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Albania Progress Report 2016-2018

Country : Albania
Dates Under Review : July 2016 – June 2017
Report publication year : 2018
Researcher : Gjergji Vurmo

Overview – Albania Progress Report 2016-2018 (Year 1)

Albania’s third action plan addresses access to information and whistleblower protection. However, more than half of the commitments are dedicated to improved public service delivery. The next plan could focus on Albania’s EU accession priorities, such as anti-corruption, the fight against organized crime and human rights.

Process

The Minister of State for Innovation and Public Administration established a Technical Working Group with representatives from each participating institution based on the PM’s Order. Although this Order stipulates civil society organizations may participate in meetings, CSOs were not a part of this body in the third action plan. In March 2016, the multistakeholder forum OpenAlb was founded.

Did not act contrary to OGP processA country is considered to have acted contrary to process if one or more of the following occurs:

  • The National Action Plan was developed with neither online or offline engagements with citizens and civil society
  • The government fails to engage with the IRM researchers in charge of the country’s Year 1 and Year 2 reports
  • The IRM report establishes that there was no progress made on implementing any of the commitments in the country’s action plan

Level of Input by Stakeholders

During Action Plan Development
Y1
No Consultation
Inform
Consult
Involve
Collaborate
Who was involved?
Civil Society Involvement
Beyond “governance” civil society
Mostly “governance” civil society X
No/little civil society
Narrow / little government consultation Primarily agencies that serve other agencies Significant involvement of line ministries and agencies
Government Involvement

Civil society and government institutions participating in the OpenAlb forum were highly involved in developing the action plan’s commitments, though the inclusion of CSO proposals depended on donor funding. Seventeen government bodies are responsible for implementing the third action plan.

OGP Co-Creation Requirements Followed

Commitment Performance

Many of Albania’s commitments are focused on e-government and public service delivery. While they improve the delivery of government services, they are not expanding access to information, civic participation or public accountability.

Commitment Completion

Current Plan
YEAR 1: 35%
2014-2016
YEAR 1: 0%
YEAR 2: 15%
2012-2013
YEAR 1: 30%

Commitment Ambition

Current Plan
YEAR 1: 6%
2014-2016
YEAR 1: 8%
2012-2013
YEAR 1: 23%

Starred commitments

Current Plan
YEAR 1: 6%
2014-2016
YEAR 1: 0%
YEAR 2: 8%
2012-2013
YEAR 1: 23%

IRM Recommendations

  1. Ensure renewed leadership and successful transfer of institutional knowledge on OGP
  2. Adhere to the OGP Participation and Co-creation Standards
  3. Focus on more ambitious, OGP-relevant commitments on open contracting in line with EU accession framework
  4. Ensure effective implementation of public consultation legislation
  5. Prioritize public officials’ asset disclosure and public accessibility of the land register

Commitments Overview

Commitment Title Well-designed * Complete Overview
1. Improve portal for access to information No Yes This commitment aims to improve the “ask the state” portal. The portal now includes contact information for right-to-information coordinators, online tracking of information requests, a complaints mechanism, and searchable registers. The number of portal submissions has increased significantly.
2. Budget transparency No No This commitment seeks to improve transparency and public participation in budget design. While the government published budget resources online, the public was not consulted in budget design process.
3. Integrated Registry of Citizens’ Residence No No This commitment aims to create a central Registry with information on all Albanian nationals. However, the Registry will only be accessible for public officials, and it is unclear when it will be completed.
4. Public notification and consultation registry No Yes This commitment plans to create a new public consultation portal. The portal was launched on time, but citizens’ awareness of it is limited.
5. Digital archive No No This commitment seeks to create a digital archive of construction-related documents. The implementation status is also unclear, as the responsible institution no longer exists.
6. Scientific research database No No This commitment aims to create a portal for government-funded, scientific data and publications. However, no progress on implementation was found, and the responsible institution underwent reforms.
7. Publish government legislation online No No This commitment seeks to publish national and local legislation online. While more local government units publish legislation, the responsible institution was unaware of this commitment.
8. Electronic registry of concessions No No This commitment aims to create an electronic registry of contracts involving public-private partnerships (PPPs). While the registry was launched, the contracts are not in open data format.
✪9. Implement Whistleblower Protection Law Yes Yes This commitment seeks to draft bylaws and carry out various activities in support of whistleblower protection. To implement this commitment, civil society carried out several public consultations, awareness-raising campaigns, and capacity building.
10. Provision of electronic services No Yes This commitment plans to build an electronic forms management system. By 2017, all 36 services of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) were available on the e-Albania portal and the MFA website.
11. Simplify building permit applications No Yes This commitment aims to develop an online platform for building permit applications. The government reports that the new platform has been used over 25,000 times by citizens and businesses.
12. Establish digital counters No Yes This commitment established 15 digital counters (or kiosks) around the country for accessing the e-Albania portal 24/7. However, they were only placed in urban areas, thus restricting their use for some citizens.
13. Service passport standardization No No This commitment seeks to standardize service passports, which provide citizens with information on public services. This commitment is a routine legal obligation, and is not relevant to OGP values.
14. Citizen Card No No This commitment aims to publish citizens’ cards that explain e-services on e-Albania. The draft citizens card was submitted to 18 institutions in 2017 for consultation.
15. Pilot e-prescription No No There are concerns over healthcare costs in Albania. This commitment seeks to develop a nationwide electronic prescription system, which was launched in Tirana in March 2017 with instructional materials.
16. Electronic Monitoring System of Forests No No Illegal logging contributes to deforestation in Albania. This commitment aims to establish an electronic monitoring system of forests, but there is no evidence that it has been started.
17. Electronic system for professional licensing applications No No To reduce corruption in the licensing process, this commitment seeks to develop an online service for licensing applications. Thus far, only an application for individual licenses is available on e-Albania.

* Commitment is evaluated by the IRM as specific, relevant, and has a transformative potential impact
✪ Commitment is evaluated by the IRM as being specific, relevant, potentially transformative, and substantially or fully implemented

Albania’s third action plan addresses access to information and whistleblower protection. However, more than half of the commitments are dedicated to improved public service delivery. The next plan could focus on Albania’s EU accession priorities, such as anti-corruption, the fight against organized crime and human rights.

Commitment Overview Well-Designed? *
1. Access to information portal Facilitates Access to Information requests and, if requests go unanswered, complaints

 

No

4. Public notification and consultation registry Enable public review and submission of comments through online consultation portal

No

✪9. Implement Whistleblower Protection Law Improves the protection of whistleblowers and, as a result, encourages the reporting of corruption

Yes

* Commitment is evaluated by the IRM as specific, relevant, and has a transformative potential impact
✪ Commitment is evaluated by the IRM as being specific, relevant, potentially transformative, and substantially or fully implemented

The Minister of State for Innovation and Public Administration established a Technical Working Group with representatives from each participating institution based on the PM’s Order. Although this Order stipulates civil society organizations may participate in meetings, CSOs were not a part of this body in the third action plan. In March 2016, the multistakeholder forum OpenAlb was founded.

Did not act contrary to OGP process

A country is considered to have acted contrary to process if one or more of the following occurs:

  • The National Action Plan was developed with neither online or offline engagements with citizens and civil society
  • The government fails to engage with the IRM researchers in charge of the country’s Year 1 and Year 2 reports
  • The IRM report establishes that there was no progress made on implementing any of the commitments in the country’s action plan
Mostly “governance” civil society Significant involvement of line ministries and agencies

Many of Albania’s commitments are focused on e-government and public service delivery. While they improve the delivery of government services, they are not expanding access to information, civic participation or public accountability.

Commitment Title Well-designed * Complete Overview
1. Improve portal for access to information No Yes This commitment aims to improve the “ask the state” portal. The portal now includes contact information for right-to-information coordinators, online tracking of information requests, a complaints mechanism, and searchable registers. The number of portal submissions has increased significantly.
2. Budget transparency No No This commitment seeks to improve transparency and public participation in budget design. While the government published budget resources online, the public was not consulted in budget design process.
3. Integrated Registry of Citizens’ Residence No No This commitment aims to create a central Registry with information on all Albanian nationals. However, the Registry will only be accessible for public officials, and it is unclear when it will be completed.
4. Public notification and consultation registry No Yes This commitment plans to create a new public consultation portal. The portal was launched on time, but citizens’ awareness of it is limited.
5. Digital archive No No This commitment seeks to create a digital archive of construction-related documents. The implementation status is also unclear, as the responsible institution no longer exists.
6. Scientific research database No No This commitment aims to create a portal for government-funded, scientific data and publications. However, no progress on implementation was found, and the responsible institution underwent reforms.
7. Publish government legislation online No No This commitment seeks to publish national and local legislation online. While more local government units publish legislation, the responsible institution was unaware of this commitment.
8. Electronic registry of concessions No No This commitment aims to create an electronic registry of contracts involving public-private partnerships (PPPs). While the registry was launched, the contracts are not in open data format.
✪9. Implement Whistleblower Protection Law Yes Yes This commitment seeks to draft bylaws and carry out various activities in support of whistleblower protection. To implement this commitment, civil society carried out several public consultations, awareness-raising campaigns, and capacity building.
10. Provision of electronic services No Yes This commitment plans to build an electronic forms management system. By 2017, all 36 services of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) were available on the e-Albania portal and the MFA website.
11. Simplify building permit applications No Yes This commitment aims to develop an online platform for building permit applications. The government reports that the new platform has been used over 25,000 times by citizens and businesses.
12. Establish digital counters No Yes This commitment established 15 digital counters (or kiosks) around the country for accessing the e-Albania portal 24/7. However, they were only placed in urban areas, thus restricting their use for some citizens.
13. Service passport standardization No No This commitment seeks to standardize service passports, which provide citizens with information on public services. This commitment is a routine legal obligation, and is not relevant to OGP values.
14. Citizen Card No No This commitment aims to publish citizens’ cards that explain e-services on e-Albania. The draft citizens card was submitted to 18 institutions in 2017 for consultation.
15. Pilot e-prescription No No There are concerns over healthcare costs in Albania. This commitment seeks to develop a nationwide electronic prescription system, which was launched in Tirana in March 2017 with instructional materials.
16. Electronic Monitoring System of Forests No No Illegal logging contributes to deforestation in Albania. This commitment aims to establish an electronic monitoring system of forests, but there is no evidence that it has been started.
17. Electronic system for professional licensing applications No No To reduce corruption in the licensing process, this commitment seeks to develop an online service for licensing applications. Thus far, only an application for individual licenses is available on e-Albania.

* Commitment is evaluated by the IRM as specific, relevant, and has a transformative potential impact
✪ Commitment is evaluated by the IRM as being specific, relevant, potentially transformative, and substantially or fully implemented

  1. Ensure renewed leadership and successful transfer of institutional knowledge on OGP
  2. Adhere to the OGP Participation and Co-creation Standards
  3. Focus on more ambitious, OGP-relevant commitments on open contracting in line with EU accession framework
  4. Ensure effective implementation of public consultation legislation
  5. Prioritize public officials’ asset disclosure and public accessibility of the land register

All OGP-participating governments develop OGP action plans that include concrete commitments over a two-year period. Governments begin their OGP action plans by sharing existing efforts related to open government, including specific strategies and ongoing programs.

Commitments should be appropriate to each country’s unique circumstances and challenges. OGP commitments should also be relevant to OGP values laid out in the OGP Articles of Governance and Open Government Declaration signed by all OGP-participating countries.[Note41: Open Government Partnership: Articles of Governance, June 2012 (Updated March 2014 and April 2015), https://www.opengovpartnership.org/sites/default/files/attachments/OGP_Articles-Gov_Apr-21-2015.pdf.]

What Makes a Good Commitment?

Recognizing that achieving open government commitments often involves a multiyear process, governments should attach time frames and benchmarks to their commitments that indicate what is to be accomplished each year, whenever possible. This report details each of the commitments the country included in its action plan and analyzes the first year of their implementation.

The indicators used by the IRM to evaluate commitments are as follows:

·       Specificity: This variable assesses the level of specificity and measurability of each commitment. The options are:

o   High: Commitment language provides clear, verifiable activities and measurable deliverables for achievement of the commitment’s objective.

o   Medium: Commitment language describes activity that is objectively verifiable and includes deliverables, but these deliverables are not clearly measurable or relevant to the achievement of the commitment’s objective.

o   Low: Commitment language describes activity that can be construed as verifiable but requires some interpretation on the part of the reader to identify what the activity sets out to do and determine what the deliverables would be.

o   None: Commitment language contains no measurable activity, deliverables, or milestones.

·       Relevance: This variable evaluates the commitment’s relevance to OGP values. Based on a close reading of the commitment text as stated in the action plan, the guiding questions to determine the relevance are:

o   Access to Information: Will the government disclose more information or improve the quality of the information disclosed to the public?

o   Civic Participation: Will the government create or improve opportunities or capabilities for the public to inform or influence decisions?

o   Public Accountability: Will the government create or improve opportunities to hold officials answerable for their actions?

o   Technology & Innovation for Transparency and Accountability: Will technological innovation be used in conjunction with one of the other three OGP values to advance either transparency or accountability?[Note42: IRM Procedures Manual. Available at: http://www.opengovpartnership.org/sites/default/files/IRM-Procedures-Manual-v3_July-2016.docx.]

·       Potential impact: This variable assesses the potential impact of the commitment, if completed as written. The IRM researcher uses the text from the action plan to:

o   Identify the social, economic, political, or environmental problem;

o   Establish the status quo at the outset of the action plan; and

o   Assess the degree to which the commitment, if implemented, would impact performance and tackle the problem.

Starred commitments are considered exemplary OGP commitments. In order to receive a star, a commitment must meet several criteria:

·       Starred commitments will have “medium” or “high” specificity. A commitment must lay out clearly defined activities and steps to make a judgement about its potential impact.

·       The commitment’s language should make clear its relevance to opening government. Specifically, it must relate to at least one of the OGP values of Access to Information, Civic Participation, or Public Accountability.

·       The commitment would have a “transformative” potential impact if completely implemented.[Note43: The International Experts Panel changed this criterion in 2015. For more information visit: http://www.opengovpartnership.org/node/5919.  ]

·       The government must make significant progress on this commitment during the action plan implementation period, receiving an assessment of “substantial” or “complete” implementation.

Based on these criteria, Albania’s action plan contained one starred commitment, namely: Implementation of the Law “On protection of whistleblowers”, capacity building, amendments and its bylaws (Commitment 9).

Finally, the tables in this section present an excerpt of the wealth of data the IRM collects during its progress reporting process. For the full dataset for Albania and all OGP-participating countries, see the OGP Explorer.[Note44: OGP Explorer: bit.ly/1KE2Wil. ]

General Overview of the Commitments

The third OGP action plan of Albania includes 17 commitments organized around four main themes: Open government to increase access to information, open government for creating safer communities, open government for public service modernization, and open government to protect the environment. The IRM has not changed the organization of the commitments but has renumbered them for clarity. For example, Improvement of database/portal with coordinators’ data of the right to information and transparency programs is numbered ‘1’ rather than ‘1.1’.

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is an international multi-stakeholder initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to their citizenry to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. OGP provides an international forum for dialogue and sharing among governments, civil society organizations, and the private sector, all of which contribute to a common pursuit of open government.

Albania began its formal participation in August 2011, when the former Minister for Innovation and Information and Communications Technology, Genc Pollo, declared his country’s intention to participate in the initiative.[Note1: http://www.opengovpartnership.org/sites/default/files/LOI%20Albania%201.png. ]

In order to participate in OGP, governments must exhibit a demonstrated commitment to open government by meeting a set of (minimum) performance criteria. Objective, third-party indicators are used to determine the extent of country progress on each of the criteria: fiscal transparency, public official’s asset disclosure, citizen engagement, and access to information. See Section VII: Eligibility Requirements for more details.

All OGP-participating governments develop OGP action plans that elaborate concrete commitments with the aim of changing practice beyond the status quo over a two-year period. The commitments may build on existing efforts, identify new steps to complete ongoing reforms, or initiate action in an entirely new area.

Albania developed its third national action plan from March 2016 to July 2016. The official implementation period for the action plan was 1 July 2016 through 31 July 2018. This year one report covers the action plan development process and first year of implementation, from 1 July 2016 to 30 June 2017. Beginning in 2015, the IRM started publishing end-of-term reports on the final status of progress at the end of the action plan’s two-year period. Any activities or progress occurring after the first year of implementation (30 June 2017) will be assessed in the end-of-term report.  The government of Albania has not published its self-assessment for the first year (1 July 2016 to 30 June 2017) of the implementation of the action plan 2016 – 2018.

In order to meet OGP requirements, the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) of OGP has partnered with Gjergji Vurmo of the Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM), who carried out this evaluation of the development and implementation of Albania’s third action plan. To gather the voices of multiple stakeholders, the IRM researcher organized three focus group discussions with ordinary citizens from different regions of the country and with diverse demographic backgrounds, and one stakeholder forum with civil society, academia and other OGP stakeholders in Tirana, which was conducted according to a focus group model. By the time of drafting of this report (October 2017) the Government had not prepared a report on the implementation of the action plan or a self-assessment. The IRM aims to inform ongoing dialogue around development and implementation of future commitments. Methods and sources are dealt with in Section VI of this report (Methodology and Sources).

Since 2014, when Albania was awarded candidate status by the European Union, the country has seen progress in civil society development and anti-corruption efforts. However, OGP continues to have low traction among relevant institutions, hindering implementation of commitments. The focus of the current action plan has largely revolved around e-government and digitization reforms, while it has not captured critical issues that could benefit from more openness and public accountability.

2.1 Background

Albania is a transition country with core democratic institutions in place. However, it is also characterized by fragility and high politicization of its governance structures. The prospect of the European Union (EU) accession has been a major force of development and democratization reforms in recent years. Albania received EU candidate status in 2014 and has since gone through a series of reforms and legislative changes aimed at strengthening the rule of law and the fight against corruption. The country has noted considerable improvements in the conduct of free and fair elections, civil society development and anti-corruption efforts.

An important milestone for transparency was the adoption of the new Freedom of Information Law in 2014, replacing previous legal acts on access for information. The law has mandated the creation of a new supervisory body, clarified the definitions of public information and public authorities subject to the law, shortened timeframes for providing responses for access to information requests, introduced sanctions for failure to comply with legal provisions and mandated proactive publication of certain categories of information.[Note2: IDFI, New Right to Information Law in Albania, https://idfi.ge/en/new%E2%80%93freedom%E2%80%93of%E2%80%93ifnromation%E2%80%93legislation%E2%80%93albania. ] While the legislative framework is solid and in line with best international standards, its implementation in practice remains problematic. According to a 2016 report by the local CSO MJAFT! Movement, Albanian public institutions respond to public information requests in only 42 percent of total cases. Out of 230 FoI requests submitted by the organization, only 98 replies were obtained. Only 80 responses provided the complete information requested.[Note3: Balkan Insight, Albanian Institutions Fail a Transparency Test, http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/albanian-institutions-difficulties-in-doing-transparency-07-11-2016. ]

The Constitution of Albania guarantees civil liberties, including freedom of assembly and expression. The media landscape is diverse, with a wide range of media outlets covering political processes and government wrongdoings, including cases of abuse of public office. The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), a region-wide investigative source, has provided highly sought independent information on some high-level cases of political corruption. Still, the press environment in Albania is considered to be only partly free,[Note4: Freedom of the Press Report, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/freedom-press-2017. ] as most media outlets are biased in favor of one of the political parties, and the links between politics, business and the media have led to increased self-censorship among journalists.[Note5: Nations in Transit Report, 2016. ] While media ownership is formally transparent through the National Registration Center, the functioning of the media market remains opaque and the lack of transparency of government financing remains a concern.[Note6: European Commission Albania 2016 Report, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/pdf/key_documents/2016/20161109_report_albania.pdf. ]

Since joining OGP, Albania has improved its institutional framework for civil society operation, and cooperation between government and non-governmental organizations has intensified. In November 2016, parliament enacted a law to set up the National Council for Civil Society, a consultative body that is mandated to assist the government to create policies for civil society development. Civil society representatives also have seats in the National Council for European Integration, a structure for forming national consensus on EU integration.[Note7: National Council for European Integration, https://www.parlament.al/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2015/10/perberja_e_k–shillit_komb–tar_t–_integrimit_europian_copy_1.pdf. ] The government has consulted civil society on important strategy documents and reforms, such as the country’s anti-corruption strategy (2015-20) and action plan (2015-17), as well as the overhaul of the judiciary. However, it is still not clear how and to what extent NGO opinions influence the final outcomes of policy decisions. NGOs in Albania have been facing financial sustainability concerns, particularly those dependent on foreign donor grants. In addition, attempts by politicians to co-opt NGO representatives into the political parties’ agendas have undermined the impartiality of civil society.[Note8: Bertelsmann Transformation Index 2016, Albania Country Report, https://www.bti-project.org/fileadmin/files/BTI/Downloads/Reports/2016/pdf/BTI_2016_Albania.pdf. ]

Compared to previous years, Albania has made progress on fiscal transparency. The government of Albania currently posts seven out of eight key budget documents publicly online.[Note9: http://survey.internationalbudget.org/#profile/AL.  ] Since the 2015 Open Budget Survey, Albania has published the Year-End Report and the Citizens Budget.[Note10: http://survey.internationalbudget.org/#availability. ]

In April 2017, the Albanian Law on Asset Declarations was approved. The amended law widens the circle of public officials obliged to declare assets, expanding coverage to the members of the judiciary, high prosecutorial council, and managers of public limited companies. The amended law also increases the frequency of controls of asset declarations. Declarations of MPs must be checked every two years instead of three, and all officials for whom specific frequency of control cannot be established must be controlled every five years instead of seven. The law creates challenges for HIDAACI, the agency in charge of controlling asset declarations, since it operates with a paper-based declaration system and relies on written requests to other institutions to obtain information necessary for verification. The new law on asset declarations introduces the possibility of electronic filing of declarations. The law also obliges the relevant institutions to provide verification information to HIDAACI through the electronic system, which enables the interconnection and exchange of registered data in the registers or electronic database of these institutions. The amended law establishes the declarations are official documents and fall under right to information. Since the legal basis for mandate in disclosure of public declarations has been unclear, this new provision represents a positive change.

The EU accession process has been the major driver of reforms in areas that are directly relevant for increasing government openness and accountability. In 2016 the European Commission noted that the government of Albania continued to make progress in meeting the objectives set out in the five key priorities for the opening of accession negotiations: judicial reform, public administration reform, corruption, organized crime, and human rights protection.[Note11: EC 2016 Report on Albania, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/pdf/key_documents/2016/20161109_report_albania.pdf. ]

In December 2015, the parliament adopted a so-called decriminalization law banning convicted criminals from holding public office, a move that was expected to boost the fight against corruption and restore public trust. The implementation of this law continued in the past year, though its concrete results were limited due to the slow pace of judicial proceedings initiated by subjects of this law. Members of the parliament, mayors and other elected officials have lost their mandates as a result of this law. In December 2016, the Central Election Commission has dismissed two MPs and one mayor for hiding their past crime convictions.[Note12: See Albania 2017 Nations in Transit Report, Freedom House, https://freedomhouse.org/report/nations-transit/2017/albania. ]

According to a 2016 European Commission report, the wide-ranging judicial reform made significant progress with the unanimous parliamentary approval of constitutional amendments.[Note13: A 2016 European Commission report, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/pdf/key_documents/2016/20161109_report_albania.pdf. ] The so-called vetting law “on the assessment of judges and prosecutors” began implementation in mid-2017, and the draft law “On the organization and functioning of institutions fighting corruption and organized crime” is expected to play a historic role in ending impunity, increasing public accountability and restoring public trust in the judiciary and other state institutions, through the establishment of a special anti-corruption structure. Two special structures are foreseen to be established by the new legislation—the Special Prosecution Office and the National Bureau of Investigation. The establishment of these structures will take place upon the setting up of the new organs of the judiciary—the Supreme Prosecution Council and the Supreme Judicial Council. A vetting process for judges and prosecutors is currently under implementation in Albania, aiming to dismiss members of the judiciary with unjustifiable wealth and assets, members who are corrupt, with links to criminal suspects, and members whose professional records raise serious concerns. The effective implementation of these laws and concrete results in this regard are key to opening the accession negotiations with the EU.

While Albania’s score in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index improved slightly in 2016 (39 out of 100) as compared to the previous year (33 out of 100)[Note14: Corruption Perceptions Index 2016, https://www.transparency.org/news/feature/corruption_perceptions_index_2016 ], corruption continues to be a serious problem, impeding the progress on EU accession negotiations and hindering the country’s investment climate. While the necessary anti-corruption legal framework is in place, its enforcement has been ineffective and conviction rates are very low.[Note15: Business Anti-Corruption Portal, Albania, http://www.business-anti-corruption.com/country-profiles/albania] The 2016 EC Report on Albania notes that some progress has been made in the past year through the adoption of the law on whistleblower protection, the law on the creation of a specialized and independent anti-corruption body, and increased access to national electronic public registries for prosecutors and police. However, the report reiterates that corruption remains prevalent in many areas and continues to be a serious problem.

Preparation and passage of the law on whistleblower protection was a commitment in Albania’s second action plan. The law entered into force in October 2016 for public institutions and has been applied to private entities as of 1 July 2017. So far there have been no cases recorded under this law. To facilitate enforcement of the newly passed legislation, the current action plan contains a commitment on implementing the law “On the protection of whistleblowers” by adopting bylaws, consulting with stakeholders, improving oversight capacities, and raising public awareness of whistleblowing.

The procurement and construction sectors have been particularly affected by patronage networks. Irregular payments and bribes are known to be frequently exchanged in the process of awarding contracts and licenses. Favoritism has also been a problem in procurement as officials are often perceived to favor well-connected companies and individuals. According to the 2015 Investment Climate Statement (ICS), companies in Albania experience non-transparent processes when competing for public tender (e.g. ‘fixed’ technical specifications) which can exclude potential bidders. Albania now has an obligatory e-procurement platform and the Public Procurement Agency also publishes a list of companies that have committed irregularities during the procurement. However, in practice, companies implicated in corruption are not effectively prohibited in future procurement bids.[Note16: Business Anti-Corruption Portal, Albania, http://www.business-anti-corruption.com/country-profiles/albania] The action plan addresses these corruption risks in public procurement through a commitment on institutionalizing open contracting, but progress in this area has been limited.

The general elections were a major political event in 2017. The political opposition’s allegations over the use of drug trafficking money for buying elections led to a major three-month deadlock, from February to June 2017, and a parliamentary boycott by the opposition Democratic Party.[Note17: Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-eu-albania-protests/albanian-opposition-to-boycott-parliament-defying-eu-appeal-idUSKBN1612GL ] A last-minute consensus was reached between the government and opposition leader which opened the way for the opposition to participate in the parliamentary elections which were postponed from 18 June to 25 June. However, no meaningful progress was made to address concerns over transparency and control of political party financing.

While civil society was actively involved in advocating and pressuring political parties to adopt constitutional amendments on judicial reform (July 2016) and the main laws for its implementation (October – December 2016), heated political debates and the opposition’s threat to boycott the general elections weakened CSOs’ ability to effectively advocate on these issues.

OGP in Albania remains an unfamiliar topic for many state and non-state institutions especially at the local level, as well as for the general public. In the first period of the current action plan (2016-2017), few local government institutions have shown a solid understanding of OGP. Similarly, few institutions have used OGP experiences. When they have done so, it has often been with the support of international donors and local CSOs (UNDP, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, COPLAN). For example, the Municipality of Tirana established an open data portal[Note18: Municipality of Tirana, http://opendata.tirana.al/] for municipal services with the support of UNDP. Similarly, a COPLAN project has launched an open data portal[Note19: COPLAN, http://www.financatvendore.al/] on local government budgets.

2.2 Scope of Action Plan in Relation to National Context

The current action plan includes some notable commitments on access to information and public consultations. Commitments on implementation of the whistleblower protection law and open contracting are particularly important for anti-corruption efforts. However, a large focus of the current action plan is on e-government and digitization reforms. Several commitments in the current action plan, including the establishment of digital counters (Commitment 12) and registration of e-prescription (Commitment 15), are part of larger reforms to expand and improve e-government. While these commitments are important and impactful for delivery of government services to citizens, they do not contribute to opening government for more citizen input or for holding public officials accountable.

Commitments in the current OGP action plan do not adequately capture the EU accession priorities for Albania. In order to open EU accession talks, Albania must address five key priorities: anti-corruption, the fight against organized crime, public administration reform, judicial reform, and human rights. Albania adopted important constitutional amendments in 2016, paving the way for the biggest judicial and anti-corruption reform, both of which represent key priorities of the country’s accession to the EU. Justice reform remains key to the rule of law and could also be transformative for the areas of (open) governance, accountability and integrity. The fight against corruption, impunity and judicial reform remain a central priority for civil society, donors, and international partners of Albania. Commitment 9 – or the implementation of the Law “On protection of whistleblowers, capacity building, amendments and its bylaws – is a highly specific, transformative commitment that covers the law’s implementation, awareness raising, consultation and training for relevant staff. Other than this one commitment, however, the current action plan does not address any of the above-stated issues.

Finally, other issues that have not been part of the action plan include political party financing and open data initiatives. Recent elections have once again shown that electoral reform and transparency of political party financing require greater focus in the upcoming period. These topics have not so far been included in any of the action plans (2012-2018). Additionally, despite some modest experiences of users accessing the open data portal of the Municipality of Tirana, open data in Albania still remains underdeveloped. More efforts are needed to give an impetus to the OGP agenda in the country.

The government and CSOs worked together to establish OpenAlb, a joint multi-stakeholder forum, which served as the main consultation hub for the action plan development and awareness raising. Without a dedicated state budget and human resources for OGP, however, consultations did not take place at the same pace (depth and breadth) nationally as it did in the capital through OpenAlb. Government-civil society cooperation during implementation of the action plan was almost entirely missing, with the exception of one event co-organized through OpenAlb.

3.1 Leadership

This subsection describes the OGP leadership and institutional context for OGP in Albania. Table 3.1 summarizes this structure while the narrative section (below) provides additional detail.

Table 3.1: OGP Leadership

1. Structure Yes No
Is there a clearly designated Point of Contact for OGP (individual)?

  Shared Single
Is there a single lead agency on OGP efforts?

  Yes No
Is the head of government leading the OGP initiative?

2. Legal Mandate Yes No
Is the government’s commitment to OGP established through an official, publicly released mandate?

Is the government’s commitment to OGP established through a legally binding mandate?

3. Continuity and Instability

Yes

No

Was there a change in the organization(s) leading or involved with the OGP initiatives during the action plan implementation cycle?

Was there a change in the executive leader during the duration of the OGP action plan cycle?

 

The Minister of State for Innovation and Public Administration (MSIPA) is the leading office responsible for Albania’s OGP commitments. However, MSIPA has no legal power to enforce policy changes on other agencies within the government. (See Table 1.1 on the leadership and mandate of OGP in Albania). Since September 2013, when MSIPA was assigned to be a National OGP Coordinator for Albania, its mandate has largely been the coordination of the OGP process, but it has no authority to compel any other state agency to assume and carry out commitments’ implementation. As a result of the limited mandate, the action plan is heavily oriented toward executive-led commitments on transparency, ICT and public services, and only exceptionally involves commitments from other institutions outside the executive branch.

Additional limitations to MSIPA’s mandate and performance stem from the fact that MSIPA has limited human resources and funding. The Minister of State’s funding is planned under the Prime Minister’s (PM’s) budget. Currently there are two MSIPA employees who deal with action plan coordination and implementation, on a part-time basis. Furthermore, MSIPA has no dedicated budget for OGP coordination activities and therefore cooperation with civil society organizations has been vital in addressing the lack of government funding.

Based on the PM’s Order no. 37 (5 February 2015), MSIPA established a Technical Working Group (TWG) with representatives (i.e., experts, specialists, directors) proposed by each participating institution. This group acts as a government inter-agency coordination mechanism. In past action plans, as well as the current action plan, civil society has not been part of this body although the PM’s Order stipulates that CSOs may participate in meetings. A Technical Secretariat, composed of MSIPA and representatives of the National Agency for Information Society (NAIS), provides technical support to this inter-institutional working group on OGP.

Responding to the IRM recommendation on the need for involvement of civil society in the OGP process, a multi-stakeholder forum—OpenAlb—was established in March 2016, gathering representatives of civil society and government. This forum has played a crucial role in the design of the 2016–2018 action plan. Section 3.2 describes the activities of the government bodies in the OpenAlb multi-stakeholder forum.

The PM’s Order no. 37 (2015) lays out the rules for coordination of the OGP process in Albania. However, government and other state agencies are not legally obliged to make commitments.

It is important to note that Albania is a parliamentary democracy where local government authorities enjoy significant autonomy. Therefore, the national level government has no “sticks” to compel subnational authorities to take up OGP commitments or hold them accountable for the extent of their implementation. Although OGP is an open process in Albania, few local governments have shown interest in it and participated in the action plan development, mostly through awareness raising, training and informing activities carried out by CSOs (see Section II on “Development of Action Plan”).

Finally, unlike the development of the action plan, its implementation was impacted by the General Elections that took place in June 2017. At the time of writing (October 2017), the new Government which took office in September 2017 has not clarified who will be Albania’s new National OGP coordinator. The MSIPA, the leading office before the General Elections, does not exist in the new cabinet. It also remains unclear which competencies the new OGP coordinating structures will assume.

3.2 Intragovernmental Participation

This subsection describes which government institutions were involved at various stages in OGP. The next section will describe which nongovernmental organizations were involved in OGP.

Table 3.2: Participation in OGP by Government Institutions

How did institutions participate?

Ministries, Departments, and Agencies Legislative Judiciary (including quasi-judicial agencies) Other (including constitutional independent or autonomous bodies) Subnational Governments
Consult: These institutions observed or were invited to observe the action plan but may not be responsible for commitments in the action plan.

26[Note20: Council of Ministers; Ministry of Health, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of social welfare and youth, Ministry of environment, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of foreign affairs, Ministry of transport and infrastructure, Ministry of economic development, Ministry of urban development, Minister of state for parliamentary affairs, Minister of state for local issues, MSIPA, Agency of territorial development, National Agency of territorial planning, NAIS, National Agency of protected areas, Agency of research, technology and innovation, Albanian Roads Authority, Compulsory healthcare Insurance Fund, Institute of transport, State inspectorate of environment, forests and waters, Central technical archive of construction, Office of immovable property registration.]

0

0

1[Note21: Commissioner of freedom of information and personal data protection.]

2[Note22: Municipality of Fier, Municipality of Shkodra.]

Propose: These institutions proposed commitments for inclusion in the action plan.

14[Note23: Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of social welfare and youth, Ministry of environment, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of foreign affairs, Ministry of transport and infrastructure, Ministry of economic development, Ministry of urban development, Minister of state for parliamentary affairs, Minister of state for local issues, MSIPA, NAIS.]

0

0

1[Note24: Commissioner of freedom of information and personal data protection.]

0

Implement:  These institutions are responsible for implementing commitments in the action plan whether or not they proposed the commitments.

17[Note25: ………. Agency for Research, Technology and Innovation, Agency for the Delivery of Integrated Services Albania, Central Technical Archive of Construction, Concession Treatment Agency, Minister of state for local affairs, Minister of state for Innovation and Public Administration, Ministry of economic development, trade, tourism and entrepreneurship, Ministry of Education and Sport, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Urban Development, National Agency for Information Society, National Territorial Planning Agency, State Inspectorate of Environment and Forests.]

0

0

1[Note26: Commissioner of freedom of information and personal data protection.]

0

 

In Albania, participation in OGP was limited to central government agencies (with MSIPA, NAIS, Ministry of Interior and MSLI being the most active) and one independent institution (Commissioner for Freedom of Information and Personal Data Protection). Although Albania is implementing a major judicial reform, no judiciary institution, nor Parliament, participated in the development process of the action plan. Consequently, the current action plan focuses predominantly on activities undertaken by the executive branch of governments, including modernization of government services. The action plan does not include any commitments related to the judiciary or parliament. Table 3.2 above details which institutions were involved in the various stages in OGP.

The CSOs participating in the OpenAlb forum,[Note27: Active CSO participants in the OpenAlb forum include: IDM, InfoCip, European Movement Albania, Barazi ne vendimemarrie, CSDS Durres, Institute for Political Studies, Auleda vlore, MJAFT! Movement, Regional Environmental Center, OSFA (Soros Foundation), OpenAda Albania (AIS), and Partners Albania. There are other CSOs who have agreed to be part of OpenAlb, but the above list mentions those that are most active. ] a multi-stakeholder body gathering civil society and government representatives involved in the OGP process, were instrumental in involving local government authorities in the process (namely municipalities of Shkodra and Fier). OpenAlb was initiated by the NGOs which were part of the Coalition of CSOs for OGP Albania, a self-established civic structure of organizations. While no local government has proposed an OGP commitment, one civil society organization (InfoCip) proposed a commitment to publish online central and local government legislation in open systems and for free.

The Government and civil society have cooperated closely in the development of the OGP action plan. MSIPA, in cooperation with the OpenAlb forum, invited representatives of government agencies and other independent institutions to propose commitments. The OpenAlb forum served as a platform to consult various institutions in the development of the action plan.[Note28: The OpenAlb forum, http://www.inovacioni.gov.al/al/newsroom/lajme/forumi-i-aktoreve-te-interesit-per-zbatimin-e-partneritetit-per-qeverisje-te-hapur&page=3. Date accessed June 2017. In the course of writing this report, the MSIPA website has been removed. ] Civil society expertise was particularly important in helping the Government to develop OGP relevant commitments. However, MSIPA had the final say in approving the action plan which included 17 out of a total of 42 specific commitments that were discussed in the OpenAlb multi-stakeholder forum between April and June 2016, including only four CSO-proposed commitments. MSIPA officials and OpenAlb forum representatives explained that such choice was made for two main reasons: first, some of the proposed commitments did not meet the criteria of OGP relevance and, second, the Government had to make realistic choices from the implementation perspective.[Note29: Interviews with Jona Josifi (MSIPA) and Artela Mitrushi (IDM), June 2016.]

Unlike the development phase for the action plan, the OpenAlb forum was less active in monitoring the implementation of the OGP action plan; no other meetings took place. CSOs participating in the OpenAlb forum have played an important role in promoting and developing capacities among local government units and civil society outside Tirana concerning OGP implementation.[Note30: In the framework of its project IDM carried out two workshops on OGP and local government services in Shkodra and Fier municipalities, July 2016, http://rozafa.tv/2016/07/perceptimi-qytetareve-mbi-sherbimet-ne-nivel-lokal/ and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCP3iotlGiU. MJAFT! Movement, InfoCip, Albanian Institute of Science (AIS), the Center for Civil Society Development (CSDC) in Durres and other organizations have raised awareness on OGP at local level through their projects on issues related to transparency, access to information, open data and civil society participation.] OpenAlb organized only one event, on 22 November 2016, to discuss lessons learned about OGP in 2016, the multi-stakeholder forum, and challenges ahead.[Note31: The OpenAlb forum, http://www.inovacioni.gov.al/al/newsroom/lajme/nisma-ogp-rezultate-konkrete-per-me-shume-transparence-ne-qeverisje&page=1. Date accessed June 2017. In the course of writing this report, the MSIPA website has been removed.]

3.3 Civil Society Engagement

Countries participating in OGP follow a set of requirements for consultation during development, implementation, and review of their OGP action plan. Table 3.3 summarizes the performance of Albania during the first year (2016-2017) of the implementation of the 2016-2018 action plan.

Table 3.3: National OGP Process

Key Steps Followed: 5 of 7

Before

1. Timeline Process & Availability

2. Advance Notice

Timeline and process available online prior to consultation

Yes

No

Advance notice of consultation

Yes

No

 

 

3. Awareness Raising

4. Multiple Channels

Government carried out awareness-raising activities

Yes

No

4a. Online consultations:     

Yes

No

 

 

4b. In-person consultations:

Yes

No

 

5. Documentation & Feedback

Summary of comments provided

Yes

No

 

During

6. Regular Multi-stakeholder Forum

6a. Did a forum exist?

Yes

No

6b. Did it meet regularly?          

Yes

No

 

 

After

7. Government Self-Assessment Report

7a. Annual self-assessment report published?        

Yes

No

7b. Report available in English and administrative language?

Yes

No

 

 

7c. Two-week public comment period on report?

Yes

No

7d. Report responds to key IRM recommendations?

Yes

No

 

 

 

MSIPA’s officials and the Coalition of CSOs for OGP Albania[Note32: Civil society members of the Coalition included IDM, MJAFT! Movement, Institute for Policy and Legal Studies (IPLS), Open Society Foundation for Albania (OSFA), AULEDA, Institute for Parliamentary Studies (IPS), INFOCIP, Albanian Institute of Science (AIS), BIRN Albania, REC Albania, Albanian Students Abroad Network (ASAN), Partners Albania for Change and Development, European Movement in Albania (EMA), Civil Society Development Center (CSDC). The Coalition of CSOs for OGP Albania initiated OpenAlb and are part of it. ] (represented by the Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM), MJAFT! Movement, REC Albania and AIS) held several meetings in early 2016 to coordinate next steps in the design of the action plan. On 23 March 2016, the Coalition of CSOs for OGP Albania and other civil society and government institutions’ representatives gathered to launch the OpenAlb forum in the framework of an IDM project funded by the US Embassy in Tirana. Of the 200 CSOs invited to the publicly announced event, approximately 45 participants, including government agencies and CSO representatives, attended the forum and discussed the format and possible commitments to be included in the action plan. They also jointly agreed on a timeline (March – June 2016) and the general approach for the next steps, including drafting and consulting on commitments with stakeholders, publishing online and final approval. Timeline of the agreed process was published on OpenAlb’s website (www.openalb.net) and shared broadly through mailing lists and social media (by CSOs and MIAP officials). The event launching the OpenAlb forum served also to raise public awareness about OGP.[Note33: Civic and media coverage (in English) of the forum, http://www.balkancsd.net/albania-launches-the-ogp-multi-stakeholder-forum/ and http://www.albaniannews.com/index.php?idm=5104&mod=2. ]

Two workshops were organized by an IDM project with approximately 25 central government and civil society representatives in Tirana in April 2016 to help stakeholders develop a better understanding of the action plan co-creation. By the end of April 2016, a total of 42 commitments were proposed by government agencies and CSOs based on the template developed by IDM, and it was subsequently published for public comment on OpenAlb’s website. In addition to four CSOs-proposed commitments included in the action plan, the Government took into consideration CSOs’ suggestions to improve some of the government-proposed commitments. No public comments were submitted to the website by the time of adoption of the action plan in July 2016.[Note34: The following consultations were held in the framework of the OpenAlb forum, Consultative meeting on the first draft of the action plan on 29 April 2016, http://openalb.net/mc-events/takim-mbi-konsultimin-e-draftit-pas-reflektimit-te-komenteve/; thematic meetings with stakeholders on 10 May 2016, http://openalb.net/mc-events/takime-paralele-tematike/; three separate sessions on 6 June 2016, http://openalb.net/mc-events/grupet-tamatike-angazhimet-per-hartimin-e-plan-veprimit-per-pqh-2016-2018/; four sessions on 7 June 2016, http://openalb.net/mc-events/grupet-tamatike-per-angazhimet-per-hartimin-e-plan-veprimit-per-pqh-2016-2018/. Also, a webinar was livestreamed by OpenAlb at http://openalb.net/mc-events/webinar-mbi-partneritetin-per-qeverisje-te-hapur-pqh/.]

Joint working groups composed of CSOs, relevant government ministries and other agencies discussed each of the proposed commitments during several meetings held between April and June 2016.[Note35: The meetings focused on thematic OGP commitments such as Creating safer communities, Environmental protection, Access to information and Modernization of Public Services.] These working groups included NGOs both participating in OpenAlb and those not part of OpenAlb at the time. Working groups’ discussions were highly constructive. Participants at these meetings at MSIPA’s premises included mostly Tirana-based members of the Coalition of CSOs and representatives of the line ministries who proposed commitments for the new action plan. Non-capital based CSOs could send feedback via email, although some of them had participated earlier in the March 2016 event.

Civil society representatives offered suggestions to make the commitments more relevant to OGP and also to reflect key challenges and concerns for Albania. Some of these suggestions were considered by the Government in the final action plan. Representatives of state institutions were open to suggestions but also drew attention to the need to have a realistic action plan. IDM experts conducted an assessment of the 42 proposed commitments and offered MSIPA a set of recommendations to further improve the action plan. Nevertheless, the Government of Albania made an autonomous choice of which commitments to include in the final action plan.

Although the draft commitments were published online and disseminated to more than 200 CSOs nationwide since April 2016, the total number of active CSOs which provided feedback by July 2016 was limited to approximately 15 organizations. The government did not respond to CSO feedback on whether or not their proposals were taken into consideration. On the side of state actors, nearly 30 institutions (central government and few independent institutions) actively participated in the development of the action plan.

While some CSOs underlined the need to include institutions from other branches of power (legislative, judiciary) and from the private sector, no such stakeholder was involved by the end of the action plan development period. Another shortcoming of the process, which has affected the quality of consultation, is that MSIPA did not conduct any awareness raising or consultation events outside the capital. Only a few awareness-raising meetings with civil society and local government representatives were organized by some civil society members of the OpenAlb forum. The local media covered these events.[Note36: Shkodra municipality, http://www.starplus-tv.com/aktualitet-star-plus-tv-shkoder/item/14637-sherbimet-ne-nivel-vendor-tryeza-e-diskutimit-qe-u-mbajt-ne-shkoder and http://rozafa.tv/perceptimi-qytetareve-mbi-sherbimet-ne-nivel-lokal/. Fier Municipality, http://idmalbania.org/sq/raport-mbi-perceptimin-e-qytetareve-mbi-ofrimin-e-sherbimeve/. ]

Table 3.4: Level of Public Influence

The IRM has adapted the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) “Spectrum of Participation” to apply to OGP.[Note37: IAP 2’s Public Participation Spectrum, http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.iap2.org/resource/resmgr/
foundations_course/IAP2_P2_Spectrum_FINAL.pdf. ]
This spectrum shows the potential level of public influence on the contents of the action plan. In the spirit of OGP, most countries should aspire for “collaborative.”

 

Level of public input
During development of action plan
During implementation of action plan
Empower
The government handed decision-making power to members of the public.

 

 

Collaborate
There was iterative dialogue AND the public helped set the agenda.

 

Involve
The public could give feedback on how commitments were considered.

Consult
The public could give inputs.

Inform
The government provided the public with information on the action plan.

No Consultation
No consultation

3.4 Consultation During Implementation

As part of their participation in OGP, governments commit to identify a forum to enable regular multi-stakeholder consultation on OGP implementation. This can be an existing entity or a new one. This section summarizes that information.

The Government of Albania and the civil society organizations worked together to establish the OpenAlb forum as a multi-stakeholder body for a participatory OGP process. As in the previous action plan round, civil society through the OpenAlb forum played a crucial role in the development phase. However, much like the experience of the 2014-2016 action plan, civil society and MSIPA did not exchange or discuss regularly on the implementation of the action plan between July 2016 and June 2017. Accordingly, the OpenAlb forum failed to meet its second part of the objective to act as a joint forum of government and CSO representatives monitoring the progress of action plan’s implementation and evaluating responsible institutions’ performance.

During the reporting period of implementation of the action plan, there has been only one meeting of the OpenAlb forum, on 22 November 2016, which took the form of a public event with broad participation from CSOs and government institutions’ representatives.[Note38: OpenAlb public event, http://www.inovacioni.gov.al/al/newsroom/lajme/nisma-ogp-rezultate-konkrete-per-me-shume-transparence-ne-qeverisje&page=1. Date accessed June 2017. In the course of writing this report, the MSIPA website has been removed.] MSIPA officials have reported to the IRM researcher that public information and consultation with civil society has taken place during the implementation of the action plan. However, no evidence was provided to support this statement, except a list of social media posts and news from the MSIPA website on various public events which do not qualify as “periodic consultations with CSOs on the progress of the action plan implementation”.[Note39: Email communication, 24 July 2017.] CSOs’ representatives interviewed by the IRM researcher confirm that MSIPA did not consult regularly during the action plan implementation.

The OpenAlb multi-stakeholder forum does not have any formal rules of proceedings, membership, coordination and reporting. The Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM) was the coordinator until November 2016, after which OpenAlb became inactive. The IRM researcher’s observation of discussions in early 2016 between MSIPA and the (then) Coalition of CSOs for OGP Albania found that such choice was deliberately made by CSOs in order to facilitate CSOs’ affiliation with, and participation in, the OpenAlb forum. However, this has led to equally inactive civil society players during the action plan implementation, as was the case in the 2014–2016 OGP period.

MSIPA representatives suggested that the Government has been open and highly responsive to contacts and exchange on OGP with interested or active members of the OpenAlb forum such as IDM, AIS, InfoCip, or the MJAFT! Movement. Civil society representatives acknowledge that they should have been more proactive to call for periodic meetings of the OpenAlb forum during action plan implementation. However, CSOs also suggest that civil society has been overloaded with other advocacy actions related to important reforms in the country (i.e. the judicial reform during 2016, the approaching general elections and the political stalemate in 2017) that have made it impossible to get state players’ attention on OGP.[Note40: Interviews with Aldo Merkoci – MJAFT! Movement, Artela Mitrushi – IDM, July 2017.] In fact, many CSOs have organized a number of rallies and coalitions during the second half of 2016 on the adoption of the judicial reform.

Another deficiency of the implementation period relates to the fact that public awareness-raising activities on OGP have been very limited and completely dependent on CSOs’ project funding. The Government has not dedicated a specific budget for the coordination, monitoring, reporting, and awareness raising related to activities in the OGP action plan, which would have led to a meaningful, proactive approach to involve more stakeholders in the implementation phase.

Accordingly, the monitoring of and reporting on the implementation of the action plan during 2016-2017 has involved only state institutions. The PM’s Office did not get involved in promoting OGP and Albania’s action plan, as suggested by the IRM report in 2016, while public information campaigns relied entirely on CSOs’ project funding.

For the upcoming period of the OGP process in Albania it is essential to address the shortcomings over OpenAlb forum’s involvement in monitoring and evaluating the implementation of the action plan. The Government of Albania should, in this context, offer support and facilitate CSOs’ actions. Progress on the action plan’s implementation, periodic review, reporting, and monitoring must be more comprehensive, and their outcomes must be publicly available.

3.5 Self-Assessment

The OGP Articles of Governance require that participating countries publish a self-assessment report three months after the end of the first year of implementation. The self-assessment report must be made available for public comments for a two-week period. This section assesses compliance with these requirements and the quality of the report.

At the time of writing of this report (October 2017) the Government of Albania had not published a self-assessment report.

3.6 Response to Previous IRM Recommendations

Table 3.5: Previous IRM Report Key Recommendations

Recommendation
Addressed?
Integrated into Next Action Plan?

1

Establish an ongoing multi-stakeholder forum, and develop a comprehensive management (at least quarterly monitoring) and reporting framework for the Action Plan Implementation

2

Undertake more ambitious and OGP-relevant commitments that place citizens and interest groups in an interactive role in the areas of anti-corruption, fighting impunity, enhancing transparency, and accountability. The government could provide more opportunities to direct citizen input and monitoring, building on the models of corruption denouncing portal and digital commissariats.

3

Promote open government approaches in developing key sectorial reforms and initiatives, including judicial reform, political party financing, and the ongoing debate on the integrity of elected and high-level public officials.

4

Civil society must take stock of the OGP process and better streamline OGP content in its agenda.

5

Dedicate a specific budget and human resources to the National Coordinator who deals with the OGP action plan development, implementation and monitoring, as well as national promotion of Albania’s OGP Agenda with the public, interested stakeholders, public administration and the community of donors.

 

The IRM recommendations (Albania 2015 Progress Report) aimed at improving the content and process of action plan implementation in Albania. As such, they were addressed at both government and civil society stakeholders. Out of the five recommendations, government and civil society players in Albania addressed only one of them, albeit partly. Specifically, the first IRM recommendation called on Government and CSOs in Albania to “establish a multi-stakeholder forum and to develop a comprehensive management (at least quarterly monitoring) and reporting framework for the action plan implementation.” Although such a forum was established for the 2016-2018 action plan, it did not have a management and reporting framework, which would allow stakeholders to monitor the implementation of the action plan during 2016–2017.

While the 2016–2018 action plan contains important commitments that enhance access to information or improve public services, only one of them—Implementation of the Law “On protection of whistleblowers”, capacity building, amendments and its bylaws—places citizens and interest groups in an interactive role in the area of anti-corruption. The 2014–2016 action plan included important commitments, which relied on citizens’ role to denounce corruption. Although Albania is implementing one of the most important reforms to fight corruption, namely to end impunity and improve public trust in the judiciary, no relevant commitment was included in the current action plan.

Several commitments were proposed in 2016 by both state and civil society institutions with specific focus on anti-corruption, integrity building, accountability, etc. Some of them include: Continuing the “Stop-Korrupsionit” commitment; political party financing; commitments related to EITI; and proactive publication of annual statements of asset declarations by public officials. The Government did not include these commitments which would have also addressed the third recommendation of the IRM in 2015—to promote OGP approaches in other sectorial reforms.

With regards to the last two recommendations, the IRM researcher finds that they have not been addressed or integrated into the next action plan. Civil society engagement was limited to the active OpenAlb forum members and few other CSOs. The Government also continued to leave the OGP agenda out of its financial focus. Finally, the Government did not undertake any OGP awareness-raising activities with possible stakeholders or the general public.

While progress has been made in implementing the commitments, the current action plan does not address major stakeholder priorities and several commitments are not clearly relevant to OGP values. A main recommendation is that the government include ambitious commitments that are in line with the EU accession process and prioritize areas such as open contracting, disclosure of assets of public officials, and effective implementation of the law on public consultation.

This section aims to inform development of the next action plan and guide completion of the current action plan. It is divided into two sections: 1) those civil society and government priorities identified while elaborating this report and 2) the recommendations of the IRM.

5.1 Stakeholder Priorities

Participants of all four focus groups organized by the IRM researcher agreed that the emphasis of the current action plan should be on better coordination and broader involvement of civil society during the implementation of commitments. Civil society participants warned that the Government should immediately clarify the OGP institutional framework following the reshuffling in September 2017, in order to allow for a sound participatory process during the development of the new action plan. The citizens participating in the IRM focus groups were familiar with many of the 2016-2018 action plan’s commitments; however, they were more supportive of commitments addressing citizen priorities, such as the Integrated Registry of Citizens’ Housing (Commitment 3), the Law “On protection of whistleblowers” (Commitment 9), and the Provision of electronic services (Commitment 10). They recognized, however, the significant importance of other commitments related to transparency and civic participation, such as Budget transparency, Electronic Registry for public notification and consultation, and Open Standards for Contracting. On the other hand, civil society representatives participating in the multi-stakeholder focus group prioritized commitments with high potential impact, including Publishing online local government legislation in open systems, Open Standards for Contracting, and the Implementation of the Law “On protection of whistleblowers.”

Priorities for the 2018–2020 action plan should center on issues relevant to OGP and Albanian citizens, as well as those which provide an added value to overall development and EU accession. Some of the most important citizens’ proposals, which may lead to transformative impact according to CSO representatives participating in the multi-stakeholder forum, include the following:

Access to Information

·       Improve the application of the law on the right to information so that institutions, especially at local level, standardize their approach when responding to a citizen’s or CSOs’ FoI requests; and

·       Publish a single portal of all central government and oversight institutions’ periodic (quarterly) and annual reports online. This will also enable a centralized database of all governmental reporting and a unified format of reporting based on benchmarks and indicators.

Civic Participation

·       Ensure proper public consultations with stakeholders during the implementation of the OGP action plan.

Public Accountability

The following is a list of several, wide-ranging issues in this area that stakeholders want to see addressed that have not yet been addressed in the national action plan.

·       Pursue anti-corruption measures especially in relation to public-private partnerships, concessions, political party financing, and education and healthcare sectors;

·       Design monitoring mechanisms to increase the effectiveness of the law on political party financing;

·       Improve public administration’s ethics and standards (meritocracy, fighting nepotism), public services, and tax transparency; and

·       Monitor the implementation of judicial reform, particularly the anti-corruption pillar of the reform, including the vetting process, the implementation of “decriminalization legislation,” public integrity, etc.

OGP Process

·       Increase public awareness of and information provided regarding OGP; and

·       Include a greater diversity of institutions and sectors involved in the OGP action plan as responsible institutions (e.g. parliament, judiciary, etc.)

·       Ensure that leading and supporting institutions take ownership of commitment responsibilities

Other

·       Monitor measures and state institutions’ performance in the fight against violence against women;

·       Use ICT to improve accountability and transparency in the implementation of strategies related to the agricultural sector and services in this sector;

·       Improve transparency of construction building standards and safety;

·       Release data on pollution and undertake measures to improve environmental protection in industrial cities;

·       Release data and improve transparency of measures in the fight against use of drugs/alcohol among youngsters; and

·       Improve the business environment, enable foreign direct investments, and fight poverty through greater transparency and improved economic conditions

In summary, stakeholders participating in this focus group strongly advised for more ambitious commitments responding to citizens’ priorities and also to challenges in major rule of law reforms (i.e. judiciary, anti-corruption and impunity, etc.).

5.2 IRM Recommendations

Ensure renewed leadership and successful transfer of institutional knowledge on OGP

After five years as a member country and three action plans, there is little knowledge of the impact of the Open Government Partnership in Albania among the general public and broader government institutions. To bolster the government’s commitment to open governance reforms and ensure continuity of successfully implemented commitments, the government needs to make a more significant human and financial investment in OGP. The Albanian government needs to designate clear ownership of the OGP agenda in the restructured government, with a highly visible Ministerial lead, ensure the Secretariat has resources to sufficiently coordinate OGP, and transfer the institutional memory on OGP within the restructured government.

Adhere to the OGP Participation and Co-Creation Standards

In the spirit of OGP, the participating governments should strive to co-create and implement action plans with the public through a participatory process. To meet this goal during the development and implementation of the next action plan, the Albanian government should adhere to the recently released OGP Participation & Co-creation Standards.[Note159: See https://www.opengovpartnership.org/ogp-participation-co-creation-standards. ] Government needs to utilize the OpenAlb forum as a joint structure to design and monitor the action plan. To have an open engagement, the government needs to take ownership of the OpenAlb website and regularly update the public through that platform with timely information about the multi-stakeholder forum, including the rules of proceedings, forum membership, and consultation events. The government should also publish progress updates on the implementation of the action plan, including meeting minutes, overview of public contributions and commitment outcomes.

Focus on more ambitious, OGP-relevant commitments on open contracting in line with EU accession framework

The current action plan includes e-government reforms that do not entail openness or civic participation elements that would make them relevant to OGP values. Additionally, reforms carried out under the EU accession process have not trickled down to OGP action plan commitments. However, OGP and EU accession should be seen as complementary processes as OGP action plans can be an additional instrument for ensuring effective implementation of transparency reforms towards EU membership. One of such reforms as pointed out by the 2016 EC progress report is the public procurement. The next action plan could focus on this reform by including commitments that aim to harmonize legislation with EU public procurement rules, including recommendations on a contract registry for all public contracts and improvements in the processes of concession award and management and defense procurement. The Public Procurement Agency (PPA), in cooperation with the Council of Ministers, should implement a full public registry of contracts, awards and spending using the Open Contracting Data Standard to make the information publicly accessible and design guidelines for the monitoring of procurement procedures to enhance transparency, engagement of users and public trust. This should also link to the Public Procurement Commission’s complaint process.

The PPA should continue to strengthen the e-procurement performance and compliance monitoring system using this data and provide for public reporting and monitoring of performance. The Registry of Concessions and Public-Private Partnerships also needs to start publishing all contracts in open data format using the OCDS.

Ensure effective implementation of public consultation legislation

The government should prioritize the implementation of the Law “On public notification and consultation,” which imposes considerable obligations regarding publication of draft legislation and organizing consultation. The government needs to institutionalize the practice to consult on draft bylaws, provide adequate timeframes for consultations, establish clear rules to guide consultation, and provide feedback on citizens’ input.

Prioritize public officials’ asset disclosure and public accessibility of the land register

Several commitments on anti-corruption and accountability, proposed by state and civil society institutions in 2016, were not included in the current action plan. The amendments to the asset disclosure law in April 2017 put off publication of declarations on HIDAACI’s website for at least three years, noting that publication can only take place after the necessary infrastructure is put in place. The government could initiate amendments to the law so that declarations could be published online by a certain deadline. The next action plan can include a commitment on asset disclosure of public officials, including specific activities to publish declarations online and to introduce electronic filing and verification, as mandated by the law. Finally, the government should initiate measures to make the land register public, which underpins other anti-corruption efforts.

Table 5.1: Five Key Recommendations

 

1 Ensure renewed leadership and successful transfer of institutional knowledge on OGP
2 Adhere to the OGP Participation and Co-creation Standards
3 Focus on more ambitious, OGP-relevant commitments in line with EU accession framework
4 Ensure effective implementation of public consultation legislation
5 Prioritize public officials’ asset disclosure and public accessibility of the land register

VI. Methodology and Sources

The IRM progress report is written by researchers based in each OGP-participating country. All IRM reports undergo a process of quality control to ensure that the highest standards of research and due diligence have been applied.

Analysis of progress on OGP action plans is a combination of interviews, desk research, and feedback from nongovernmental stakeholder meetings. The IRM report builds on the findings of the government’s own self-assessment report and any other assessments of progress put out by civil society, the private sector, or international organizations.

Each IRM researcher carries out stakeholder meetings to ensure an accurate portrayal of events. Given budgetary and calendar constraints, the IRM cannot consult all interested or affected parties. Consequently, the IRM strives for methodological transparency and therefore, where possible, makes public the process of stakeholder engagement in research (detailed later in this section.) Some contexts require anonymity of interviewees and the IRM reviews the right to remove personal identifying information of these participants. Due to the necessary limitations of the method, the IRM strongly encourages commentary on public drafts of each report.

Each report undergoes a four-step review and quality-control process:

1.     Staff review: IRM staff reviews the report for grammar, readability, content, and adherence to IRM methodology.

2.     International Experts Panel (IEP) review: IEP reviews the content of the report for rigorous evidence to support findings, evaluates the extent to which the action plan applies OGP values, and provides technical recommendations for improving the implementation of commitments and realization of OGP values through the action plan as a whole. (See below for IEP membership)

3.     Pre-publication review: Government and select civil society organizations are invited to provide comments on content of the draft IRM report.

4.     Public comment period: The public is invited to provide comments on the content of the draft IRM report.

This review process, including the procedure for incorporating comments received, is outlined in greater detail in Section III of the Procedures Manual.[Note160: IRM Procedures Manual, V.3 : https://www.opengovpartnership.org/documents/irm-procedures-manual. ]

Interviews and Focus Groups

Each IRM researcher is required to hold at least one public information-gathering event. Researchers should make a genuine effort to invite stakeholders outside of the “usual suspects” list of invitees already participating in existing processes. Supplementary means may be needed to gather the inputs of stakeholders in a more meaningful way (e.g. online surveys, written responses, follow-up interviews). Additionally, researchers perform specific interviews with responsible agencies when the commitments require more information than is provided in the self-assessment or is accessible online.

In addition to periodic contacts during the implementation period with representatives of institutions responsible for the implementation of each commitment and of other parties (civic or private) involved, the IRM researcher conducted a series of interviews at the end of the reporting period from July to October 2017. However, interviewing state representatives and obtaining official information up to the end of October 2017 was extremely difficult due to the ongoing government ministries’ reshuffling and restructuring of many state agencies listed as institutions which are responsible or involved in the action plan’s implementation. Furthermore, by the time of writing of this report the Government had not prepared a self-assessment report and it was unclear which state institution was the (new) OGP coordinator. Additionally, the OGP point of contact for most state institutions referred to in the action plan was unclear. Consequently, the majority of interviews between July and October 2017 were conducted with non-state stakeholders and a limited number of representatives from state institutions.

To gather the voices of multiple stakeholders, the IRM researcher organized four focus group discussions, of which three were with citizens and one was a focus group with civil society participants—a multi-stakeholder forum.

The purpose of focus groups with citizens was to obtain information from the end-user of OGP commitments’ impact on their awareness, involvement and results from the OGP action plan. More specifically, the following key questions were discussed with citizens’ focus groups:

·       Participants’ level of information and awareness about OGP and OGP Albania, the process, action plan, coordination mechanisms, results and impact (general views)

·       Level of information about the specific commitments

·       To what extent they believe the current action plan reflects the challenges and priorities for Albania and for themselves as a group

·       Rating and analyzing the commitments of the current action plan—reviewing progress (depending on the level of information they have) and their expectations

·       What concrete commitments (or challenges/priorities) they would like to see in the next action plan

The following focus group discussions with citizens were conducted by the IRM researcher:

Focus group 1 (Tirana, 30 August 2017)

The first focus group involved young women and men (ages 20 to 30 years old), in the process of completing or having already completed higher education, employed and unemployed, ranging from large urban areas (Tirana, Durres, Elbasan) to midsized or small towns (Vore, Lushnje). Various religious and ethnic/cultural backgrounds were represented (e.g. Roma, or religious believers).

Synopsis of the discussion

Only two out of 10 participants (a student and a young employed person) had heard of but did not have much information about, OGP. The source of information was social media (Facebook). Only one of them knew that MSIPA is the national OGP coordinator for Albania and had heard of the OpenAlb forum. Despite not being aware of OGP Albania (process or action plan), the majority of participants (eight out of 10) had heard of at least one OGP commitment. None of them were able to link this information with OGP but were informed in a different context about the commitments (such as media coverage of government activities, various NGOs’ projects, international donors’ activities, etc.). The commitments they had heard of include: Budget transparency; Integrated Registry of Citizens’ Housing; Publishing online central and local government legislation in open systems for free; Open Standards for Contracting, public contracts to be published in open data format; The Law “On protection of whistleblowers”; Provision of electronic services (E-Albania); Citizen Card. However, the majority of participants reported that they had no information about the progress of the implementation of these “projects.” Few of them could offer first-hand experience with these commitments—often through using the results of the commitments or having some information about their results. All participants suggested that OGP Albania is a helpful initiative for the country but in order for it to be more efficient it is essential to inform the public and ensure citizens’ involvement (awareness and information). Although the commitments were considered useful if properly implemented, the majority of the group held that they do not reflect the priorities and current challenges of the country. A few of the participants suggested that many commitments are important and address some of the key concerns Albania is facing (e.g. anti-corruption) and that the public needs to be more proactive in asking the government to release information and inform the public through specific campaigns. Participants suggested that some of the most acute challenges of the country were not reflected in the action plan, despite the importance of the issues the action plan currently covers. Such challenges and priorities for Albania include: poverty, employment (especially youth employment), and media freedom. As regards the new action plan, participants suggested that the government include specific commitments in the following areas/sectors:

·       Strengthening the meritocracy principle in the public administration and fighting nepotism

·       Employment (youth and women), especially in the peripheral areas of main urban centers due to internal migration

·       Public services (e.g. extension of one-stop shops)

·       Anti-corruption

·       Judicial reform

·       Improving the business environment, enabling foreign direct investments, and fighting poverty

·       Public awareness and informing about OGP

·       Strengthening tolerance and fighting ethnic, religious, and racial discrimination

·       Tax transparency

·       Improving quality of primary and secondary education

·       Fighting corruption and improving quality of the higher education system in public universities

Focus group 2 (Tirana, 31 August 2017)

The second focus group involved women from different regions (Tirana, Kamya, Elbasan, Durres, and Vora), of varying age (35 to 57 years old), educational background (50 percent with a secondary education and 50 percent with a higher degree), residence—rural (40 percent), urban (60 percent)—and, employment status (50 percent employed, 50 percent not).

Synopsis of the discussion

When asked about OGP, participants were not familiar with OGP. After a brief presentation of OGP Albania and IRM’s role, one participant confirmed she had heard of OGP and CSOs in the news during the last year (she was referring to one of the OpenAlb forum’s activities). Participants were not aware of the OGP process or organization’s structure globally or in Albania, but they underlined that this is a very interesting initiative which, if properly implemented, could bring added value to reforms and progress in Albania. However, they were highly skeptical about the efficiency of the process. While all participants were skeptical towards the Government, some of them expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the CSOs’ role. Another participant (who works for an NGO) opposed this attitude: “This is vicious circle. If we do not trust civil society or groups of citizens to make difference and try to hold the government accountable, then of course CSOs cannot do much. We depend on the trust of citizens to exert pressure on the Government. But if public trust is low then we will not make it.” No participant was aware of the OGP commitments although more than half of them confirmed that they were familiar with some of the commitments, as follows: Improvement of database/portal with coordinators’ data of the right to information and transparency programs; Integrated Registry of Citizens’ Housing; Establishment of electronic Registry for public notification and consultation; Commitment to publish online central and local government legislation in open systems and for free; Open Standards for Contracting, public contracts to be published in open data format; and, Electronic system of registration of e-prescription in the Republic of Albania.

Two participants were working for local CSOs and discussed in detail commitments such as: Improvement of database/portal with coordinators’ data of the right to information and transparency programs; and Establishment of electronic Registry for public notification and consultation. However, other participants could not share detailed experiences or information about action plan commitments. The majority of focus group attendees suggested that: the set of commitments maybe reflects governments’ priorities or those of CSOs and donors, but they do not reflect citizens’ needs. In this context, one of the FG participants argues – “How is it possible that there is no commitment about poverty, use of drugs in schools or violence against women?”

A few participants suggested that some of the commitments are very useful—such as the whistleblowers’ protection law—but expressed doubts about their efficient implementation. In general, most of them agreed that the action plan does not reflect Albania’s pressing challenges. When asked about the most important challenges and concerns Albania must address and that may find space in the OGP action plan through specific commitments, participants suggested the following sectors/areas: Unemployment and poverty; Youth; Education; Women’s rights; and Anti-corruption and judicial reform. The IRM researcher invited participants to suggest concrete issues which, in their opinion, must be taken into account in the next action plan and the following were suggested by participants:

·       Commitments in support of youth employment

·       Food safety standards

·       Fight against use of drugs/alcohol among youngsters

·       Promoting opportunities for enhanced social and cultural activities for youth

·       Public transport, especially for school pupils

·       Commitments related to road safety (given the very high number of deaths on Albanian roads)

·       Environmental protection in industrial cities (e.g. Elbasan) and other urban centers

·       Construction safety

·       Construction building standards (to ensure safety standards but also quality of life of residents)

·       Commitments improving elementary public schools’ infrastructure

·       Women empowerment in decision making

·       Commitments related to fighting violence against women

Focus group 3 (Tirana, 4 September 2017)

The third focus group gathered women and men from suburbs of the main cities and adjacent rural areas in the regions of Tirana and Elbasan, over 45 years old, with varying employment statuses (unemployed and employed, including self-employed) and secondary or higher education.

Synopsis of the discussion

This focus group discussion was characterized by highly skeptical attitudes towards OGP and complete distrust in the government. When asked about OGP, participants confirmed that they were not familiar with or had heard of it. Participants were introduced to the Open Government Partnership (2013–2017)—progress, achievements, and Albania’s performance in the partnership—and were asked whether they were familiar. After the brief presentation of OGP Albania and the IRM role, again, participants confirmed they did not have any information about OGP in Albania or OGP in general. Participants were very skeptical toward OGP and its possible success in Albania, mostly due to the fact that they do not believe the Albanian government is serious about meeting its commitments.

“We [Albanians] are very good at putting on paper laws and strategies but we forget about them in practice.”

“I don’t think the government will fulfill even 30 percent of the commitments in practice.”

“The government has consulted civil society but what about us, citizens. We are the real civil society, not NGOs.”

Participants were not aware of the action plan commitments. However, some of the commitments sounded familiar to half of the group, such as: Citizen’s card; Digital archive; Electronic Monitoring System of Forests; Budget transparency; E-prescription; Integrated Registry of Citizens’ Housing; E-Albania. Unlike the other focus groups, some participants noted (with surprise) that the judicial reform is not part of the action plan. The majority of the group (unlike the other focus groups) had very high hopes for judicial reform and consider it the backbone of Albania’s reforms. In this sense, one of the FG participants argues that “everything else will depend on this reform. The fight against corruption, poverty and everything depends on whether the judiciary will start deliver justice in this country.”

The majority of participants do not consider the action plan commitments as reflecting Albania’s reality of challenges and concerns. Participants listed the following issues/sectors as the country’s most important challenges: unemployment; corruption; nepotism and lack of meritocracy in public administration (at the national government level and also at local  level, where the challenges are even more serious); poor quality of social services especially for unemployed people; prevailing informal economy; poverty; poor healthcare services in rural areas; politicization of every state institution; and, local taxes. When asked about the most important challenges and concerns Albania must address and that may find space in the OGP action plan through specific commitments, participants suggested the following specific commitments for the next action plan:

·       Improving central public administration’s ethics and standards

·       Improving public administration at local government level

·       Commitments to fight poverty in remote areas

·       Proper implementation of public consultations with citizens (and not with members of the ruling parties)

·       Judicial reform monitoring

·       Commitments to improve agricultural sector (as a vital economy branch for Albania) and services in this sector

Multi-stakeholder forum (Tirana, 27 October 2017)

A assembly with civil society and other representatives was conducted according to a focus group model to gather the views of various stakeholders involved with OGP and those without this experience. Representatives of the following civil society organizations, academia and other stakeholders participated in the focus group discussion:

        A former Government OGP point of contact (Tirana)

        A university professor (Durres)

        Albanian Institute of Public Affairs (Tirana)

        European Movement of Albania (Tirana)

        Institute for Democracy and Mediation (Tirana)

        MJAFT! Movement (Tirana)

        Open Society Foundation Albania (Tirana)

        Partners Albania (Tirana)

Participants at the focus group discussion focused predominantly on the OGP process, institutional mechanisms and experience in order to make OGP action plans and processes more efficient mechanisms that are able to deliver meaningful results, impact and added value to overall development and EU accession reforms in Albania. The feedback of focus group discussions conducted with ordinary citizens was debated. Lastly, the multi-stakeholder focus group served to update IRM findings regarding the implementation of the action plan, while it endorsed the proposals of focus groups with citizens for new commitments in the next action plan.

Participants at the focus group underlined the lack of ambition of the current action plan, with many commitments representing ongoing projects or routine government actions to enact legal obligations or other reforms in the framework of the country’s EU accession process (e.g. Implementation of the Law “On protection of whistleblowers”; Budget Transparency; Provision of electronic services). Commitments proposed by civil society organizations were almost entirely dependent on donor funding secured by the respective CSOs (e.g. INFOCIP and Partners Albania) and when such funding was not able to be secured the progress of the commitment was lagging behind (commitments: Creating a database for archiving and publication of research funds and programs in Albania; and Open Standards for Contracting, public contracts to be published in open data format).

The lack of adequate human and financial resources to coordinate the OGP process and action plan was pointed out as the main barrier to a meaningful and broadly known OGP in Albania. Additionally, this is also hampering more active involvement of the civil society in the process, as donors do not consider a priority funding civil society actions in the framework of the OGP Albania. Another factor that influences government institutions to be less attentive to the OGP process and commitments in Albania, according to stakeholders involved in the OGP, is the lack of clarity about and emphasis on the complementarity between OGP and reform processes in the context of EU accession. “EU accession is considered a national objective while the process has not only wide public awareness and support but also much clearer conditionality (sticks and carrots), and, as a consequence, state institutions are not only more rigorous in reporting, but they also ensure broader involvement of civil society and other non-state stakeholders.”

In the wake of the September 2017 reshuffling of government agencies and the unclear status of OGP institutional structures, including in which state institution the national OGP coordinator is, participants strongly suggested that the Government ensure stability of the institutional structures in charge of the OGP process and cycle as a whole. This will serve also to raise the profile of OGP not only in the eyes of the public, but most importantly among state institutions, civil society, donors and other participating or potential stakeholders.

However, participants agreed that the above concerns over the role of government institutions in charge of or involved in the OGP do not justify the lack of interest among CSOs to actively participate in action plan implementation and monitoring. Donor organizations must be more proactive and support civil society actions related to OGP.

Lastly, the focus group participants endorsed proposals for the new action plan coming from citizens at the three focus group discussions organized by the IRM researchers. Some of the most important citizens’ proposals, which may have transformative impacts according to CSO representatives participating in the multi-stakeholder forum, include issues relating to:

·       Anti-corruption

·       Quality of education, public schools’ infrastructure, and pupils’ transport

·       Youth and employment in the peripheral areas of urban centers

·       Fighting violence against women; promoting women in decision making

·       The agricultural sector and services in this sector

·       Construction building standards and safety

·       Environmental protection in industrial cities

·       Fight against use of drugs/alcohol among youngsters

·       Improving road and food safety standards

·       Improving public administration’s ethics and standards (meritocracy, fighting nepotism); public services; tax transparency

·       Improving the business environment, enabling foreign direct investments, and fighting poverty

·       Judicial reform/monitoring

·       Opportunities for enhanced social and cultural activities for youth

·       Proper implementation of public consultations with citizens (and not with members of the ruling parties)

·       Public awareness and informing about OGP

·       Strengthening tolerance and fighting discrimination

Additionally, some participants suggested continuous actions are needed to improve the application of the freedom of information and access to information. A MJAFT! representative reported that some institutions especially at local level take a different approach when an FoI request is submitted by citizens as compared to CSOs’ FoI requests. Additionally, some central government agencies are sometimes unclear whether or not the FoI relates to their field of responsibility.

Another participant proposed a commitment to publish online at one single portal all central government and oversight institutions’ periodic (quarterly) and annual reports. This will also enable a centralized database of all governmental reporting and a unified methodology of reporting based on benchmarks and indicators.

Lastly, stakeholders participating in this focus group strongly advised for more diversity of institutions and sectors involved as responsible institutions (e.g. parliament, judiciary etc.) and more ambitious commitments responding to citizens’ priorities and also to challenges in the framework of major rule of law reforms—judiciary, anti-corruption and impunity, etc.

About the Independent Reporting Mechanism

The IRM is a key means by which government, civil society, and the private sector can track government development and implementation of OGP action plans on an annual basis. The design of research and quality control of such reports is carried out by the International Experts Panel, comprised of experts in transparency, participation, accountability, and social science research methods.

The current membership of the International Experts Panel is

·       César Cruz-Rubio

·       Hazel Feigenblatt

·       Mary Francoli

·       Brendan Halloran

·       Hille Hinsberg

·       Anuradha Joshi

·       Jeff Lovitt

·       Fredline M’Cormack-Hale

·       Showers Mawowa

·       Ernesto Velasco

A small staff based in Washington, DC, shepherds reports through the IRM process in close coordination with the researchers. Questions and comments about this report can be directed to the staff at irm@opengovpartnership.org.

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