Drug Action Plan, Old Wine in New Bags

By Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei,
Drug Action Plan, Old Wine in New Bags

Last week, the Council of Minister approved the Action Plan against the Cultivation and Trafficking of Cannabis 2017–2020. It appears that the primary motivation for this plan is the Draft Progress Report of the European Commission from 2016, as mentioned in the second paragraph of the executive summary of the Action Plan.

Let us, however, for reasons of clarity, have a look at the action report as it was approved by the European Parliament about a month ago:

[The European Parliament calls] for the stepping-up measures to eradicate drug cultivation, production and trafficking in Albania and related networks of organised crime, including by strengthening international and regional cooperation; notes, however, that police and prosecutors fail to identify the criminal networks behind drug cultivation.

The main problem related to cannabis production in not so much the cultivation itself, but the criminal networks that support it. In fact, the numbers given by the government itself show that in spite of a tripling of the amount of captured cannabis plants between 2015 and 2016 the number of indicted traffickers only grew 18%. In the same two years, the number of criminals indicated for organizing and leading criminal networks has been zero.

Table 1. Cases referred to the prosecution by the police for the cultivation of narcotic plants in the period 2010–2016. Table 2. Number of criminal procedures registered by the prosecution for the period 2015–2016.
Table 1. Cases referred to the prosecution by the police for the cultivation of narcotic plants in the period 2010–2016. Table 2. Number of criminal procedures registered by the prosecution for the period 2015–2016.

The numbers presented in the Action Plan thus show both an explosion in the cultivation of cannabis since 2014, and the incapability of the authorities to arrest and prosecute those that are responsible for it.

The National Strategy against Drugs 2012–2016, drafted by the previous government, explicitly stated that the aim of the strategy was to contain drug production to several restricted regions, aiming at minimizing drug production inside the country (p. 5). An infamous example was the village of Lazarat in Gjirokastra. In 2014, the government entered the village with a lot of arms but without containment policy. As a result, cannabis cultivation exploded across the country, as admitted by the Action Plan:

This strong attack had the result that the criminal energies concentrated in this region spread out in other directions across the entire country. (p. 3644)

The first problem is that the Action Plan contains very little innovative ideas to combat this alarming situation. The bureaucratic obstacles are still the same as in 2012: a lack of cooperation between the different government actors, no exchange of information, and ineffective coordination.

In 2012, the government proposed a National Coordination Committee for the Battle against Drugs, in 2017 the government speaks of Central Task Force, an interministerial working group that should be able to overcome the organizational problems, of which the following is perhaps the most serious:

The vertical structure of the State Police impedes the integration of information and contributions that come from specific police sectors, such as traffic, border control, general patrols, leading to limitations in the evaluations of the situation on a local level (the police station). (p. 3646)

Rather than reforming the State Police, the Action Plan suggests that the Central Task Force, led by an Interministerial Committee, sets up a parallel local infrastructure of Local Task Forces. One of the bottlenecks, however, remains the State Police itself, which under former Minister of Interior Affairs Saimir Tahiri has become completely politicized.

The Action Plan nevertheless proposes a “vetting” of public officials responsible for its implementation. One of the measures that is proposed is the verification of the appropriateness of the officials in engaged in the battle against cannabis and the “verification of possible links with incriminated persons.” It is of a magnificent irony that one of the key figures in this implementation of this Action Plan, Minister of Interior Affairs Fatmir Xhafaj, is publicly known to have such links, namely to his brother who is internationally wanted to cocaine trafficking. Minister Xhafaj has never distanced himself from his brother. So if the Action Plan doesn’t even apply to its leader, then to whom else?

The second problem relates to the prosecution of organized crime, about which the Action Plan gives very little information, except that one of the quantitative indicators is the number of cases brought to court. As is clear from the data provided by the government itself, this has not been very successful in the past (zero cases in both 2015 and 2016), and major drug lords such as Klement Balili remain free.

Moreover, changes in the Penal Procedures Law, recently approved in Parliament, will further weaken the coordination inside the prosecution. Currently the Prosecution of Serious Crimes in Tirana deals with both drug trafficking and organized crime, allowing investigations that link connect both fields. Under the new procedures, drug trafficking will be left to regional prosecutors who have much less material and financial support, while investigating organized crime will fall to a newly created Special Prosecutor.

This will leave the investigation of drug trafficking to local police forces and prosecutors, who are in theory much more susceptible to corruption than the Special Prosecution in Tirana. Together with the facts that the “vertical structure” of the State Police is a severe limit on local police forces, and that the implementation of this Action Plan will mainly fall under the responsibility of an official with publicly known links to drug trafficking, this should prepare us for yet another spectacular failure of the Rama government.

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