Albania is taking a big step forward in building its democracy--literally and figuratively--in constructing a visitors’ center and research and analysis service in parliament to make government more accountable and responsive to the public interest.
On January 21, 2021, and following extensive stakeholder consultations, NDI signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Parliament of Albania to initiate a state-of-art legislative research and public education center. Supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, NDI will provide expert guidance to the parliament as it stands up this department to provide legislators with their own body of information to evaluate legislation, propose amendments, and scrutinize the policies and actions of the government, drawing on real-time evidence and analysis. With the creation of a Visitor’s Center and a robust civic education department, public access to parliament as the country’s lead representative body will make the legislature, in the words of its Secretary General, a true “house of the people”.
“NDI is pleased to support the Albanian parliament in its vision of a government that is accountable to citizens and reflective of public interest”, said NDI/Albania Director Ana Kovacevic. “We look forward to contributing to these new parliamentary services as a clear and concrete demonstration of putting democracy into action, and critical to Albania’s quest to join the European Union and further its integration into the transatlantic community.”
Albania’s road to democracy has been long, at times arduous, but always directed toward a system of government that is transparent in its exercise of power and participatory in creating access points for citizens to weigh in on the affairs of state. For a society whose past is marked by a particularly severe form of communist oppression, the drive to build a democratic system based on pluralistic discourse, human rights, and inclusive decision-making is resolute, and something that has inspired NDI in its support of democratic development throughout its 30-year presence in Albania.
The timing of these investments in parliament is propitious. In the past few years, Albania has been wracked by political instability over corruption allegations, feeding public mistrust in governing institutions and the election process. The country has embarked on a long-term process to root out corruption through restructuring the judiciary, strengthening campaign finance and standing up special bodies to fight corruption--complex undertakings that seek to address the public’s abiding concern about corruption, which routinely ranks as a top issue in NDI public opinion research.
As Albania nears the start of formal European Union membership negotiations with Brussels, anchoring its governance system to the rule of law, fair elections, and responsive public institutions based on separation of government powers constitute an essential step forward. In this regard, strengthening parliament’s capacity to scrutinize legislation, oversee government policy, and incorporate citizen input into laws lies at the heart of accountable and transparent government.
NDI is drawing on the U.S. Congressional Research Service and Czech, Slovak, and North Macedonian counterpart bodies to inform the organizational design and the products and services of the new legislative research department, to be called the Parliamentary Institute and overseen by a Steering Council of parliamentary leadership comprising government and opposition.
Apart from strengthening parliament’s oversight prerogatives, the Parliamentary Institute will anchor government-opposition relations to informed debate, focus public input into critical decisions such as recovery from the Covid-19 epidemic, and position Albania to advance its bid for EU membership on a solid basis when it comes to separation of government power.
Author: Robert Benjamin - NDI Senior Associate and Regional Director CEE