As Albania moves towards general elections, the country faces a rare political phenomenon: Almost every day, public officials at different levels, are being fired due to their alleged contributions to the ongoing electoral campaigns. According to public data, 21 officials were fired from their offices from May 30 to June 6 alone.
While a similar occurrence happens almost every four years, with people working in administration being removed after elections depending on which political party comes into power, this year it is happening on a much larger scale and ahead of the poll. Experts are warning that the firings are not legal and that in the future this could be a reason for serious concern, even putting into question Albania’s path to EU membership.
In late May 2017, the two biggest parties in the Albanian parliament, the Democratic Party and the Socialist Party agreed to form a technical part of the current government, which has been led by the Socialist Party and the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI) since the 2013 elections.
The agreement led to six ministers being replaced by six technical ministers and a deputy prime minister who would oversee a Task Force that monitors administrative officials during the upcoming elections.
Officially, the reason for this is that the opposition insisted on having a guarantee that the elections would not be harmed in any way by the coalition in power. Its arguments were that administrative officials could use their position to gain votes in an illegal way for the governing coalition.
However, the LSI, the third biggest party in the country, considers the agreement between the Socialist Party and the Democratic Party as a complot against them, while the two main parties accuse the LSI of using officials to increase its vote.
The officials that have been sacked are accused of having supported political parties during their official working hours, as well as using public institutions’ resources for party campaigns. While many positions, such as government ministers and the directors of departments within municipalities, are appointed by the respective ruling administrations, they are only allowed to campaign for a party outside of official working hours, and are not allowed to use public resources as part of a political campaign. Members of the permanent civil service at national and local levels are not permitted to be part of political party campaigns.
Now, for the first time Albania has seen a large chunk of its civil service, plus ministers and municipal department directors, removed right before a general election.
Pranvera Strakosha is the Commissioner for the Oversight of the Civil Service, whose role it is to oversee a team that looks into violations committed by administrative officials. Strakosha told K2.0 that public officials being part of the electoral campaign is “awful” but that the technical ministers do not have the mandate or the competences to manage or remove administrative officials.
Strakosha explained the work of her team, which involves monitoring and observing 156 institutions daily. After verifying some of the cases sent by the technical ministers, the team concluded that some of the fired civil servants had not been part of any electoral campaign.
Right after the removals, the LSI sent a letter of complaint to the president, the prosecutor general, the chairman of the parliament, the Central Electoral Commission, the OSCE-ODIHR presence in Albania and a number of embassies, claiming that this practice of firing officials is “unfair” and “politically motivated.”
Luan Rama, the vice chairperson of the LSI, told a local TV station a few days ago that the officials, directors and other administrative workers that were fired, would be brought back to work on June 26 (the day after the elections) should his party win. Furthermore, the SMI has begun the process of suing three technical ministers and the technical deputy prime minister, accusing them of an abuse of power.
Kejdi Mehmetaj, an LSI deputy, said in a press conference that the two main parties are working together against the LSI: “The Task Force is flagrantly violating the law and in an arbitrary way has started to take revenge. It is intimidating the administrative officials. We publicly denounce this revenge campaign,” said Mehmetaj.
However, the technical deputy prime minister who is in charge of the Task Force, Ledina Mandia, told the media that those politically appointed individuals that had been removed had committed serious abuses. “These administrative officials have committed different violations such as human resource abuses, as well as abusing financial funds,” she said in an interview for Vizion Plus TV. “The concern is mostly raised by the LSI more than from the Socialist Party but there have been many fired directors from the Socialist Party too.”
Prime Minister Edi Rama, who agreed to have the six technical ministers, said that the mass firings have not been made under his influence. “I don’t fire anyone,” Rama told News 24 TV. “I am not part of this process. It is this technical part of the government in charge of that. We agreed to have these ‘electoral guards.’ The deputy prime minister takes care of this.”
Roden Hoxha, an experienced lawyer from Tirana, told K2.0 that the technical ministers are acting against the law and that most of the removals are illegal. “The law says that the Public Administration Department is the institution that can fire them,” Hoxha explained. “Ministers are political officials who don’t have any right to remove anyone from his or her job. In every institution there is a general secretary who is also in charge of this. Ministers can’t interfere in those cases, only in some specific ones. Most of the removals are illegal, there isn’t any review procedure or evaluation used.”
Klajda Gjosha, LSI’s minister of European integration, has warned that these removals may lead to an “undesired bill” for the country as some of the fired officials are taking their cases to court. She also suggested that the European Commission’s report after the elections will not look favorably upon these latest developments and that they could harm the European perspective of the country.
The EU delegation in Tirana has not yet commented on what is happening, its head of communication, Ernest Bunguri, responded to K2.0’s enquiries with the following statement: “The EU delegation is following closely the situation in Albania, and will not comment for the moment.”K
Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.