By Arjan Dyrmishi
The High Inspectorate of Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflicts of Interest (HIDAACI) published its annual report in June, which for the first time includes a chapter on the implementation of the law on whistleblowing since it entered fully into force.
The law was adopted two years ago, in June 2016 but it entered into force on 1 October 2016 for the public sector and on 1 July 2017 for private entities. This phased approach was applied in order to allow the organisations have the necessary time to adopting the bylaws and to establishing the internal whistleblower reporting units. The law requires private entities with more than 100 employees and public entities with more than 80 employees to establish such units.
The establishment of the internal reporting units was faced with challenges, especially in the private sector, mainly due to the lack of sufficient information on the law and the resistance to comply that was put by a number of companies based on various justifications and arguments.
For those entities that failed to comply with the deadlines and requirements the HIDAACI has administered over 140 administrative sanctions. According to the report there are currently 163 internal reporting units established in the public sector and 446 in the private sector.
The report highlights that the capacity building efforts have been focused on training and awareness-raising. However the results achieved so far in this direction are quite minimal. Out of the total 609 internal reporting units, the report indicates that training has been provided to only 32 of them. On the other hand, despite the evidence that the whistleblowing practice in Albania is hindered by prejudices and a poor understanding and reporting by the media, the report shows that awareness raising efforts have been limited to the dissemination of two advertising spots, and a Guide on Whistleblowing, all produced by NGOs with foreign donor financial support.
In terms of number of whistleblower cases, the report shows scanty results. Despite the persistence of corruption and malpractice, as indicated by reputable international reports, out of 163 internal reporting units, only seven have reported one or two whistleblower cases, while eight other cases have been directly reported to the HIDAACI. The cases have been forwarded for further action to the relevant institutions while HIDAACI has administered three financial sanctions on charges of violation of the law on conflict of interest.
There has been only one application for protection from retaliation by one whistleblower, but the HIDAACI investigation has found that there has been no act of retaliation performed by the employer organisation.
The report acknowledges that a more satisfactory implementation of the law requires increased capacities and more awareness raising efforts that should target not only the government institutions and private companies but also the public at large.
However, as the adoption law was hailed as one of the most important pieces of legislation in the fight against corruption, while high expectations continue to be placed by the EU in the latest country report, the outcomes so far indicate a wide expectations’ gap.
Although the HIDAACI rightly points to the necessity of improved awareness raising efforts, this objective is not yet shared by the Albanian media which continues to run against this trend and to fall short of correctly reporting on whistleblowing. Having the media positioned on the right side is one of the crucial first steps that need to be taken.