Albania and Kosovo taking steps against corruption

02/01/2014

Both countries institute measures to deal with corrupt practices, including in the judiciary.

By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 02/01/14

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Albania and Kosovo are taking a tougher stand against corruption, particularly in the judiciary. [Laura Hasani/SETimes]

Albania and Kosovo are taking definitive actions to reduce corruption, with government-proposed measures to address graft among judges, prosecutors, lawyers and other public employees that participate in anti-corruption efforts.

Fighting corruption is one of the biggest battles Albania is waging, and the government opted to intervene by a creating a legal package that it submitted to parliament for approval, said Justice Minister Nasip Naco.

The package centralises the anti-corruption efforts in the Serious Crimes Court, increases its powers -- the court can initiate proceedings to search and arrest judges and other judiciary personnel -- and defines 21 corruption-related offenses as serious crimes.

"This means we are reconsidering the concept of serious crimes, including corruption," Naco told SETimes.

The government also amended existing law to enable it to confiscate property of individuals convicted on corruption charges, and approved an anti-corruption action plan.

"We are determined to fight corruption and organised crime to the end, take Albania to the European family [of nations] as soon as possible and undertake the main steps in the process of European integration," Klajda Gjosha, minister of European integration, said.

Albania's Democratic Party-led opposition and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), however, criticised the proposed measures, claiming the court lacks specialisation, human and financial resources and faces a large number of cases it may not be able to handle.

"This is not the right organ to systematically deal with criminal issues related to corruption," OSCE said in a letter to Albania's parliamentary legal commission.

Sander Simoni, the court's chairperson, replied that there are enough judges on the bench and they are the only ones in Albania specialising in corruption in the last decade.

Moreover, the court's workload is about 150 cases per year, he said, a manageable number, with the additional benefit of having uniformity in sentencing for the same crime.

"In this aspect, the workload of the judges is not an argument that goes contrary to this initiative, but favours it," Simoni said.

Naco acknowledged the government's legal package may need adjustments and improvements, but he said it is a step on the right direction and should be supported.

"It is a radical package because we want to make up for lost time, the last 20 years, and of course the intention is positive. We want all societal actors to contribute, including the opposition," Naco said.

Similarly in Kosovo, government measures include instituting new laws to address corruption; establishing and refining rules for appointing and re-appointing judges and prosecutors; and boosting institutions such as the Kosovo judicial council to help the authorities confront corrupt practices more efficiently.

Kosovo police and EULEX arrested Nuhi Uka, former president of the Pristina municipal court and a practicing lawyer, last month on charges of intimidating a court witness and tampering with evidence to favour his client.

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Petrit Zogaj, executive director of Fol Movement in Pristina, said the move shows that no one, including current or former judiciary employees, is above the law. "As a consequence, irresponsible and corrupt individuals are facing justice," Zogaj told SETimes.

The measures are welcome, but appropriate mechanisms are still missing to fully sanction judges and prosecutors, including for small administrative violations, said Betim Musliu, a senior researcher at the Kosovo Law Institute in Pristina.

"[Nevertheless] pronouncing disciplinary measures and increasing the responsibilities of public servants in the state administration and the judiciary will by all means prevent acts of corruption," Musliu told SETimes.

What can Albania and Kosovo do to reduce corruption in their judiciaries? Share your opinion in the comments space.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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