Officials to take new measures against rising corruption in the country

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times February 18, 2020 09:08

Officials to take new measures against rising corruption in the country

Story Highlights

  • The Ministry of Justice, as national coordinator in the fight against corruption, says the political situation in the country and delays in establishing new justice institutions, have affected citizens' perceptions of corruption while legal interventions for combating corruption have been made in some problematic sectors, such as public procurement.

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TIRANA, Feb. 17 - According to Transparency International, the World Bank and some Albanian monitoring organizations, corruption in Albania has worsened.  

State Supreme Audit accounts for several billion euros in damage to the state budget over the past eight years, from mismanagement of public funds to abuse of tenders.  

The Ministry of Justice, as national coordinator in the fight against corruption, says the political situation in the country and delays in establishing new justice institutions, have affected citizens' perceptions of corruption while legal interventions for combating corruption have been made in some problematic sectors, such as public procurement.

In addition, online services to citizens have increased and efforts to combat money laundering through companies registered in fiscal havens have intensified.

Albania lost seven places in the global Transparency International ranking in terms of corruption for 2019, ranking 106th. This is the third year the ranking is declining, following a positive trend five years ago.  

Corruption has also been identified as a widespread growing phenomenon in some other reports as well, such as that of the US Department of State and the World Bank, which recently noted that over 36 percent of Albanian businesses have been bribed at least once by government officials.  

This figure is three times higher than the regional average and nearly twice as high as the world average. Officials say they have reflected on Transparency International's report, noting that even political events, such as local elections boycotted by the opposition, or delays in establishing justice institutions, affect citizens' perceptions.

"We are certainly aware that local government elections may have affected the Transparency International gauge. Also the World Bank report is an element that has influenced, but also the justice reform, because the fact that we are doing a reform from scratch also affects perception,” said Deputy Minister of Justice Fjoralba Caka.  

Caka added that with the establishment of the Special Organized Crime and Corruption Structure, the fight against corruption is expected to have positive results.

The Center for Economic Research, according to a study, reveals that 1 in 2 citizens are under corruption pressure in obtaining public services.  

The centre’s Executive Director Zef Preci says corruption, from the form of bribery in the 1990s, has now become more sophisticated, singling out the use of the law for personal gain, and companies registered in fiscal havens.

“At the same time, the fact that more than half of the foreign companies operating in the Albanian market and using the country's important natural resources are offshore companies, lacking the identity of their owners or with shareholders that undertake legitimate but highly suspicious transactions that conceal their profits has affected the interests of the public economy. Also, there is a growing suspicion that important decision-makers are involved in the benefits of this nature,” said Preci.

Experts say they doubt that companies registered in fiscal havens are used not only for personal gain but also for money laundering.  

Caka claimed that efforts are being made to combat the phenomenon of money laundering through these companies and underlines that Albania is cooperating with many countries in this regard.

“It is a war waged by every state and international structure. After what is considered public data dumping, it has been discovered that many officials are laundering their money in what are considered offshore islands. Albania as part of a series of international conventions, namely ‘Manival,’ has foreseen an action plan with concrete measures for money laundering in Albania,” said Caka.

According to High State Inspectorate data, the state budget has suffered an estimated € 6 billion in damage over the past eight years as a result of mismanagement of public finances, abuse of tenders and procurement, and violations during the procedures of sale, purchase and leasing of state property. This figure equals the state budget for a year and a half. Damage has increased significantly compared to 2002 - 2011.

Critics say that 1/3 of the procurements were conducted with a single bidder, or ¼ of the funds were provided under these conditions, thereby increasing the premise of favoring a certain client.

“The fact that the use of online procurement in many cases comes close to the limit fund, ie 100 percent, indicates that procurement units provide information to competitors in advance, shows that there is a secret agreement between competitors and that there is a prediction of winners, mainly motivated by political interests. This is particularly shown in the case of direct negotiated contracts,” said Preci.

Officials acknowledge that there have been violations in the area of ”‹”‹procurement with regard to negotiated and non-negotiated contracts. According to Caka, these practices are currently significantly reduced.

“In 2019 the number of contracts negotiated was only three percent. The Public Procurement Agency has not only changed the number of public procurement contracts, but has also made an interference with the law on public procurement, which states that if you are to use negotiated and non-public procurement as a contracting authority, justify why you chose this negotiated procurement and not an open one,” explained Caka.

Another sector where corruption is widespread is the education system.  

‘Citizen Resilience,’ in a survey on corruption in education, found that 73 percent of students perceive corruption through various forms, in exchange for a grade or obligation to sell or buy books written by their lecturers.  

“We started with education because we consider it the source of corruption in society. If a student gets educated by giving money for an exam or gets a diploma with money, he is prone to be a corrupt official in the future, that is, to buy a public position and offer bribe service,” said Citizens’ Centre Executive Director Rigels Xhemollari.  

In 2019, according to the Ministry of Justice, more than 2,330 cases related to corruption offenses have been referred to the Prosecutor's Office by the police, and more than 30percent of them were sent to court, while 500 people have been sentenced to First Instance and Appellate Courts.  

But even though corruption in Albania is widespread, the punishment of mainly senior officials continues to be a problem, a concern also highlighted in the DASH report, which states that the punishment of officials has been casual and unstable and that officials, politicians, judges and persons with strong business interests have often escaped investigation.

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times February 18, 2020 09:08