Albania: Uniting Against Corruption

In a rare political gesture for post-communist Albania, the government has accepted an opposition proposal for tackling widespread graft.

Albania: Uniting Against Corruption

In a rare political gesture for post-communist Albania, the government has accepted an opposition proposal for tackling widespread graft.

Only twice in the post-communist decade have Albanian politicians banded together in the national interest. The plight of Albanian brethren in Kosovo spawned the first outbreak of unity. Now corruption has prompted a second political alliance for the sake of the common good.

Albania regularly features on lists of the most corrupt states in the world, which combined with other regional factors is seriously restricting international investment. In December, three ministers from the Socialist-led ruling coalition resigned after searing criticism of the government's anti-corruption policy from party leader Fatos Nano.

Now, the government has accepted an opposition-sponsored anti-graft proposal. Unveiling the programme, government minister Ndre Legisi added that the authorities had also agreed to contract a foreign company to audit the bank accounts of senior politicians and officials.

According to local media, corruption in Albania is highly evolved, ranging from politicians accepting "gifts" such as cars or apartments from businessmen, to lower level officials taking 100 US dollar bribes. "Millions of dollars disappear through this way of governing, money which could be better used on education, hospitals or energy resources," said independent analyst Fatos Lubonja.

The opposition Democratic Party of former president Sali Berisha proposed a number of anti-corruption measures, including an international audit company to check politicians' income, at its convention last December. At the core of the proposal is the creation of a bilateral parliamentary commission. Comprised of the two main political parties, the body would monitor senior officials across the political spectrum.

Berisha acknowledges that a broad-based agreement is needed to overcome the scourge of venality, which will necessitate an end to an opposition parliamentary boycott over alleged vote-rigging last year. This boycott ended last Thursday.

By placing fraud so high on the national agenda, Nano has to some extent stolen the opposition's clothing. "He is parroting - to some extent - what we have been saying for two years to try and regain personal power," said Berisha.

Whatever the political squabbles, the public are positive about the anti-corruption package, which will require the parliamentary commission to check all financial procedures since 1992, the declaration of properties and income by executive, legislative and judiciary officials, plus the lifting of their immunity to prosecution.

"We are open to cooperation and have nothing to hide during our period of government," said Legisi, on whose initiative the prosecutor general has launched an investigation into various defense ministry tenders, plus a longer-standing scandal over the contract to produce passports.

Nano has named individual ministers, such as Minister of Finance Anastas Angjeli, as implicated in fraud. He continues to demand the resignation of the ministers for energy, whom he blames for the current power crisis, and has said that a government with over 20 ministers is inappropriate.

Nano's claims that Ilir Meta "bought" his party's leadership after its election victory last year - which led to the prime minister's resignation on Tuesday. Nano has called for a party referendum on his claims. But Nano risks being accused of being motivated more by personal ambition than opposition to corruption.

A government reshuffle acceptable to all members of the coalition could help defuse the current political turmoil. The new administration should then prioritise the two issues which concern everyone - the energy crisis and the fight against corruption. The prevailing philosophy that politics is a way of getting rich must be publicly discredited. Politicians have to finally accept that politics is - or should be - about ideals higher than money and status.

Teodor Misha is the publisher of the Albanian Observer economic magazine in Tirana.

Albania, Kosovo
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