Transcript of Ambassador Donald Lu “Anti-Corruption” Facebook Webchat

Hello everyone.  This is Don and I’m glad we could have a conversation about corruption.  You may not believe this, but I have lots of hope that things are changing with corruption in Albania.  People in Albania are fed up and want to see change — from the decriminalization of parliament, to judicial reform, to political party financial transparency to prevent vote buying.

Ardenal Ferhati: Honorable Ambassador, you are talking about specific names and you are experiencing firsthand the bitter reality of Albania. My question to you is: how can we go from the assessment to the action? Because asking the corrupt people to punish themselves is a big problem. What will be that magic formula that will put down this big, criminal structure in Albania?

Ardenal, great question.  Changing Albania to will start with new laws — on decriminalization, the National Bureau of Investigation, and judicial reform.  But laws alone won’t change Albania.  Implementation is the really hard work.  Corrupt judges and prosecutors need to be fired and prosecuted.  Criminal politicians should be removed by political party leaders from parliament and local positions.  Corrupt ministers, past and present, must be held responsible for their crimes.  The Albanian people must demand that this happen.

Shpetim Dervishi:  Hello Mr. Lu! We Albanians, we do not want corruption. This is the system that the stealing politicians have established during these 25 years. Here, corruption is like an iceberg and only a small part is visible. But the problem is bigger than we think. My question to you is: Can corruption be fought by those who established it? Thank you!

Shpetim, corruption does not need to be fought by those who created it.  Corruption must be fought by normal people.  Normal people who vote.  Normal people who work in business, in government or in schools.  Normal people who work in NGOs, universities and the media.  Don’t let the politicians control the anti-corruption initiative.

Hamdi Shehu: Ok, you are taking the questions, but who is going to fight corruption?

Hamdi:  You are!  And three million other Albanian citizens.  This is not a fight for the foreigners or the politicians.  It must be owned by regular citizens.

Gazmir Gjoni: Hello Ambassador Lu! My I congratulate you for your “no bars held” remarks and for smashing the reality into the face of our politics and politicians. I think corruption is fought by raising the salaries of the professions that are more prone to corruption. My question is: do you think, that our politicians, we will be able to fight corruption and enter EU within the coming 5 years? Thank you!

Gazmir, it’s a good question.  The United States is not a member of the EU so I don’t know how likely it is that Albania will join the EU soon.  What I do know is that the EU is serious about requiring that Albania make progress on corruption, organized crime and judicial reform before opening accession negotiations.  And yes, you’re right that paying fair salaries is an important part of fighting corruption.

Ard Gr: Mr. Ambassador, the United States brought democracy in many countries of the world.  Why here in Albania the US is indifferent to the high corruption by the MPs? You remain in silence while the people suffer the poverty. Is this the democracy that we asked for? Ardian Elezi, Gramsh.

Ardian,  the United States certainly promotes democracy by developing NGOs, political parties and the media.  We also encourage countries to deal seriously with high-level corruption.  In Albania, we have worked with both the government and opposition to remove members of parliament and mayoral candidates with arrests and criminal convictions.   Approval of the decriminalization law will result in the departure of more of these politicians with criminal records.

Redin Hafizi: Mr. Ambassador. I hope in this case you are thinking to go very deep in the problem. My question is if you think will be possible in Albania to take out the law books the system “Check and Balances” and make it practicable in the Albanian system of government? I think that will be a long term solution for Albania. How can we do that possible Mr. Ambassador? I live in USA and I also pay taxes, but I never have any problem if my tax money goes to fight corruption and terrorism by building stronger democratic societies and strong and fair governments in the World.

Redin, happy to hear that you feel like your taxes are being well spent.  I also think that it’s important for U.S. interests that we support NATO allies like Albania in their fight against corruption.  You have hit on an important issue.  The system of checks and balances functions poorly when you have institutions so much in need of reform like the Albanian judicial system and the Kuvendi.  What’s important now is that as these institutions are reformed, that the principles of checks and balances are reinforced with independent and accountable institutions.

Kreshnik Veliaj: I want to ask why Donald Lu interferes in Albania’s internal issues and the other Ambassadors do not care at all?

Kreshnik, I’ve been hoping that I would get this question.  I have worked for 25 years in countries that have told the Americans to stay out of their business.  In contrast, Albania is very welcoming of American advice.  Our aim is to be involved only in domestic issues that are important to advancing Albania’s EU accession process — anti-corruption, fighting organized crime and judicial reform.

Flori Myftari: Mr. Ambassador, during war times, immigration is a very common phenomenon. Albania is not at war but the number of the people leaving is the same. What do you think about this?

And secondly, if you have classified information on politicians, judges or businessmen who have become rich by stealing or killing, will you make that information available after the justice reform?

Hi Flori, Good question.  I know the Albanian people are smart.  I’m sure they can figure out which are the corrupt and criminal officials.  They are the ones that don’t do their job.  They don’t support reform and they haven’t achieved anything in their positions.  They are the ones that spend all their time stealing your money.

Hamit Shehu: Thank you Mr. Ambassador! Corruption is lack of democracy. What can our biggest ally to establish a real democracy in Albania? I think, especially the democratization of the political parties is the foundation of democracy for a country.

Hamit, I agree with you that the political parties need reform to make them more democratic.  Party leaders today can make all the decisions without consultation or elections.  I hope that electoral reform can address these issues.  Maybe by talking about this issue publicly, you can help.

Lazër Koçeku: Mr. Ambassador. Congratulations on your Albanian language! My question: do you think an integrated, digital system in all the state institutions would lower the corruption level? God bless you and the US!

Lazer, Great suggestion.  I agree that online access to information and services is one of the best ways to combat corruption at the level where regular people seek government services.  There is an initiative, supported by the U.S. Government and the Albanian Ministry for Technology and Innovation, called the Open Government Platform that attempts to spread this technology to national and local government.

Xhev Halili: Hello Mr. Ambassador! In 15 years, our hybrid democracy will equal in years with communism. Of course, they cannot be compared but I wanted to know if our politicians have competitors in other countries. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a civil society movement that would make public the assets of our politicians, judges, and prosecutors – the one obtained by corruption?

Xhev, thank you for that suggestion.  It is normal in many democracies, including in the United States, for the asset declarations of ministers and parliamentarians to be made public each year.  We have suggested this as one of the important ways that political parties and politicians can improve their transparency in Albania.

Gramoz Cekani: Mr. Ambassador, after 25 years of democracy, do you think that today Albanians are better than they were during communism times?

Gramoz, I think lots of people ask that question.  I read a study recently that showed that Albania and one of the Baltic states were the only two former communist countries that have higher income today than in 1991 when communism fell in most of Europe. I have never lived in a communist country, but from the stories I have heard from Albanian friends who lived under the dictator Enver Hoxha there is no comparison with the communist past.  Whatever the challenges and difficulties of the modern day, be secure in the knowledge that every Albanian today enjoys basic freedoms and liberties that they could not have dreamed of under communism.

Arben Marku: Mr. Ambassador, our biggest problem is not those 4-5 politicians that became rich trafficking drugs and women – because such a small number might exist in U.S. as well. Our biggest problem is those judges and prosecutors who were poor but became billionaires within the day.

Arben, I gave a short speech yesterday at the national judges conference.  I tried to separate my remarks into two messages — one for the minority of judges who are terribly corrupt, and one for the majority who do their jobs honorably and do not demand bribes.  I agree that the situation with Albanian judges and prosecutors is intolerable.  I hope you will work to support reforms that identify and remove corrupt and incompetent judges and prosecutors.  It is critical for the future of this country.

Dritan Dervishaj: My question is: When will we have real and independent justice in Albania? Corruption is fought only with punishment and this can be done by independent prosecutors and judges. Thank you.

Dritan:  Independent institutions are essential for balance of powers in any government.  At the same time, judges and prosecutors must be held accountable for crimes they might commit and for any attempt to abuse their power.  The solution devised by the current judicial reform process is to establish judicial and prosecutorial councils, comprised of members of civil society and a majority of judges and prosecutors, who are charged with proposing, promoting and removing judges and prosecutors.  This is a delicate balance.

Psikologu Ppv: Mr. Ambassador, the Albanians trust you but when we see the people you are seating with or working on the judicial reform with, we understand that there isn’t much hope. Justice reform cannot happen with Rakipi or other corrupt people. Reform cannot happen if some corrupted people are replaced by even more corrupted people. This is not a solution. If they don’t change the Penal Code – that currently is a mess – if the penalty for corruption is not several months but – as in the US – over 20 years, you will see that no one will dare to become corrupted.

Psikologu Ppv, It is true that the penalties for public corruption in the United States are very harsh.  I think the people of Albania should have hope that judicial reform is possible.  Today there is a genuine public dialogue.  You are receiving support from your friends in the U.S. and the EU.  Have faith. Change is coming.

Kastriot Dinci: The fight against corruption cannot be done by those who are in the Parliament, those who are close to criminals and thieves. Our people should come into senses and not sell its vote for bags of flour or olive oil. Justice is priority. The MP who fired the gun is out of prison, while the people who were shot are inside it.

Don’t you think that this state continues to deal with crime?

Kastriot, in a democracy, if you are unhappy with your leaders, you have two options — work with the people who are currently in power or wait for the next election and vote for change.  I also have doubts about some of the members of parliament and their willingness to support reform, but with public pressure, I believe change is possible.

Saimir Kola: Mr. Ambassador – I know the amount of money that the U.S. has invested in Albanian justice. You have given millions to this system, and without taking into consideration your investment in professionals of this field. I do understand this, but do you think this gives you the right to say “if this reform is not approved, you will be isolated? How will you accomplish this isolation?

Saimir, It is true.  We and the EU have invested more in judicial sector reform than in any other single issue in Albania.  I’m sure the total equals hundreds of millions of dollars. And we are frustrated at the slow pace of these reforms.  We have not given up.  Nor do we plan to isolate Albania.  We plan to work in partnership to get the job done.  We will not give up.

My second question: you have spoken on violence during the protest. I was at the protest and I didn’t see any violence. What was violated? I’m a journalist and I do have information on the 2 attacked objects. They do not have official permit. So they are not protected by the Albanian law.

Saimir, during the protest on December 8, stones and eggs were thrown both at the Prime Minister’s building, at police and at three government ministries.  And the bunker was set on fire.  The use of these violent tactics overshadowed the real meaning and significance of an otherwise large and peaceful demonstration.  Use of political violence is not consistent with Albania’s democratic values, nor its NATO commitments.

Arjan Dullaj: Can the United States assist us in investigating decriminalization of people in power and cooperation in the justice system? Because our people have lost faith in them.

Arjan:  Ultimately, I don’t think it is the job of foreign governments to investigate the politicians of Albania.  This is the job of the media, civil society, and of political parties.  We are actively working to support the development of capacity of these institutions to investigate the criminal pasts of candidates and current politicians.  I am confident they will be able to do this.

Sokol Cuadari: Mr. Ambassador, congratulations on the difficult mission of implementing the rules of a real and functioning democracy among a class of corrupted politicians that never cease to get full of crime money. The justice reform is the main point of this issue but, considering that our corrupted politicians have enjoyed the favors of a corrupted justice system, my question is: is the support to this reform – which I don’t think will ever be implemented – a sign for showing this political class that it has failed in implementing a real democracy and that it should leave? So, is it better for things to be said clearly?

Sokol, I understand that you and many other Albanians are frustrated.  I ask you not to give up.  We certainly haven’t given up.  I believe change is possible if the people demand it.  Today in Albania, I see everywhere signs that people want firm action on anti-corruption and reform of their judiciary system.  As you say, can we count on the politicians to support these reforms when some may be benefiting from the current system.  We can if the people demand it.

Anton Hasanpapaj: Hello Ambassador. Because you speak Albanian, it is easier for you to understand the Albanians’ truths.

Corruption in Albania is now the norm and one gets impressed by those people who do not obey to this “normality.” In this way, these people are highlighted and are taken out of the system.

My question to you is, can you encourage and support the people who refuse corruption, so they can start establishing a “third pole (i.e. party)?”

For me, corruption starts from the inevitable political recruitment of professional people from all fields. Do you agree?

Anton, It’s an interesting idea to have an anti-corruption political party.  I do think it is the job of any opposition to criticize the government when they have evidence of corruption.  In terms of a separate party focused on anti-corruption, my view is that political parties need to be in favor of something, not just against something.  As for recruitment of people from diverse backgrounds, I believe that if we had more everyday people in politics (teachers, taxi drivers, factory workers, etc.) we would have less corruption in politics.  I am in favor of recruitment of leaders from people from all fields.

Suela Tahiraj: Greetings! It’s known that corruption can’t be 0 in any state of the world, but at least we hope as always to be reduced at least.

My question is: as a student, what can I do to see my country tomorrow as better place to live cause is said that the youths can make the change?

Cause in general most of my friends and the community also are all disappointed that nothing can be done, especially when they see more cases of politicians involved in corruption affairs… Thank you!

Redon Veliu: Hello Mr. Ambassador! Thank you for the opportunity. My question is: what can we, the youth, do for more political freedom and social justice? In countries like Albania, the inexistence of political freedom gives birth to corruption, social inequalities, criminality, etc.. Thank you!

Suela and Redon, I believe that the best thing students can do is to have high expectations – for their leaders, their communities and themselves.  I love meeting young people because they are impatient for change.  They want their country to have the same economy and politics as the most developed countries in Europe.  And they want this immediately.  They are right and by demanding this they will propel Albania into a better future.

Gjergji Naqo: Honorable Ambassador, let’s assume that we solved the corruption problem in the state administration and we fired all the corrupted people. With whom are we going to replace them? With Albanians, right? Writer Faik Konica once wrote that “Albania’s biggest problem are the Albanians.”

Edmond Banushi: Is it possible to fight corruption without depoliticizing the administration? Without independent State Police and Prosecutor? Without honest judges?

Ledieltoni Bardho: Can you find good real Albanian people, even if you pull them from USA to manage Albanian government and economy?!!! So we can vote this government out? People of Albania are in 25 years democracy, 30 years back and poorer then communism times?? Help Albania please take this government out… People of Albanian with their vote never thought that in the party SP there will be again the same criminals to take over the country. They are the communist party and they taking all the people’s money with their fake companies. They did the territory reform to save €100.000.000 a year to build roads, schools, daycares, more money for retired people, but nothing is getting done??!!! They keep saying they have no money?!! In communism people had light and water and now they have no food?!! Help please Albania. Thank you and happy holidays.

Gjergji, Ledieltoni and Edmond, don’t lose hope.  I know so many Albanians who are honorable, hard-working people.  For example, the School of Magistrates produces excellent graduates who go on to become judges and prosecutors.  I am confident that honest and responsible people can be found to lead Albania.

Agjensia Shtypit Tirane: I have a question that I have posted several times but I haven’t received an answer. Is there any corruption in the state administration? I think there is. Do the procurement officials declare their assets? I don’t think so. What is your opinion, Mr. Ambassador?

Agensia Shtypit Tirane, I think there is corruption in the administration, in the parliament, in the courts and in the media.  The real question is what we can do to remove corrupt persons and to prevent corrupt persons from entering these institutions.  Asset declaration is one tool.  Another is international auditing of institutions, political parties, the media and NGOs.  Finally, good investigative journalism is an important tool to discover corruption.

Andi Kumi: Does the State Department takes into consideration in relations with the government of Albania the fact that the politicians are corrupted and think about those whom send their dirty many of shore?

Andi, Yes, fighting corruption is a major priority of Secretary of State John Kerry and of the State Department.  We certainly consider corruption in terms of our bilateral relations with Albania.  It is the main issue raised during our high level meetings.  What often strikes me as odd is that in other countries with high levels of corruption, corrupt persons hide their money off shore in the Cayman Islands.  In Albania, corrupt judges, officials and businesspeople display their wealth so that everyone can see how corrupt they are.  Can someone explain to me why they do this?

Igli Bisha: Why doesn’t the US Embassy boycott every activity, conference, or meeting that is hosted or organized by corrupted politicians? 

Luti Kelmendi: Mr. Ambassador, I am a former political prisoner of the communist time. Should your country – which is our biggest friend – boycott these corrupted people? So, simply do not meet any corrupted politician? And secondly, support us, as a struggling community, to get integrated?

Igli and Luti, You have mentioned one of the challenges we have.  It’s important to work with the government while also working for change. I don’t believe that all the politicians are corrupt and I think that things will change. Already this year, we’ve seen several step down or be removed.  It’s important to keep the pressure on and not give up.

Ardian Murizi: Mr. Ambassador, I want to congratulate you on your mission of pressuring the Albanian politics on decriminalization…Please, do continue your pressure on cleaning our politics from criminals and illiterate people who are keeping hostage the Albanians’ fate.

Ardian, We have seen so much progress on decriminalization over the past year.  Albanians should be proud.  They have stood up to these criminals and said that they will not tolerate them in the parliament and local government.  There is more work to do, but this is a great start.

Le Aleksi: Mr. Ambassador, when will this country have justice? Prosecutor and Courts are corrupted; health system is not functioning; the education system is very weak; every state institution is corrupted.

Aleksi, I hope that in 2016 you and every other Albanian citizen will see judicial reform adopted and real changes beginning.  It will take time to remove all the corrupt judges, prosecutors and officials, but the deterrent effect of major reform will begin immediately.  Immediately, you will see judges, prosecutors and officials suddenly fear the consequences of demanding bribes.  I hope that change is coming very soon.

Artan Toska: Congratulations on the chat topic. Corruption is making the tax-payers even poorer and is forcing the citizens to immigrate. In these 25 years of senseless transition, the Albanians’ life and assets are values less and less…

Artan, Thanks for the compliment.  I am glad that you identify yourself as a tax-payer.  True patriots pay their taxes.

Saimir Allmuça: Mr. Ambassador, I personally denounce corruption because it violates one’s dignity. But the funny thing is that in Albania corruption is the norm and if you are not part of the group, you get expulsed. This is what happened to me personally, while working for an institution under the PM’s, but because I wanted to guard the law, I was fired for political reasons.

Saimir, I am sorry that you lost your job for political reasons.  It is true for thousands of people.  Unfortunately, it is not just true for the change of government in 2013, but was true with the Democratic Party came to power in 2005.  The EU mandated a law that protects civil servants, but unfortunately there are very few civil servants and most positions remain politically appointed.  I hope you will work for change in this area.

Veronika Hasani: Question about corruption? Hahahaha! The more corrupted they are, the higher the rank they are promoted to.

Veronika, It is true that many countries face high-level corruption, but many countries have also successfully fought high-level corruption.  High officials must fear that they could go to jail.  Today in Albania they do not fear prosecution, but if judicial reform is adopted, they will be afraid.

Luan Kurti: Hello Mr. Ambassador! Thank you for this chat and for your contribution and that of the United States in Albania. Corruption here has turned into an existing mentality and it will remain such for as long as no one in power is punished. The crises of trust is even worse than poverty and this paralysis the civil society actions. Here, the evil recycles evil and we Albanians can only vote for the less bad ones. I would be interested in knowing your opinion on how we can get out from this situation. Thank you!

Luan, change starts with citizens.  My colleague from Washington said recently, “Turkeys never vote for Christmas.”  By that he meant that we cannot expect corrupt officials or judges to vote to get rid of corruption.  With the support of your international friends and Albania’s active NGO community, I am certain that average citizens will be able to achieve change.

Eros Kroni: Hello! The Americans love the United States. Because you want to help Albanians fight corruption, don’t you think that maybe you should initiate a campaign to instill among Albanians the love for this country and their origins? I think that the love for this country will make them conscious that the best legacy will not be money, but a strong state, led by the most honest people.

Eros, I was told that Albanian you say, “Albanians love their homeland, like an eagle loves its nest.”  I do think Albanians are very loyal to Albania.  Sadly, this does not always translate into the same commitment to anti-corruption or honest business.

Hamide Hoxha: The best way is to confiscate all the assets that come from corruption and forbid these people to run for a public office again. Just putting them in prison is wrong, because our taxes will still go to keep them in jail.

Hamide, I do think the current version of the decriminalization law does seek to prevent most convicted people from ever running for public office.  It will also remove current politicians with criminal convictions.  It does not confiscate their assets, however.  Maybe you can suggest this.

Pano Fejzulla: we are tired and disappointed… who and how should raise his voice? With what strength we are left with, we think of how to leave and never come back…

Pano, Don’t give up.  Change is coming.  Simply giving up and leaving your homeland is never the right answer.  Join an NGO.  Become an honest journalist.  Volunteer to support your community.

Doni Nido: Mr. Ambassador, you are an excellent man. I like very much your notes on the Albanian politics, you are very original and you don’t spare anyone. Best wishes on your work!

Nihat Abeli: Congratulations Mr. Ambassador for the contribution you are giving to my country, so that my people restore their lost hope. Thank you!

Doni and Nihat, You are very kind.  We are careful not to mention names unless we are very sure of criminal activity or criminal convictions.  We take seriously the respect that Albanians offer to the U.S. Government and will continue to act responsibly and without sparing anyone.

Deni Kroj: Mr. Ambassador, excuse me because I might not know how to express myself…but I wanted to tell you that here mafia leads and that the people are poor. You know what I mean. Please, do something because here the situation is pretty bad. Believe me on this. Enough of this suffering. Humanity shouldn’t suffer for bread and we do not deserve this…we are led by mafia people and if you ask something, it gets worse. You are on the right direction. Please, do not let go!

Deni, Mero Baze wrote today that I am the Godfather of judicial reform.  We are not afraid of the mafia or organized crime.  Nor do we think normal Albanian citizens should fear them.  We are many.  They are few.  We may not have the money or thugs of the mafia, but we do have smart, honest people on our side.  We will prevail.

Ardi Seitllari: Dear Honourable Mr. #DonaldLu. You might have bitter some faces and even scared mostly of our “honorables judges” (how ironic) at the Judiciary Conference, but outside the room the Albanians cheered and applauded your speech. As everyone knows unfortunately the judges are not the only corrupted officials in Albania. Given the chance: would you hold the same speech from the Albanian parliament where the focus of your speech are Albanian MP-s? Whom just happen to have much much more then fancy watches. #AskTheAmbassador

Ardi, Wow.  Great question.  I suspect that I won’t be asked to speak to the Albanian parliament anytime soon.  I do think it’s not just judges who realize that the Albanian people are watching which cars they own, what watches and jewelry they wear and which seaside villas they purchase.  The Albanian people are smart and they are fed up with these excesses.

Astrit Hysaj Mr. Ambassador, About 6 months ago, US Justice Dept brought a US Persecutor in Albania to help Albanian Persecutors with corrupted ex-Ministers, ex-Prime Minister and his family. Can you tell us , what case is he working? Did he close any persecution? Albania need help, because all criminals are free.

Hi Astrit, My colleague from the U.S. Justice Department is working actively to provide technical support to Albanian prosecutors in the Serious Crimes Prosecution office.  They have been working on several important anti-corruption cases together.  I need to be clear, however, all of these cases are being led and prosecuted by Albanian prosecutors.  The United States experts act only in an advisory role.

Sabina Koka Marsh Dear Ambassador Lu,

Hitherto, Albanian officials previously and currently in government offices have been seen taking advantage of the underdeveloped and dilapidated conditions throughout the country to line their own pockets and to gather large tracts of property unbeknownst to many Albanians; as a Himariot, I see the Albanian Southern Coast being slowly taken over by these individuals in the government, even though many residents cannot even build on their own properties. The self-aggrandizing usurpation of our country by a Neo-Communist regime continues now in spirit with an unrelenting avarice and its Machiavellian arbiters who thwart all rightful owners’ claims to their property – and we who have lost our land because of our country’s shameful history must now undertake a daily struggle to reclaim what has always been ours. For instance, it has been apparent that the Albanian government has been reluctant to relinquish property to its citizens and it has been especially difficult for Albanian citizens to engage in equitable legal disputes due to the preponderating corruption at various levels of judicial office. The Criminal Law 7501 is now being used to create touristic villages and to acquire large swaths of real estate by members of the Albanian government as well as their close friends and partners all the while denying those who ought to have been provided with what was theirs before it was taken away from them.

What can the US Embassy do to help Albanians understand the nature and extent of the corruption that exists within their own government? Can the US Embassy provide guidance as well as a safety net for Albanians who feel at risk in making motions to change or overturn certain unethical laws that have been put forward to undermine Albanians and their rights?

It is my sincere hope, Ambassador Lu, that the American Embassy will take steps with the U.S. and Albanian governments to help Albanians reclaim their country.

Sincerely,

Sabina Koka Marsh

Kansas, USA

Hi Sabina, I had the opportunity to visit Himara in July and meet with several leaders of the ethnic Greek Albanian community.  I heard from them all about the illegal seizure of property and the denial of rights.  We follow the issues of this community very closely.  We do so during elections and whenever there is a crisis.  We also have staff members who visit the region regularly.  If Albanians have individual concerns about human rights, they can raise them to the U.S. Embassy and the office of the People’s Advocate of Albania.

Dritan Dema Mr. Ambasador Lu, People’s perception of corruption in Albania is very high. Whilst in Albania have you ever come across to a corrupted politician / judge / prosecutor and how have you handled it? If the Institution you lead (US U.S. Embassy-Tirana), were alleged of the same level of corruption as it is alleged for Institutions of Albanian Justice system, what would you do to to tackle it? Last, an Albanian proverb says: “peshku prishet nga koka”, is there a similar one in US or do you share the same? If time permits you to reach my question, I thank you in advance for your thoughts on this. Finally, thank you for the opportunity and grateful for fighting for such a great cause and rest assured you have the full support of the vast majority of Albanian citizens in Albania and beyond.

Dritan:  I remember learning “peshku prishet nga koka” when I was studying Albanian in Washington, DC.  I don’t think we have the same saying in English.  I think that there is high-level corruption in Albania.  Corruption exists in every country in the world.  The real question is what we do to deal with corruption.  In many cases in the United States, when there are allegations of corruption, they are investigated, and if true, people are punished.  I personally hold those that I work with to high ethical standards, and in other countries in which I have served, I  have fired those who have been involved in illegal activities.  On the question of how I personally deal with it when I meet someone who is corrupt.  I’ll be honest, I do worry about having my picture taken or shaking hands with known corrupt officials, judges or prosecutors.  None of us should look the other way and ignore corruption when we encounter it in our daily lives.

Denis Dulla:  Mr. Donald Lu I would like to congratulate you for your contribution to the Albanian political and social life! And also for being very unbiased and reporting any irregularities for any  politician with a criminal past! Mr. Lu, to me it seems impossible that a group of corrupted officials can vote a judicial reform which touches their interests? Don’t you agree?

Denis, change starts with citizens.  My colleague from Washington said recently, “Turkeys never vote for Christmas.”  By that he meant that we cannot expect corrupt officials or judges to vote to get rid of corruption.  With the support of your international friends and Albania’s active NGO community, I am certain that average citizens will be able to achieve change.

Martin Hicka: Hello Your Excellency, Mr. Ambassador. My question is: Why is the justice reform being postponed? Is the State Department aware of this postponement? May I remind you that it is December and the constitutional changes should have been approved?

Hello Martin, I don’t think I would say that judicial reform has been delayed.  It is an important and complex reform that deserves a full conversation within Albanian society.  This takes time.  I believe the Ad Hoc Committee was wise in sending the draft amendments to the Venice Commission for comment.  This month we expect the preliminary opinion of the Venice Commission.  This, combined with the comments received from the 19 public roundtables, should help the experts make changes to improve the current draft.  I hope that in the spring we will see this set of laws and constitutional amendments approved.

Artan Resuli: Hello Mr. Ambassador. Congratulations and my sincere thanks for all you are doing for Albania. My question is: What action should undertake any common citizen at a personal level to change the situation in Albania? I hope your answer will be simple and direct.

Don’t give up.  Change is coming.  Simply giving up and leaving your homeland is never the right answer.  Join an NGO.  Become an honest journalist.  Volunteer to support your community.

Indrit Sejko: Hello Mister Ambassador! Thank you for contribution in the justice sector, because that is the turning point toward democracy and development. My question is: what is, at the moment, the responsibility of the students who have studied abroad and how can we contribute from here where we live or how can we have an active role in this period of changes? Thank you!

Indrit:  Wonderful question.  I do think that those who have had the opportunity to recieve an expensive education (me included) have a special obligation to give back to society.  I hope that in whatever community you live in or in whatever profession you have chosen, that you are helping to create a culture of active discussion and debate over corruption, judicial reform and ways to improve Albania.

Anduel Et’hemaj: Mr Ambassador, allow me to congratulate you on this concrete issue. Looking at how long this justice reform is taking (regardless of the diplomats’ insistence), from the majority and opposition – doesn’t this show that all the parties are involved in corruption and crime? Doesn’t this show that all the alternatives for governing are corrupted and incriminated? Then, what choices/alternatives could or should we have? Please, keep in mind the Albanian people and their mentality, which is very different from the Americans’.

Anduel:  I’m not sure that Americans and Albanians are so different.  We all want a better future for our children.  We want to earn enough money to support our families.  We want to live in a world where we are treated fairly and with respect.  We have seen this issue raised many times about whether this parliament (with all of its problems) is capable of passing judicial reform.  I believe that there are many honorable people in the Kuvendi and that given the support of the Albanian people, passage of this reform is possible.

Kim Krasniqi: Your Excellency Mr Lu

How come Albania is part of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) but not EU? When will Albania join EU?

I thank you in advance for taking the time to answer my question.

Kim:  As you know, the United States is a member of NATO but not of the EU.  When Albania struggled to join NATO, the United States both supported its accession, but also helped Albania to complete the necessary reforms to qualify for membership.  Now I see that the EU is doing the same thing.  I’m confident that Albania will join the EU.  That is its future.  The only question is when.

Cerciz Loloci: Mr. Ambassador, wouldn’t it be good if some corrupted politicians, either left or right, judges, prosecutors and officials would be declared persona non grata from the US and all western countries? Thank you!

Cerciz:  Super question.  In fact, there is a presidential order (number 7750 -https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2004-01-14/pdf/04-957.pdf ) in the United States which gives the Secretary of State and the Attorney General the authority to ban corrupt officials, judges and prosecutors from entry into the United States.  As we have said before, we are currently reviewing several individuals in Albania to determine whether they should be banned from entering the U.S. based on this presidential order.

Odeta Çunaj: Mr. Ambassador, why do you think that the reform will fight corruption in Albania? And who will implement this, taking into consideration that from the MPs in the Parliament to the receptionist in the most remote office are all corrupted.

Odeta:  Your skepticism is understandable.  The judicial reform is going to be difficult.  There is no way to deny this.  I agree that the implementation of this reform will be a huge challenge.  For example, a key part of the current reform proposal is the review of background, qualifications, decisions and assets of current judges and prosecutors.  The experts proposed in the reform that this review process be conducted by Albanian legal experts (proposed by the People’s Advocate and approved by the Kuvendi) with active monitoring by representatives of the United States and European Union.  I, for one, am confident that there are honorable people in Albania who can do this difficult task.

Angela Brahaj Mr Ambassador congratulation on your involvement against corruption. My question is this, how come that any government since 1991 did not bring to justice any of the ex-communist leaders? Berisha Nano, Rama, Meta, Gjinushi, Pllumbi,Ruci, I can be here all day writing their names, all these people are the protectors of the ex-communist administration, all these people at some point served hoxha’s government. To this day none of them has been brought to justice, the judges are all ex-communist people. I do not think we Albanian people deserve any better because we do not know,how to vote or who to vote, we sell our votes for a single meal. The corruption will go on and on for as long as all these people are in power, the difference and,distance between people and,politicians is like day and night. Can you please push and,make it your agenda to support the people that really suffered under the same people that are in power. Judges prosecutors and are all part of the corruption system, regards

Angela:  You make an important point about Albania’s communist past.  I have worked in several former communist countries, but I am not an expert on Albania’s communist past of the records of individual politicians.   I do think that it is essential that societies address their history and not try to hide the past.  I supported the government’s efforts last spring to approve the lustration laws.  I argued that Albanians today have a chance to talk about their history before those who lived during that period are gone.  With the fall of communism already 25 years in the past, this opportunity will only exist for a few more years.

Taulant Muka: Hello Mr. Lu. I am a doctor and allow me to tell you that 50% of the doctors in Albania get salaries that are not enough to make end meet by the end of the month. my question is: does this happen in United States? i think that increasing the doctors’ salaries will prevent corruption drastically in the health system.

Also, a few days ago i watched a documentary on climate change. President Barack Obama is also encouraging action on this cause. In Albania, we have ruined 50% of our forests in a very abusive and corruptive way. My question regarding this issue is: how can I and my friends and colleagues can contribute to such an important problem for our planet? Thank you!

Taulant:  Thank you for your comments.  I am very pleased that the United States and the Albania have worked together with over 150 other countries to conclude this historic climate change agreement.  Our grandchildren will thank us.  I have met several doctors and medical professionals since I arrived in Albania.  You are absolutely right that the salaries for skilled medical staff are completely inadequate.  There is now a big gap between what medical staff are paid in government hospitals and private clinics.  The United States suffers from this problem as well.  It is important to recognize the problem and to work to provide doctors, nurses, and other professionals with fair salaries.

Bledi Taho: Hello Mr. Ambassador Lu! I congratulate you for your initiative and for the continuing support that the U.S. gives to the Albanian people. What would be the best intervention to decrease corruption and improve equal access in public services for the Roma community? Thank you, Bledi

Bledi, thank you for your question about the Roma community and corruption. My experience is that some of the people with the least rights in societies are the most vulnerable to corruption.  Some of the current initiatives on anti-corruption involve internet portals and transparency of assets and budgets.  In the context of the Roma community, we have always believed that one of the main obstacles to accessing services and benefits is the lack of identity documents.  Some babies are born in the Roma communities in Albania, but the births are not registered.  This can cause a lifetime of problems as this child grows to adulthood without identity documents.  The Ministry of Interior and local NGOs are actively working, with support from the U.S. Embassy, to educate Roma families about their rights to access services, including birth records and identity documents, under Albanian laws. Great question.

I want to thank each and every one of you who participated in this Facebook chat.  I learned a lot about what Albanians are thinking through your comments and questions.  I look forward to meeting many of you in person and continuing this conversation.  We’ll chat again soon.  Best, don