Thank you Minister Gjonaj. I also want to extend my thanks to Prime Minister Rama, and of course, Ambassador Soreca for gathering today to highlight successes in Albania’s justice sector. I think it is a very positive sign that Albania continues to discuss a topic that is core to the future of this country – preventing and combatting corruption. The U.S. government and the people of the United States are committed to a democratic, secure, and prosperous future for Albania. We are dedicated to an Albania that will take its place among the community of democracies in Europe and will instill a sense of optimism in its citizens about its future.
A big part of instilling this optimism is demonstrating that the government of Albania is working on behalf of the citizens and not on behalf of narrow vested interests, or to line the pockets of politicians or their political parties. The citizens of Albania, like all citizens around the world, deserve good governance. They deserve to have confidence that public funds – the money that comes from the sweat of their labor – are being used to improve their daily lives.
There are serious obstacles to achieving the good governance that the people of Albania deserve. These obstacles include: corrupt officials; a justice sector captured by political interests; journalists either co-opted or threatened for reporting corruption; public offices used to promote or defend personal or party interests; state-owned enterprises that prioritize patronage or cronyism over efficient and effective operations; and state-officials interested in promoting self-interests over good governance to maintain their control.
The ongoing global pandemic has made the stakes even clearer. Any healthcare sector is rife with opportunity for corruption because of the size of its budget. But in times like these, corruption, whether in the healthcare sector or elsewhere, means not only needless waste, it can mean life or death. Whether we are talking about fraudulent or padded procurements, or border guards who take bribes to let people cross the border who then spread infection, the stakes are real.
All governments everywhere suffer from some level of corruption, and the United States is not exempt from that. However, there is something that can be done. Governments can limit opportunities for corruption and can punish those who use their public office to enrich themselves or their party, or who endanger their fellow citizens. Of course, independent police, prosecutors, and judges who are empowered to pursue corruption wherever they find it – regardless of political interests – are essential to good governance. Albania must begin the regular, periodic evaluations of professional and ethical performances of judges and prosecutors to ensure fair and effective administration of justice. In short, there will always be bad actors. Governments must establish ways to find them and punish them to ensure everyone is equal and treated fairly. When you can do that, you work to win the trust of the people by showing them government is accountable to them.
Albania is starting on this path, and justice reform is starting to show results. In March you received a green light from the EU. The SPAK has its first NBI Director. And recently, GRECO indicated progress in Albania’s fight against corruption. If Albania continues this path, it can become a model of good governance reforms going forward – reforms which we have and will continue to support. We at the U.S. Embassy, through our justice sector programs, have made completion of SPAK our highest priority, with significant investments in expert advising and equipment support. The United States remains deeply involved in improving the capacity of the Service for Internal Affairs and Complaints (SIAC), the institution responsible for police accountability, by providing critical training, introducing polygraph capacity, and automation of case management. GRECO highlighted the agreement between the High Judicial Council (HJC) and USAID to reduce the backlog at Albania’s High Court (HC) and finally delivering justice to the citizens. We applaud the efforts of the HJC and the HC to restore the functionality of the High Court. U.S. assistance is an investment of our taxpayers’ dollars in your efforts and your success, and we expect results. And results are necessary for your path to EU accession path.
Each of these improvements are steps that bring Albania closer to a prosperous, secure democracy. And we are proud to support Albania as it continues this path. We will continue to support you not only in words, but through deeds, as we have done up until now. The U.S. Embassy remains dedicated to helping Albania develop a clean government and combatting corruption.