Albanian Institutional Reform: Could There be Benefits?
To many Americans, the country of Albania is a mystery. This large Balkan nation bordered by Greece to the south, Macedonia and Serbia to the east and Bosnia/Herzegovina to the north produces tobacco, agricultural products, honey, and, in the US, its most notable contributions might be certain spirits and the rotund chef-come-hip-hop artist Action Bronson.
Disorganization of the country’s public offices has been cited as a major contributor to Albania’s lack of presence on the global stage. Prime Minister Edi Rama seeks to change that, by consolidating the country’s many public agencies to save money and reduce waste.
Borne from Experience
The plan comes at the suggestion of Albania’s former vice Prime Minister, Niko Peleshi. Peleshi presented the plan in late August with the presumption that Rama’s new government will inherit it after taking power in September.
At face value, the concept sounds simple and efficient. To “do more and better with less,” is certainly a way to maximize tax dollars in a nation where income per capita is only about 25% the EU average. Following the plan would eliminate 37 agencies at the “federal” level and divide the country into four distinct administrative areas.
Health, education, social affairs, and the treasury would make up these four primary offices. The plan strikes a stark contrast to the country’s current arrangement. At the moment, there are 36 separate treasury offices and 12 additional offices spread about the country to provide the other services the new plan would consolidate.
The plan doesn’t just eliminate duplicitous offices, though. It also creates many new government institutions.
One example is the creation of the National Agency for Income. For Americans, the closest comparable institution is the Internal Revenue Service. The Agency for Income would include the General Directorate of Taxation and General Directorate of Taxation and Customs.
Another new addition is a government property titles agency that will result from the merger of several existing institutions. The Agency for Legalization, Urbanization, and Integration of Informal Areas (ALUIZNI) will be combined with the Immovable Properties Registration Office and another nine institutions that manage property and title ownership in Albania.
Questions for Rami’s Government
While consolidation and reducing noise seem like easy ways to cut useless spending, not everyone is convinced that these changes are well-planned-out. During his presentation in September, Peleshi made no mention of just how much the country could expect to save by implementing these changes. In a nation struggling to get by already, shaking things up without adequate planning could do more harm than good.
Director Zef Preci of the Albanian Center for Economic Research has suggested that the changes aren’t based on any legitimate analysis. If his fears are confirmed, closing the doors of those widespread offices will make it more difficult for Albania’s people to access the services they need, with no promise of reducing spending.
Implications for Albania’s EU Status
Adding to the concern about whether this new plan will pay dividends is the fact that should the plan fail, it could threaten Albania’s membership in the European Union. For a nation that is already struggling, losing the support of fellow EU countries could be devastating.
According to Preci, countries with no consolidated tradition of state formation, of which Albania is one, the stability of the administration itself was an important component to qualification for EU integration. In other words, should the changes result in a government with less control than before, Albania could be dismissed from the EU.
The union relies on its numbers for strength, which might lead one to question the dismissal of another member following Great Britain’s exit, a blow that has yet to be felt in its full effect. Albania, however, can’t contribute the healthy economy of a nation like Britain and so could potentially reduce strain on fellow union members were it to leave.
Not Rama’s Only Controversy
Even in the formative days of his administration, the consolidation plan isn’t the only difficult issue the new Prime Minister will have to navigate.
Rama has been accused of stirring the pot in the fragile Balkan region by representing ethnic Albanians who comprise about a quarter of the population in Macedonia. Rama’s support for greater rights for this volatile contingent, including making Albanian an official language in Macedonia, has earned him the distrust of neighboring governments.
With each Balkan nation hoping to benefit from EU membership, we can hope he will make diplomatic choices about how to move forward.
Risks and Possibilities
The idea of a central government that holds power over regional offices is one we’re familiar with in the US, but ours is a young government, and well-organized enough to sustain the ebb and flow of state vs. federal politics.
In a place where disparate government offices have long been the norm over a consolidated central office, Rama will face some challenges selling the idea that his transition isn’t meant solely to transition all power to his own hands.