The Albania that we want) which the Prime Minister insists on presenting and promoting himself, despite having appointed the former Minister of Interior Tahiri to run it, there seems to be a state of the art project to centralize power. This means concentrating all flows of information, decision making, policy fine tuning, public communication and all else in one single institution, the office of the Prime Minister. In this case one does not know where to start worrying: whether this centralized power will further erode democratic standards or whether the office shall be able even to cope with such a tremendous workload. Well at least we have nothing less but 33 deputies that can help with the second concern.  

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: 33 deputies to rule them all
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                    [post_date] => 2017-10-06 09:41:40
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-10-06 07:41:40
                    [post_content] => In the Albanian psyche, it is often said, one avoids to do checkups at the doctor because what you don’t know can’t hurt you. As such, major issues get neglected until there is nothing that can be done about them.

Like going to the doctor, major trends are often neglected by consecutive Albanian governments, or paid nominal lip service to, until it is too late to do something about them.

Albania’s coming labor force crisis is one such issue. A combination of a rapid decline in birth rates and continued out-migration means Albania is slowly being drained of its people.

Do not let the streets of central Tirana – filled with young people in cafes -- fool you – all the statistics show Albania will soon become a land of old people with one worker having to support the retirement of about two people, an unsustainable system.

Businesses are already feeling the effects of this trend. We have for years heard of high unemployment rates among youths, but increasingly we are also hearing about companies that are unable to find qualified people to fill positions that are available. This is often attributed to a mismatch between the education sector and market needs, but the issue is not that simple. We are simply seeing the numbers game shifting – those with skills and energy that can be used in places like Germany or the UK have left, and those left behind simply can’t compete in today’s global marketplace.

Then there is the question of incentives: A recent report on global worker satisfaction showed Albanians were among the worst placed in Europe – with typical concerns being low wages and job insecurity. With high living costs and high taxes relative to medium income, Albanian workers are very badly positioned to improve their quality of life in Albania. Lack of job security and a moody political environment are also factors that push people out.

Part of the problem is that Albania is poor and as such, of course, it cannot afford to pay its workers more. However, that is only part of the reason things are the way they are. Lack of proper labor management skills and ineffective governance are also to blame.

Nowhere is the pain being felt more than the country’s healthcare sector. Already a country with the lowest per capita doctor numbers in the region, under the current trend, Albania’s medical schools are working full time to supply wealthy European countries with doctors, nurses and pharmacists. Not only is it unfair to Albanian taxpayers who are financially supporting the education of their bright daughters and sons who have gone into medicine – it borders on unethical for the countries that are now heavily recruiting Albania’s healthcare workers.

Better pay, better management and setting priorities is the answer, and Albania’s government must act quickly to limit the damage.

An implementable strategy is needed to help buffer the pain Albania will feel with its coming labor shortage crisis before it joins the European Union. If other Balkan countries that have already joined are any indication, EU membership will only accelerate outmigration of workers.

Also, it is time to stop playing politics with migration. This is an Albanian issue – not a Socialist or Democrat one. It is time to for political actors to come together and help meet this massive challenge, not simply blame the other side for Albania’s shared shortcomings.

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: The bells toll for Albania’s labor force
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                    [post_date] => 2017-09-29 11:21:24
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-09-29 09:21:24
                    [post_content] => In a famous TV series entitled ‘Narcos’, a CIA operative converses with an agent of DEA, the primary agency engaged in the fight against narco- trafficking. The exasperated DEA agent complains that the other agency is not helping to win the war against drugs. With a typical bitter irony the former conversant replies: “Which war? The war on drugs?? We lost that war long ago!”

The Albanian citizen is entitled to feel the same feeling of exasperation and bitterness while watching this week a video showing a skirmish between a police car and a car allegedly in ownership of narco-traffickers. A police car with a high level officer on board is hit by the other car. The police get out but they appear confused, afraid, almost paralyzed and unwilling or unable to do anything while the perpetrators of the incident safely and swiftly get away. They escape into a gated market nearby and the guard does not let the police get in to get them. 

This grave incident unfolded in Elbasan, a major city just 45 minutes east of the capital and a major hub in the route of drug trafficking: from East Asia, to Bulgaria and Macedonia through Albania and then onwards to Greece or Italy. The event displays the extreme vulnerability and possible corrupted linkage between police and this crime organizations.  It is a visual cue to a major problem with rule of law, with the inability of the state to exert basic control over its terror and its subjects. On a deeper level it is a signal that the war against organized crime is at high risk of failure.  

This occurrence got a lot of attention in the media with specific talk shows debating at length the alleged crime situation in Elbasan, the competing factions of the organizations fighting for ‘drug territory’ and even the potential corruptive affairs that might exist there involving the municipality, the police etc. according to media analysts the incident is the product of a situation in which the authorities favor or protect one gang at the expense of another. The entire attention of the public debate, media and institutions was captured in this case. All these debates remain the level of allegations, speculations, at best potential explanations or at worst simple conspiracy theories as long as there is no official conclusion of a formal investigative process. However the video as a piece of hard evidence is clear of doubt.  It reveals to everyone a desperate situation where the state kneels in front of the crime.

The response from the police to this incident was in fact very quick and aggressive however many doubt its efficiency. The Special Forces went to Elbasan and many checks were performed especially targeting luxury cars. A few arrests were made. However one cannot fight the power of crime syndicates through routine traffics tops. Making a strong performance and a visible action in front of the citizens has its own merits. It shows that the state is present and reactive. However a much more serious, comprehensive and deep-reaching plan is necessary from policy makers and law enforcement in order to severe the roots that crime is entrenching especially transforming some key cities into their fortresses. 

The fight against drug trafficking is the hardest fight for every state in the world. It is particularly difficult in a country like Albania. However a sense of urgency and mobilization beyond what has been done so far is imminent. So far it seems like crime is winning. The state needs to change that for its own sake and for the sake of all its citizens.

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Crime is winning 
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            [post_date] => 2017-11-10 09:39:00
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            [post_content] => A frequent complaint of police forces, prosecutor’s office and majority politicians whenever organized crime is discussed is that politicizing matters will make solutions harder, will decrease the legitimacy of law enforcement in the eyes of the public and erode trust in the reforms. Most of these complaints remain valid. Using scandals, investigations, police operations and generally crime statistics for the sole purpose of putting on a show and instigate a reaction from militant audiences is indeed harmful.

When one goes beyond political rhetoric and into examining political actions: trying to influence criminal justice procedures for personal protection and/or political gains is one of the key factors that for so many years has rendered the justice system into the most corrupt, reviled and ugly corporation in Albania. 

However there is an unquestionable political dimension that needs to be addressed in the fight against organized crime which in Albania is closely related to the worrying situation about narcotics trafficking.

It is this dimension that was key to this week’s event of presenting, with quite some fanfare, a new police operation, entitled “The strength of the Law” and a Special Police Task force against organized crime. This task force shall be assisted by FBI agents as well as Western prestigious law enforcement agencies representatives from Germany, Italy and the UK. The event was used by the international community to once again decry the links between politics and crime and lament the toll that it is taking on the citizens live and wellbeing. Some concrete names that ring the ears of the Albanian public were mentioned once again: former mayors and MPs with very dark pasts and ties to some of the most influential crime syndicates.  Some of them constitute epic failures of the justice system as well: having set them free unjustly. All of them are examples of failures of the political system to guard itself and a failure of the capacity to self-cleanse.

It is this same system however that international actors turn to whenever they need assurances of stability and continuity. The slightest popular perception, even if not legitimate, that the international community is taking sides is very harmful in this key fight. Furthermore, what is necessary is a larger and harder debate that includes the meaningful and welcome jabs about “eating the big fish” but goes beyond them in really promoting and detailing the mechanisms that will constitute the “catching nets”. This starts with the clear warning to Albanian society itself that it needs to step up its own commitment to this fight. If the criminals of the Albanian bands did not stretch their heavy hands into the streets of London, Hamburg, Antwerp or Genoa one wonders if all the experts from abroad would be here. And hopefully the situation will improve enough for them to be able to leave.

Severing the ties between politics and organized crime is one of the most difficult things for every state. Albania can learn a lot from its neighboring Italy, for its long and still ongoing fight against mafia: the sacrifices all social actors need to make, the clear cut breaks with the past, the legitimate rules that are needed to build a different future, the courage necessary to persevere. Albania might be in the first steps and the assistance of the international community is a must at this stage.  However the fight is here and it needs to start with acknowledging with all strength by the local actors the political dimension of the problem rather than accommodating it.

Albanian political class needs to build a solid resistance to the temptation offered by organized crime, through mainly eliminating the impunity that has existed so far, learning the lesson the hard way if necessary. The Albanian society needs a healthy internal immune system that is ready to fight recognizing the first signs of a virus takeover and punishing them at least electorally and even better openly in the realm of the public debate. The fight against organized crime needs solid technical capacities but it is definitely not the fixing of a technical glitch. It is a painful and departure from a pervasive and perverted political modus operandi.

 
            [post_title] => Editorial: The inevitable political dimension in the fight against organized crime
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