National TV Show Breaks Silence on Whistleblowing in Albania

by Arjan Dyrmishi
Center for the Study of Democracy and Governance / Coalition Co-coordinator

Whistleblowing is so rare and obscure in Albania that even when Parliament voted unanimously for a comprehensive whistleblower protection law on June 2, the breakthrough barely made a ripple.

What media coverage the landmark law did generate was superficial and not complementary. One article labeled it a law to protect “snitches”.

Four weeks after the law was passed, a big first step was taken to inform citizens in Albania about the importance of whistleblowing in exposing corruption, and the need to protect whistleblowers from being fired, harassed and attacked.

“The new whistleblower law is sorely needed, given Albania’s performance on a range of freedom and anti-corruption measures.”

Marking the first-ever national media attention of its kind, the TV show Pasdite në Top Channel (“Afternoon on Top Channel”) aired a 30-minute segment featuring national and regional experts on whistleblowing. Among them were Coalition member Flutura Kusari of Kosovo’s Article 10, journalist Anila Hoxha, NGO activist Ilir Aliaj, and myself.

Staged in front of a live audience, the show offered a chance for a clear and honest discussion about the enhanced role of citizens and the media to hold governments and corporations to account.

Viewers learned about the new protections to which they now may be entitled. Albania’s new whistleblower law provides retaliation protection for government and company employees, protects whistleblower confidentiality, allows anonymous reports, calls for disclosures to be duly investigated, and appoints a specific government agency to enforce the law.

Thanks to input from the Coalition, the law includes many international and European standards. It is scheduled to take effect on 1 October.

The relative lack of public awareness of whistleblowing in Albania is not the product of a shortage of cases. Among those in the headlines recently:

  • In 2012 a health department staffer in the Fier region informed the media about an unfair appointment at the agency. She was denied sick leave, fired and reassigned to a lower position. A District Court upheld her unfair dismissal complaint.
  • In 2010 a diplomat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent an open letter to the media revealing the questionable hiring of a judge’s daughter to an ambassadorship. The diplomat became politically active and is now Albania’s deputy minister of defense.
  • Kosta Trebicka died mysteriously in September 2008 after he told authorities and the New York Times about alleged corruption in weapons exports to the US. The official account is that he died in a car accident. Trebicka said his life was in danger but he was not granted protection.

An Unenviable Record

The new whistleblower law is sorely needed, given Albania’s performance on a range of freedom and anti-corruption measures.

Freedom House categorizes Albania’s media as “partly free,” positioned 97th of 199 countries worldwide, and 37th out of 42 European countries. Similarly, Reporters without Borders ranks Albania 82nd out of 180 countries.

Albania scored 88 of 168 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures how corrupt a country’s public sector is perceived to be. TI rated the available public information on government budgets as “minimal,” scoring 33 out of 100.

In a 2015 regional survey, Albania ranked at or near the bottom in terms of citizens believing that government actions comply with the law, and that the courts and judiciary can be trusted.

Regionally, Albania ranks at or near the top in people believing bribery and abuse of power are widespread among national politicians, the judiciary, the public health system and building permit services.

The European Commission recently observed that Albania’s anti-corruption institutions are vulnerable to political pressure and should be more independent. The Commission called corruption in the judiciary “widespread,” and said judges and prosecutors lack accountability.

Hopes are that the new whistleblower law, though just one sign of improvement, could spark deeper commitments to clean up government and corporate bureaucracies.

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