Corruption in Albania: Up from the Bottom

Demonstrators in Tirana, Albania protest the collapse of a government-run pyramid scheme in 1997 (Photo: AFP).

Only one year after former President Sali Berisha’s departure from power, in August 1998 the World Bank ranked Albania as the most corrupt state in Europe. Almost half of Albanian citizens admitted to paying bribes, while two-thirds of public officials admitted that bribery was a common phenomenon in the country. However, even at this time, corruption did not present a dire issue for Albania in the eyes of the international community. The country had just recovered from the turmoil following the collapse of the pyramid [financial investment] schemes [in 1997 in which thousands of Albanians lost their savings]. Corruption indices were going down as the state was consolidating and the economy was recovering. In 2000, the World Bank ranked Albania as Europe’s seventh-most corrupt country.

On June 6, the European Commission recommended to the European Council the beginning of negotiations for an Agreement of Stabilization and Association with Albania. According to the recommendation, considerable progress had to be made, because although good results have been achieved in the past two years, problems persist, especially in the functioning of the judicial system, all related to widespread corruption. As a result of pressure from lending agencies and donor countries, the Albanian government established an Anti-Corruption Monitoring Board. In a study published in July, the board concluded that “Albanian institutions have entered a new stage in their fight against corruption.” A concrete example is the establishment of a controlling department in each government ministry. The board has called for an improvement in the government’s general anti-corruption plan, especially in the Ministry of Public Order and the attorney general’s office. This year alone, 140 employees of the ministry have been fired on corruption charges. Two were police commanders for the customs offices of two districts, Korca and Gjirokastra. From 1997 to 2001, the attorney general’s office discharged 12 district attorneys, five of whom were taken to court for “abuse of duty, accepting bribes, and violation of investigation procedures.”

For the past year and a half, Albanian customs has brought in 100 percent of expected revenue, improving the image of Albania in the eyes of the international financial institutions that were critical of repeated occurrences of fiscal evasion in these offices. Since May 2000, 39 customs employees, including station managers, have been fired.

At first glance, the struggle against corruption may seem abstract and intangible. But it can become very tangible if citizens are not forced to bribe an official to get a telephone line, if they do not have to bribe the doctor to get proper treatment, if they do not have to bribe to get a passport, to receive a lighter sentence in court, or simply to get their car registration.

Corruption, which is a characteristic of poor countries in transition, will begin to disappear only when meritocracy rules rather than various clan interests supported by millions of dollars gained through illegal tenders, smuggling of goods, or even worse, smuggling of people, drugs, and prostitution.

That is the only way that the income of the individual citizens and private companies will increase and Albanians will not be forced to steal electric power and water or to bribe the staff of utility companies to charge them less. That is how the state will collect more taxes; that is how its budget will grow. That is how it will be possible to make more investments in the improvement of roads and the power and water systems, in more recreational facilities for the people, and in the increase of wages and pensions. Only then will the new socialist government be able to lower the level of corruption and open the door for small individual investments and bigger investments from overseas. Only then will it be able to reach the goals that will lead to the signing of the Agreement of Stabilization and Association with the European Union.

All levels of the state administration and justice system have been subject to corruption in the past 10 years. Bribery is most common in customs, taxation, telecommunications, the justice system, police and attorneys’ offices, construction permits, and health care service. Another major mani-festation of corruption is the payoff needed to secure a post as customs inspector, tax inspector, judge, natural resource administrator, attorney, policeman, or local government official. This is explained, even by government officials, by the very low wages of state administration and justice system employees. The minimum monthly wage of a state administrative employee is 7,000 lek [US$47.14] while the highest paid state job in the country, that of the president of the republic, is 156,000 lek [$1,051].