The law on whistleblowers’ protection was adopted in Albania in June 2016, entered into force on October 1, 2016 for the public sector, and in July 1, 2017 for private entities. The law requires private entities with more than 100 employees, and public entities with more than 80 employees to establish internal whistleblowing policies and reporting units. However, of the 163 created internal reporting units, only seven have reported any cases, mainly with violation of laws on conflict of interest.
As several NGO reports indicated, the law requires increased capacities and awareness raising efforts to carry the message about whistleblowing to broader public. In spite of efforts to implement the law, there is a gap between expected outcomes and the recorded instances of whistleblowing. Yet the adoption of this law, in spite of challenges in its fulfillment, is considered one of the most important pieces of legislation in the fight against corruption.
Case study: whistleblower dismissed illegally
Whistleblower Dritan Hila, diplomat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reported questionable appointment of a judge’s daughter to an ambassadorship. Hila was fired, but sought justice in a legal case to win reappointment and financial compensation. Hila served as Albania’s deputy minister of defense in the opposition government. He was dismissed in 2015 and now regularly appears on different media as government critique. Hila’s case illustrates the risk of instrumentalization of whistleblowers by politics.
Case study: uncovering corruption in the Ministry of Interior Affairs
Dritan Zagani, former border police chief, and Antonio Nazeraj, former anti-drug police officer, were part of Anti-Drug Unit in Fier, Albania. In 2015, during a regular car inspection, Nazeraj stopped the car owned by former Minister of Interior Affairs Saimir Tahiri, who was driving together with Habilaj criminals, who were known as an international drug trafficking group. Policemen reported about Tahiri`s links with international drug trafficking and corruption.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama held a propagandist conference for the police officers several weeks after the policemen blew the whistle, where he declared victory in the drug wars and attacked everyone “who had thrown mud” on the work of police and the Minister of Interior Affairs Saimir Tahiri. Prime Minister openly attacked Zagani, calling him “a collaborator of drug traffickers”.
Instead of being provided protection as a whistleblower, Zagani was arrested without an arrest warrant and held in jail without a trial for 6 months.
Journalist Basir Collaku exposed his journalistic investigation about Tahiri-Habilaj connection, with wiretaps proving that Tahiri protected Habilaj`s transportation of drugs. This led to Tahiri`s resignation and investigation, but not arrest.
Nazeraj had to resign from police in 2017, as he feared retaliation and soon had to flee Albania as well as Zagani. Nazeraj received asylum in the Netherlands in 2019, while Zagani got asylum in Switzerland. Journalist Collaku received a death threat for his investigations in March 2019 during a TV morning show. He submitted a request for investigation.
Case study: exposing nepotism among MPs
Policeman Emiljano Nuhu accused Albanian Socialist Members of Parliament Rahman Rraja and Taulant Balla, as well as other Socialist party officials, of protecting Rexhep Rraja, the son of the MP, who was suspected of violence and rape against his girlfriend Xhisela Maloku. On July 21, 2018 police officer Emiljano Nuhu was threatened at gunpoint by relatives of the Member of Parliament Rraja inside the Kruja police station, while both MPs were present. They wanted Nunu to drop the case of rape. Instead he reported the threat to a police station in Tirana but nothing happened. As the law of whistleblowers` protection doesn`t work well in Albania, Nunu was not given any support and protection from the state.
When the case became public, Prime Minister Edi Rama attacked the whistleblower, calling the police officer “a scoundrel turned hero.” The government officials and state police denied everything that happened in Kruja police station. Later Nunu`s brother was accused of being connected to criminal gang wanted for assassination attempt. Emiljano Nuhu was investigated by Prosecution Office and Ministry of Internal Affairs. Rexhep Rraja was arrested under minimal charges. MPs Rraja and Balla as well as other high state officials who were accused by Nunu, didn`t receive any charges.
Nuhu left his job, fled the country and sought political asylum in Switzerland.
Case study: exposing misinformation during COVID-19
The first two COVID-19 patients in Albania, whose names are not mentioned for confidentiality reasons, were a father and son, who returned from Italy in the beginning of March 2020. They were hospitalized on March 9, 2020, in Tirana`s Mother Teresa hospital.
Few days after they were hospitalized, they contacted Ora News TV and provided a video of poor conditions of the hospital rooms, bad medical service and lack of proper hygiene. The whistleblowers also informed that they were being neglected by the medical staff and that there was no heating in their room. However, the Ministry of Health of Albania assured that they were ready for the coronavirus outbreak, that the hospitals around the country were prepared with all necessary equipment and had decent conditions for hospitalized patients.
Workers exposing possible theft of state funds
Employees of the Durres shoe factory in Albania went on the protest on April 24, 2020, because they haven’t received any financial assistance from the government due to wage arrears.
The shoe factory had 86 employees before the COVID-19 lockdown. During the lockdown the factory did not pay salaries for its employees, and meanwhile the government created a special fund for such companies to pay the salaries of those impacted by the lockdown measures. The company`s management told the whistleblowers to claim the money from the government. When they contacted tax authorities, they were told that the company had closed and because of this they couldn’t receive the money from the state. Moreover, the whistleblowers claim they were threatened if they decided to go on protest. But eventually they decided to protest, because they didn’t have money to buy food and pay for rent.
Albanian port workers protest due to unfair regulation of oil prices
Albanian fishermen went on protests due to high oil prices. More than 2000 residents work in fishing in the city of Durres. On May 1, 2020, fishermen from the port of Durres started the protest and on May 4, 2020, 50 more fishermen in Saranda went on their protest against high petrol prices and not receiving any financial help from the government.
The whistleblowers claim that although the oil prices globally went down, Albanian oil companies still sell the petrol at pre-pandemic prices. Since the restaurants closed due to the pandemic on March 10, the fishermen`s work dropped significantly, while the price of petrol has become unaffordable for them. This leads to financial distress and even bankruptcy of many fishermen`s families.
Additionally, the whistleblowers say that they have applied for the governmental financial aid, but their applications have been rejected. They ask for the government`s help in adjusting the oil prices fairly and getting financial allowances to survive through the quarantine.
Workers go on a hunger strike protesting wage arrears
The workers of the pumping station and electrical substation in Pocem town, Albania, threatened to go on hunger strike on February, 13, 2020, unless their salaries for 27 months would be paid. The whistleblowers claimed they had asked for help from the Ministry of Energy, Parliament Speaker Gramoz Ruci and even the Prime-Minister Edi Rama, but there was no action taken.
The company representatives met with protesters, but they refused to acknowledge the workers’ missing wages and were not planning to pay them. The hunger strike started at 2:30pm on February 13. On February 17, 2020, six Ballsh oil refinery workers joined the strike as they also have not been paid their wages for 6 months. They claimed the issues with payments started after the plant was privatized in 2013.
Two of the Pocem substation workers started having severe health conditions on February 18, 2020, and doctors advised them to stop the hunger strike. But as the whistleblowers were desperate because of the financial need, they were determined to continue the strike after receiving medical help. The situation is still unresolved, but the workers are planning to continue the struggle to get paid and renew their contracts.