20 million euros per year for administration training ends up in the “bin”, due to unfair dismissals

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  • The millions thrown by international partners to train the public administration are not enough to keep a job. Unfair dismissals are the main reason why public servants in our country continue to perform poorly, creating even weaker institutions. On average, 20 million euros are spent on training each year, almost twice as much as the social assistance fund.

    Author: Anxhelo Haruni

    The champions of financing training programs for state employees are foreign institutions, which, as in the case of the World Bank, prefer that ” instead of fixing the pipelines, fix the institutions that need to fix the pipelines “, referring to the water reform.

    Only for active projects, according to the WB’s own data, the amount pledged for Albania amounts to 502 million dollars. Projects for public administration are calculated at 21.45 million dollars, which for a maximum duration of 9 years translates into at least 2.4 million dollars per year. This does not include the projects defined in other areas, which also have the corresponding budgets for staff training. INA MEDIA has referred to only 14 projects that are currently active, the earliest started in 2015, and this bill does not include administration training before 2015.

    The European Union is the largest donor in Albania. In almost every project it supports, there is also a voice for ” capacities building”. The goal is for the country to have the most qualified employees, so that the funds are used as efficiently as possible.

    According to the details of the projects implemented with EU funding in Albania, it turns out that dedicated to public administration, for programs for training the staff of 61 municipalities, the fight against corruption, justice reform, the scholarship program for young civil servants, etc the funds reach 125 million euros. Averaged over a maximum period of 9 years, the contribution is calculated at 13.8 million euros per year from the EU alone. Even in this case , INA MEDIA refers to only 11 projects, the earliest starting in 2013, which include: ” Sector Reform Contract for Public Administration Reform”; “Implementation of Civil Service Reform across the public Administration”; “Young Civil Servants Scholarship Scheme”; “EU Support for the Effective Management of Green and Blue Borders in Albania”; “Sector Reform Contract for Public Finance Management”; ” Strengthening national capacity in environmental protection – preparation for Natura 2000 Network”; “Sector Reform Contract for the Fight Against Corruption in Albania”; “Municipalities For Europe”; “EU for Justice Reform “; ” Support to Territorial and Administrative Reform Star 2″, as well as the project ” Capacity Building for Public Private Partnership (PPP) and Management Skills Development in the Albanian Transport Sector”.

    Further to international donations, the Albanian School of Public Administration (ASPA) has been offering free and paid training for administration employees in our country since 2000. This institution has an annual budget of 50.8 million ALL or about 425 thousand euros. Last year, 2021, it helped train 6,728 individuals on various topics.

    The Training Center for the Tax and Customs Administration, whose function is self-described in the title, has a planned annual budget of 17.3 million ALL or 144 thousand euros.

    Meanwhile, other trainings are organized by the institutions themselves, other international donors, as well as by invitation of foreign institutions, counterparts to Albanian colleagues.

    “Albcontrol” is the institution that sets a record for the specializations, trainings, trips and related per diems of its employees, with almost 2 million euros in 2019, the last before the pandemic and higher than in 2020, when all trainings were completed online. This level is justified by the special status of the institution, which in one year cannot make a profit and is obliged to increase expenses: from salaries, to bonuses, etc.

    Costs for different training programs

    Taken together, the total training costs and all other related expenses amount to an average of 20 million euros per year. For an administration of over 183 thousand people, it is a sum of almost 110 euros per person, but significant if we consider that the budget for unemployment benefits payments is only 7.5 million euros or the fund for the childcare bonus is calculated at 18.4 million euros.

    Despite the large amount spent on training, the qualification of staff is a necessary element in improving the quality of services and policies undertaken by a state, but in our country these millions of euros end up in the "trash", due to the unusual rotation that the administration suffers, every time the party in power changes, but also when part of the funds, which go for training, are spent fictitiously.

     

    Unfair dismissals

    The phenomenon of unfair dismissals in the administration has improved over the last years, based on court cases, registered year after year, however, it remains a worrying problem, as the state institutions themselves affirm. In the annual report for 2021 , the Supreme State Audit evidences that the "purges" in the administration are producing, in addition to human costs, also financial costs.

    "Mismanagement continues in the use of human resources funds as a result of unfair dismissals of employees, which has often resulted in the payment of penalties, commissions and enforcement engagement fees", - the report of the SSA quotes.

    For the economy expert, Pano Soko, the reason for the dismissals is mainly related to politics.

    "The phenomenon of purges due to political convictions is the most common reason on which decisions are made for the removal and replacement of administration employees. Now, it's been some time since we had a political rotation, but I don't believe that things have changed and in the first rotation, which will come, things will be repeated once again", - declares Soko.

    Discrimination for political beliefs is considered by the Commissioner for Protection from Discrimination as the main argument of complaints related to employment, filed with this institution. The former Minister of Economy, Zef Preçi, sees dismissals and political appointments in the administration as the main causes of the low professional level of public servants, who were not hired based on experience, but through nepotism.

    "The career process within this administration has nothing to do with knowledge, accumulated experience, education, but it has to do with party militancy and being part of nepotistic networks. This is also evident from the fact that the weight of individuals educated in Western universities is symbolic, almost non-existent. On the other hand, a large number of employees come today from universities whose licenses have been revoked", says Preçi.

    "For the Rama government that has been in power for more than a decade, the weight of payments, which the institutions owe to persons unfairly dismissed according to the courts, continues to remain high", he adds.

    According to the information of the Ministry of Finance, outstanding liabilities for court decisions of institutions and municipalities amount to ALL 3.8 billion , of which the vast majority belong to decisions for unfair dismissal.

    Over the years, the bill for these dismissals amounts to at least 13.3 billion lek or about 108 million euros (with the exchange rate at the time of repayment), paid by state institutions during the period 2014-2021. According to a INA MEDIA investigation, this cost is related to the dismissal of almost 14,500 employees, but both the number of those dismissed and the amount are higher today, referring to the new decisions of the courts and the repayment to the Treasury of the obligations by the institutions.

     

    Damage in quality

    B.H. is a former employee of the Tax Audit who left the civil service in 2017. After a legal ordeal in the courts of justice, in 2020 he was awarded the right to compensation and ordered to return to work. For more than a year, he has been on the waiting list of the General Directorate of Taxes, with the argument that his position was occupied during structural changes.

    "There were several employees who were fired at the same time and we chose to go to court to protect our rights. I expect to return to state employment, because I have invested a lot during my stay there", he says, referring to the various training sessions attended, as well as the experience accumulated over the years. Like him, there are dozens of employees of the administration who were unfairly dismissed and who the court has given the right to return to work.

    Such a situation, with the departure of hundreds of employees over a few years, has created what the International Monetary Fund calls a weak tax administration.

    "The level of technical skills and competences in the workforce must be significantly improved - most critically in the field of tax audit, data analysis, tax debt collection, in the functions of the Directorate of Large Taxpayers and in the interpretation of laws tax", - writes the IMF in the report.

    Loss of quality, according to Soko, is inevitable. "Obviously, the frequent replacements of the administration have affected its low professional quality, since the more often the staff are changed, the less stability they have in terms of quality and experience. Millions of dollars in Albanian and foreign funding, loans or donations for the qualification of public administration staff have been thrown into the trash, at the moment these staff have been replaced, due to political rotation, etc., -he argues.

     

    Entire Directorates without staff

    Since taking office as the head of the Competition Authority, Denar Biba has complained about the professional deficiencies that years of departures have created in this institution. In a conversation with INA MEDIA, he states that his staff is not proficient in implementing complex investigations in different markets. For him, for some of the employees, the work at the Competition Authority is their first job or they come from experience as local managers. All the "capable people", trained at the cost of millions of ALL over the years, have left. He also presents this problem before Parliament. 21 employees, who were trained for years, have left this key institution.

    "If you look at 2017, we had 39 employees. Here you should keep in mind that this number includes the 5 members of the Commission, the General Secretary of the Commission, who is historical in that Commission, and the support staff. So, in practice, there are about 32 employees of the administration, of which 21 have left for various reasons, for retirement, to move to other duties or been dismissed with disciplinary measures. So, as of 2017, only 18 employees remained. A part of the personnel has a period of time in the Authority of only 2-3 years, which to some extent leaves something to be desired", - Denar Biba expressed his dissatisfaction with the transfer of the staff.

    Biba partially addresses the problem to the low level of salaries, especially for professions demanded by the market, such as IT . This causes work reports and documentation in this institution to be transferred from office to office via USB due to the lack of an internal network.

     

    Institutions with a record of dismissals

    The chairman of the Albanian Agrobusiness Council, Agim Rrapaj, also speaks about institutional oblivion.

    "In the agricultural sector: in the Ministry of Agriculture, in AZHBR and in other institutions that work with farmers, I can say that administrative memory has been lost. Very few of the individuals, with whom we have had relations in the past, have remained in these institutions and for agriculture the loss of memory is a great concern, which does not allow us to solve the problems and advance with the plans that we have discussed throughout all these years", - says Rrapaj.

    After requests addressed to some institutions regarding their staff, it turns out that throughout 2021 there was a large number of employees who left: not only due to dismissals, but also voluntarily or for other reasons.

    Their official answers, received by INA MEDIA , reveal shocking facts, how institutions with over 100 employees can have a turnover of staff of over 1/5 within a year.

    Employee turnover in different institutions

    Specifically, in the State Advocature and the High State Control, the percentage of employees who left within a year is 21%. The figure is also high for the Albanian Road Authority (14%) and the Ministry of Tourism (13.7%). All these institutions have had changes of leaders throughout the past year.

     

    Worse situation in municipalities

    If the lack of political rotation has helped to stabilize unjust dismissals in the central administration, the situation in the local government is still seen as problematic.

    "It remains a serious problem. Why does this happen? Because our whole system is highly politicized. Politics is present with its interventions everywhere. And where it is not necessary, specialists with civil service status and contracts with the Labor Code leave their jobs", - declares Agron Haxhimali, Executive Director of the Association of Municipalities of Albania.

    According to him, currently, 12% of the debt of 6.6 billion ALL, which the municipalities have accumulated, belongs to lawsuits for unfair dismissal. International partners and NGOs, according to him, spend to train local staff, at a time when municipalities do not invest their funds in human resources. The departure of those few who are trained and those with long work experience, according to Haxhimali, has also created an impact on the services that citizens receive.

    "It is a great loss in many aspects. Quantitative and qualitative service to the citizen is lost, institutional memory is lost, the effectiveness of services decreases, a culture of mistrust is created by the employer and the reputation of the municipality decreases", he declares.

     

    Low wages

    Another heavily funded area for training is that of law and order. From the State Police, to special units, in addition to the courses offered at the Security Academy, many other trainings are also carried out, such as the PAMECA programs, special programs for anti-terror, the fight against financial crime, etc. If many institutions today suffer from unfair dismissals, for the head of the Police Union, Sadetin Fishta, the problem of leaving the police is related to another factor: salary.

    "In recent years, I can say that the number of dismissals has stabilized, but now we have another problem with voluntary departures. This mainly concerns the salary, but also the working conditions. Even when required by law, bonuses for overtime work are not given. They are under-declared, as no more than 200 hours of extra work is allowed per year, but they are under capacity and happen to do 45-50 extra hours per month, especially during the summer season, when they don't even manage to cover each other for vacations." Fishta declares.

    This, according to him, has made the police force unattractive to young people and requires policies such as pension supplements and strict enforcement of employment contracts.

    Leaving for better conditions, especially pay, is common even among white collar jobs. For such professionals, for the expert Preçi, society is not really lost when they move to the private sector, just like for a lawyer, economist, etc.

    "The cost is greater than just the departures. If a trained person is sufficiently qualified and moves to the private sector, society as a whole does not lose much. But, a large part of these trainings are carried out in a formal way, to spend money; the training modules are not found on the websites of the institutions and the process is not competitive, so there is no accumulation of knowledge that can be used in the exercise of the various functions of state management", - argues Zef Preçi.

     

    How can the situation be resolved?

    For the European Commission, reforms in public administration, the encouragement of meritocracy at all levels of the civil service and the salary policy are key factors in creating a depoliticized and strong Albanian administration.

    "This situation requires a favorable salary policy, since the best elements today are absorbed by the private sector, since the state's salaries are far from the expertise market", says Soko.

    For the experts, even simply implementing the law would be enough to change the course, while they also say that we should be grateful to the internationals, who still continue to pay to train the next migrants.

    "As long as the appointments are dictated by politics, the quality of the services we receive from the administration will for sure deteriorate", Zef Preçi declares.


    Ky shkrim është pjesë e projektit që mbështetet financiarisht nga Zyra e Mardhënieve me Publikun e Ambasadës së SH.B.A. në Tiranë. Opinionet, gjetjet, konkluzionet dhe rekomandimet e shprehura janë te autor-it/ve dhe nuk përfaqesojnë domosdoshmërisht ato të Departamentit të Shtetit. / This article is part of a project that is financially supported by the Public Relations Office of the US Embassy in Tirana. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the Department of State.