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Political patronage and the state in Albania during last decade

Among every major crisis in Albania, political or economic ones, the political
patronage undoubtedly topped the list. For more than two decades, political
parties had enjoyed the power to appoint individuals to positions in the
public sector, with two ominous long-term consequences: the excessive
growth of the countrys civil service and the continuous increase of the public
sector wage bill.
When substituting state with party in offce we feel that we get an apt
description of the workings of political patronage. Although patronage has
been a permanent feature of not only Albanian politics since the transition to
party democracy, it became particularly pronounced during the last decade
and, since then, continued intensifying.
Political patronage has been a time-honored feature of Albanians political
system. In this regard we have to distinguish between traditional
clientelism and machine politics, in which the political loyalty and
identifcation of voters benefts the party as such, rather than individual
politicians.
In the last decade the politics, has introduced the so called meritocracy
clientelism to convince all parties about patronage that consists of
systematic infltration of the state machine by party devotees and the
allocation of favors through it [and] characterized by an organized expansion
of posts and departments in the public sector and the addition of new ones
in an attempt to secure power and maintain a partys electoral base.
Ever since Albanias transition to pluralist politics in 1990, parties have
played crucial roles in organizing the public space, aggregating social
demands, socializing the citizens, and, in short, creating what has been
termed a party democracy. The major parties that emerged in the new
pluralist environment were the center-right Democratic Party (PD) and the
center-left Socialist Party (PS).
The turning point was the elections of 1992, which PD won the administrative
election, thereafter creating the conditions for two decades of almost
uninterrupted rule of the same spirit of doing the state based in their
slogans.
That election also signifed the transformation of the party system that had
existed in Albania for four decades into a classic two-party system (which
represented the two wings of political ideologies) that is, a system in which
the existence of third parties does not prevent the two major parties from
governing alone, i.e. whenever coalitions are unnecessary.

The predominance of parties, in conjunction with the solidifcation of twopartyism, has given rise in last decade to political polarization, which often
peaks around election times. Political competition thus often takes the form
of a near zero-sum game between the two rival parties over the spoils to be
gained from capturing the state.
Polarized competition in a two-party system is, of course, only one side of the
patronage coin; the other side is statism, that is, the expansion of the state
in all areas of public life, which thus becomes a major aspect of Albanian
political culture, not only as an ideology and practice, but also as a core
social expectation.
A tradition of state centralism, the large size of public administration and its
extensive control over key sectors of the national economy, the overt
politicization of its functions and the lack of autonomy of the bureaucracy,
becomes the technical staff during the years subordinated to political
authority.
State centralism, frst, has deeply affected by politics which, to this date, is
characterized by centralism, bureaucratization, and legalism.
Second, with regard to size, the state is the only employer which offers
employment, whether on a permanent or temporary basis, to approximately
150.000 individuals. Besides being the largest employer, the state has
always aimed at asserting economic control over strategic sectors of the
economy.
Such state expansion has slowed down a bit, when privatizations were
initiated. Even so, to this date government control on public corporations
remains the heart of the matter.
The third characteristic of the Albania state is the predominance of party
political loyalty rather than individual merit for both recruitment and
promotion in the civil service hierarchy. Every public central institution has
an overabundance of political appointees who aid the top managers and who
supervise and, at times, supplant top civil servants.
The fourth characteristic of the state is the bureaucracys lack of autonomy
and its subservience to political elites. A wave of creating independent
authorities that began in the 1990s and continued into the following decade
was intended precisely to reinvigorate the status of the civil service vis--vis
central political authority.

Under pressure from their own electorates for precious state jobs and other
state-related benefts, and despite an effort towards state reform through
privatizations, party patronage remained the order of the day.
In 2013, when socialist wing once again returned to power, it had become
quite obvious to everybody that patronage had got out of hand and that it
should be contained. This led the government to establish a set of legal rules
and institution intended to be the watchdog over the hiring of civil service
staff.
But, lets see the scope of patronage, which may be further analyzed as
range (i.e. the number of institutions affected by it) and depth (i.e. the
number of levels within each institution permeated by patronage).
Within the ministerial level, frst, at top level all positions are distributed
through political appointment. Still remaining at top level, the vast majority
of state corporation directors, chief executives, and boards of directors are
all direct political appointments. All such top management positions are in
the full discretion of the government and flled upon political criteria. There
are only a few but important exceptions, of which the most important is
perhaps the appointment of the heads of the independent and regulatory
authorities, which are decided by the Parliament. The fact that those
appointments are made after at least the two major parties have reached
consensus ensures their nonpartisan character. It is not unusual, however,
that governments try to sidestep those criteria and promote to top positions
individuals who are politically friendlier to them.
Personnel appointment procedures at the middle and bottom levels within
either the ministerial or the extra-ministerial domains are remarkably similar.
At middle level, frst, although most posts are earned through regular
advancement within the civil service hierarchy, personnel selection on the
basis of party affliation is also fairly common. Civil service personnel at this
level include directors and heads of sections. Promotion to the post of
director general depends on the decision of a council, permanently seated at
the Department of Public Administration (DPA).
Evidently, in what appears to be common practice, by appointing friendly
directors to the council of the minister can infuence the selection of heads of
directorates and of sections in the public central institutions.
At the states bottom level, and in the absence of unifed legislation,
personnel is distinguished into two categories, tenured and contracted.
Tenured staff includes those occupying organic positions in the public
administration (including the local government). According to the Civil
Service Law, the recruitment of such personnel is based on yearly
programming by the DPA and depends on successful performance in written

nationwide examinations supervised by DPA. In parallel, however, there are


also a large number of contract employees, who are hired on looser
procedures and criteria, and often claim their incorporation into the
permanent public workforce.
Contract employees are further distinguished into three specifc categories:
employees on renewable fxed-term contracts; employees with work
contracts lasting for the duration of specifc projects; and seasonal workers.
Most, if not all, of these categories enter the state through party patronage
channels.
At the middle level of state administration, thanks to a rigid system of
hierarchical promotions along public sector ranks, the demand for patronage
to specifc social categories becomes stronger. Typically at this level, state
employees seek two things: frst to climb the ladder of hierarchy in as fast
and unobstructed a way as possible and, second, to get transferred across
administration departments or sectors, whether temporarily or permanently,
to positions with better working conditions and higher remuneration.
Patronage, furthermore, has to be understood in relation to three structural
characteristics of the post-authoritarian Albanian political system:
(a) the predominance of parties in the polity and the creation since 1990 of a
two-party system in which the signifcant parties have regularly alternated in
offce
(b) the intense polarization of political competition that has been used by the
major parties in order to both rally their supporters and, once in power, fully
exploit the state resources
(c) the politicization of the civil service, in conjunction with its lack of
autonomy from party political authority.
To the extent that parties dominate a winner-takes-all political system, the
state is up for grabs by the party that wins elections and the spoils ready to
be distributed to party supporters, voters, and other affliates.
Patronage is particularly evident at the bottom and top ends of the public
administration area, but also fourishes at the middle level in the form of
preferential intrastate transfers.
As successive governments have brought into the state new masses of
employees on the basis of party patronage criteria, the state has come to
look like a sedimentary rock, each layer of which represents a particular
geological period.
Patronage is not produced by political parties acting as unitary actors. It is
rather prompted by political entrepreneurs that thrive inside the two major
parties, which, despite their commonly loose organizational structures and

blurred ideological positions, are destined to alternate in offce. A two-way


logic seems to develop: the parties need those entrepreneurs who, through
developing patronage networks, bring in voters, and the political
entrepreneurs need the parties, especially when in offce, for offering them
access to state-related spoils. There is, however, an unintended
consequence.
Party entrepreneurs in both of the major parties may exercise as strong an
opposition to same-party fellow politicians as to the adversary party. As for
the smaller parties, they take part in patronage politics only in some sectors
or in proportion to the strength of the unions that represent them.