Summary [Full Document PDF 717K]
Albania provides both constitutional and legal guarantees to the right to information (RTI). The current constitution, which became effective in November 1998, enshrined the right in Article 23. Seven months later, the People’s Assembly approved an access to information act, Law 8503, Right to Information about Official Documents, becoming the first country in the region to adopt legislation securing this right for citizens. The key drivers behind the adoption of the legislation were international pressure and a general acceptance of the idea of by local decision makers.
The adoption of ATI legislation has provided civil society and the business community stakeholders with an opportunity to participate in and—to at a certain extent— influence the policymaking process; it has also provided opportunities for the media to enhance its investigative role, which in turn fosters debate on issues of public interest. But an administrative culture of secrecy and confidentiality persists, the government has not developed procedures for ensuring RTI to citizens, and scarce budget resources constrain effective implementation of the ATI law. And a lack of awareness by citizens of their rights under the ATI may contribute to the ongoing problem of bribery.
In the initial years after its adoption, several implementation measures were put in place, but in the absence of a centralized agency designated to oversee the process, these early initiatives quickly became fragmented. No regulations or guidance on procedures for access were ever issued, but information officers were appointed and internal regulations were adopted by some departments, including the Ministry of Health and the Center for Combat of Economic Crimes and Corruption. Only a few ministries (such as the Department of Public Administration, Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Health) have published rules for access. The absence of common rules and implementing regulations has left implementation details to the discretion of individual agencies.
The People’s Advocate, charged with oversight of the law, is also the de facto champion of it, making requests of other institutions to open public information offices and appoint staff. But its effectiveness is limited, and its attempts at drafting implementing regulations failed in 2005, never winning the approval of the Council of Ministers. Declining political support and limited capacity have thwarted successful implementation.
Legal improvements in compliance with the acquis communitaire should be adopted that would (1) widen the circle of entities obliged to provide information to include natural or legal persons performing public or administrative functions (such as private companies with monopolies/concessions for water supply or electricity) and legal entities operating partly or entirely with public funds (such as for-profit and nonprofit companies owned, controlled, or considerably subsidized by the state); (2) add language that defines and lists exclusive criteria, for withholding information; (3) review and modify language and deadlines relating to timelines for providing information to address the problem of delays and extensions; (4) develop information disclosure policies and rules for each institution, including defining documents that should be made available to the public; (5) develop better access to public information by disabled persons; (6) clarify provisions that give applicants the right to obtain documents in their preferred format (such as electronic or paper); and specify permissible fees for accessing information to reduce the discretion of individual entities.
Other steps that should be taken to improve RTI in Albania include: (1) reviewing any legislation that intersects with Law 8503 and making it conform with its procedural requirements; (2) developing mechanisms to assist citizens filing complaints or appeals when ATI is denied; (3) including municipalities under the e-governance program; (4) strengthening mechanisms for monitoring the implementation of the ATI and RTI framework; and (5) intensifying public education and awareness activities.