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BIRN: The draft that limits the opposition and closes the doors to investigative commissions is revealed
Written by SOT.COM.AL 30 Nëntor 2023
Through a draft law submitted to the Assembly by deputy Ermonela Felaj, the majority intends to limit the rights of the opposition for the establishment of investigative commissions as well as to conduct closed sessions with the claim of protecting commercial secrets, state secrets and social morality.
The Albanian government envisages limiting the rights of the opposition for the establishment, object and manner of development of the parliamentary investigative commissions, through a draft law deposited on Thursday in the Parliament by the socialist deputy, Ermonela Felaj.
The draft provided by BIRN also envisages closing the doors of these commissions to the public through evasive interpretations for the protection of witnesses' personal data, the protection of commercial and state secrets or the non-damage of "social morals".
According to the current law "On the organization and functioning of the Investigative Commissions of the Assembly", the request of 35 deputies is sufficient and "the Assembly is obliged to approve the establishment of the commission".
But according to Felaj's draft, the Assembly is obliged to set up the commission depending on its object; when the issue must be related to the legislative function and other functions of the Assembly, when the object focuses on concrete issues and subjects and when there are sufficient data and indications for the existence of the issue.
The definition of the object has continuously been a bone of contention between the opposition and the majority, which has characterized the requests for investigation commissions of the opposition as attempts to investigate individuals and not issues related to the implementation of the law.
Although investigative commissions have been evaluated as a mechanism in the hands of the minority to provide transparency, the draft submitted to the Assembly foresees a series of circumstances for closing the doors of these commissions.
Closed meetings are foreseen during testimony in the commission, on the grounds that publicity may harm the witnesses or the data presented to the commission.
This proposal comes in two variants.
In the first variant, the public is excluded from meetings by interim decision in cases where the personal life of witnesses is involved, when their lives are endangered or when references are made related to business/commercial secrets or state secrets.
In the second variant, the draft foresees the closing of the doors in cases where "publicity may harm social morals or may lead to the dissemination of data that should be kept secret in the interest of the state".
Such a thing can happen only if the commission deems it necessary. Also, the new law forces all members of the commission to keep confidential the information that emerges in these closed meetings.
Defending these proposals, MP Ermonela Felaj told the media on Thursday that witnesses cannot be treated as accused. According to her, deputies who become members of these commissions may violate the Criminal Code, because they do not recognize it and may turn the commission into a body that it is not.
"In the German Bundestag, it does not happen that witnesses who are criminal charges are called without obtaining the permission of the prosecutor, while in our law we do not find guarantees for the witness," emphasized Felaj.
But her proposal is opposed by the opposition.
The deputy of the Democratic Party, Jorida Tabaku, who led the last parliamentary investigative commission on the incinerator affair, told BIRN that the evidence does not have to be kept behind closed doors, not even referring to the German case.
"There can be meetings of commissions with closed doors when sensitive documentation is examined, but in our case, we did not have any because the government did not give us such information," said Tabaku.
Other proposals are related to the request for evidence, which according to the current law was the right of every member of the commission.
"The decision-making related to the evidence is carried out with an intermediate decision and as such it is subject to the majority that this type of decision-making requires," proposes Felaj. The same is expected to happen with the request for witnesses.
Since the sensational commission on the incinerator affair, the majority has rejected every other request of the opposition, denying the constitutional right to control the government, claiming that the law in force needs adjustments. The rejection of the demands for the parliamentary investigative commissions has pushed the opposition led by former Prime Minister Sali Berisha to radicalize its position in the Assembly.