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Albania's Do-Nothing Parliament

By Ledion Krisafi, Tirana, Albania, July 28, 2008

Albanian Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu resigns at a news conference in Tirana on March 17, following a weapons depot blast that killed at least 16 people and injured nearly 300. The main opposition Socialist Party had demanded the resignation, along with that of conservative Prime Minister Sali Berisha. (Photo: Gent Shkullaku / AFP-Getty Images)

In Albania, things are done too quickly or too slowly. First of all, we are an extremely bureaucratic state, and second, the parliament is a bureaucratic organization in which the chief bureaucrats resolve cases only when they want to. For the first part, the government in the last three years has done a "great job" in avoiding this problem. After coming to power in 2005, Prime Minister Sali Berisha's government has fired nearly 2,000 people from the administration. As a response, it has gotten nearly 2,000 charges in the lower court. But still, after all the effort of the government, Albania remains a bureaucratic state. For the second part, as we will see, the government does not want to do anything.

On Nov. 22, President Bamir Topi decreed that Ina Rama would be the new chief prosecutor, the first woman ever to hold this office. The day before, Topi was in Brussels, where he met the European Union's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana. Asked during the press conference about the ex-chief prosecutor of Albania, Theodhori Sollaku, who was dismissed from his job by the parliament days earlier, the president said that he had not done anything yet to decree Sollaku's dismissal. But things happened too quickly after this. Upon returning home from Brussels, at 4 a.m., he decreed Sollaku's dismissal and appointed Rama as the new chief prosecutor. All this happened in a few hours. Late that evening, the parliament approved Rama's candidacy in an 83 to 33 vote.

Why did all this happen so quickly? Prior to this, Sollaku as chief prosecutor was investigating corruption inside the government. This was not to the government's liking at all. They could not control the chief prosecutor and said at the time that the investigations were politically driven. It was not the first time that Berisha's government had accused Sollaku of conducting politically driven investigations. The first attempt to dismiss Sollaku took place in 2006, but the president at that time, Alfred Moisiu, did not approve his dismissal. In June 2007, the new president was elected, Topi, who was the former under-chairman of the Democratic Party. The parliament again dismissed Sollaku and this time the new president approved it.

Sollaku was investigating a corruption case involving the foreign minister. He was also reinvestigating an old affair involving the Secret Service. Three former employees of the National Information Service were accused of kidnapping three people and torturing them. One of the three, an Albanian-Macedonian businessman, disappeared. Thirteen years later, his body has never been found. Rumors were that the order for kidnapping the Albanian-Macedonian businessman was given by the chairman of the National Information Service. The new chief prosecutor has continued Sollaku's work on these cases, but without any conclusions.

In March this year, an explosion occurred at an ammunition depot near Tirana, in the village of Gërdec. Twenty-eight people were killed and 300 injured. Soon after this, an investigation from the new chief prosecutor was undertaken. As the investigation was underway, Rama asked the parliament to remove the immunity given to the ex-defense minister, who resigned after the explosion at Gërdec.

The parliament removed the immunity of then-Foreign Minister Lulzim Basha, who was accused of corruption. At the time, Prime Minister Berisha said that any deputy or minister of his government accused of corruption would voluntarily give up his or her immunity. But when the time came to make it a practice, the minister did not give his up.

On June 13, the chief procurator sent a 700-page file to the parliament demanding the removal of the ex-defense minister's immunity. The parliament, after analyzing it for some days, declared that the 700-page file was not sufficient to remove the immunity of Fatmir Mediu, the ex-defense minister. It needed more information. The Socialist Party and nongovernmental organizations like Mjaft said that the parliament was purposely delaying the immunity case. Even the United States ambassador in Tirana accused the parliament of interfering in the duties of the chief prosecutor.

Then, on July 11, the chief procurator sent another file containing 1,500 pages. Only after five days of consulting and many accusations by the Socialist Party that it was purposely delaying the case did the parliament approve the removal of the immunity of the ex-defense minister, in a 101 to 23 vote.

In these two cases, the first concerning the appointment of the new chief prosecutor and the second the immunity of the ex-defense minister, the Berisha government and the parliament, which is controlled largely by the majority party and its allies, have reacted in different ways.

What can be deduced by these two cases? That things are not going well for Albania's constitutional liberalism is obvious. But the worst thing is that nothing has changed. The government and the parliament go on talking about reforms, constitutional changes, etc. But the only obvious reform made so far is the firing of 2,000 people without any explanation.

Ledion Krisafi is a student in the faculty of journalism at Tirana University, Albania.

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