Albania: Local municipalities still struggle to meet FOIA requirements

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While the Albania’s new FOIA is deemed one of the best globally, its implementation remains a significant challenge, a research shows.

by Ilda Londo

Albania’s new access to information law, approved in September 2014, is currently deemed one of the best in the world, ranked sixth in the Global Right to Information Rating.

While the new law has been considered a significant improvement compared to previous regulation on access to information, the key challenge has always been its implementation.

The adoption of a new territorial and administrative reform for the 2015 local elections led to the re-structuring of local government, which could signify further delays and challenges in implementing the FOI law, given its extra demands on the newly created administration.

The Albanian Media Institute, a SEENPM member, conducted a research test in 2016 and early 2017 with the aim of assessing the current situation in FOIA implementation and how open the newly elected public administration is to scrutiny by local media and citizens.

The testing process was conducted in seven small or medium sized municipalities in the country, engaging both journalists and citizens in exerting their right to access to official information.

Overall, after submitting a request for information, 64% of the applicants received an answer, and 23% of requests received complete information required. Previous tests of local administration transparency are missing, but the results are similar to other tests conducted with central government in the years 2012-2014, where approximately 60% of applicants received an answer from official bodies. The response rate can certainly be improved, considering that 36% of applicants did not receive an answer at all during the test.

In addition, data confirmed what previous similar tests had shown through the years: citizens continue to be less favored than journalists in receiving information from the government, also due to the pressure of media actors on local government.

On a more positive note, about 80% of responses to filed requests were received within the 10-day legal limit, and most of them took less than five days.

“Even though we have a very good law on right to information and there have been attempts to improve the implementation of the law, the problem that remains with part of the administration is the mentality that information is a state property, not a public property that you have to share with the public. On the other hand, we also must admit that there is scarce knowledge among the public on the right to information law and often the journalists themselves prefer to find shortcuts in sources of information rather than pressure the administration with freedom of information requests,” said Remzi Lani, director of the Albanian Media Institute.

Monitoring of the information published on websites of municipalities examined in this research revealed that certain categories of information, such as contact information for FOI coordinators in each municipality, program of transparency, CVs of management of municipality, and list of current members of municipality council are generally published online.

What seems to be the weakest point with regard to available online information are the budgets and the information on their spending, which are either old or not published at all. Another problem is the lack of published decisions made by the municipality councils.

The research was supported by Leviz Albania.

The article is a contribution by Albanian Media Institute, a SEENPM member. 

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