BIRN Albania Publishes Report on Local Mayors’ Assets

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania has published a report entitled ‘Analysis of the System of Asset Declarations of Mayors in Albania’, which evaluates the wealth of the heads of local government units in the country as well as the integrity of the asset declaration system.

The asset declarations of serving mayors were analysed with the help of three financial experts, who recorded and categorised in a database all the data declared by heads of municipalities in their annual asset disclosures.

The experts analysed the information using a plausibility check, a method of scrutiny used by Albania’s High Inspectorate of Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflicts of Interest, HIDAACI, to investigate the wealth of public officials.

The goal of the report is to identify key trends contributing to the enrichment of the 61 heads of local municipalities in Albania.

The study sheds light not only on how mayors in Albania have accumulated wealth but also on key practices which obscure the origins of their money.

These include dividends from businesses, debts owed by family members, real estate transactions and cash kept outside the banking system.

To download a copy of the report in Albanian, click here.

BIRN and SHARE Launch Project on Digital Freedom Violations

BIRN Hub in partnership with SHARE Foundation, supported by Civitates, have launched a project called ‘Mapping Digital Freedom Violations’ which will run from June 2019 until November 2020 and monitor digital threats and trends in their occurrence, raise awareness about violations of digital freedom, and issue policy recommendations.

The main goal of the project is to determine who are the main players involved in disinformation and propaganda in the south-east and central Europe (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania and Serbia) through establishment of the Digital Monitoring database, continuous monitoring of digital threats, and reporting on digital freedom violations.

The project entails training for digital monitors, the design and launch of the Digital Monitoring database using the already existing experience of SHARE Foundation, the publishing of a cross-regional report and five regional investigations, plus stakeholder meetings and a final conference to promote the cross-regional report.

The project will set guidelines for carrying out the monitoring of digital rights and freedoms.

These standardised rules for categorising cases of violations of digital rights and freedoms can be adapted and applied to any country and used to emphasise the importance of the use of technology to highlight social issues, especially in countries and regions without good human rights records.

Previous monitoring has shown that the primary problems are technical attacks on online content, disabling access to content and the endangerment of information security.

Report on Public Institutions’ Recruitment Process Problems

Monitoring report entitled ‘Carving up the Pie’ has been produced as a part of the Monitoring of Recruitment Processes of Senior Managing Positions project that BIRN is implementing in cooperation with the British Embassy in Kosovo.

The report finds that Kosovo institutions have failed in implementing an agreement signed with the British Embassy by appointing people to senior positions who did not meet criteria set by an assessment by British experts.

The purpose was to support joint efforts to ensure independence, meritocracy and professionalism in the process of recruitment for senior management positions in the civil service and on the boards of public enterprises.

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Report in English
Report in Albanian
Report in Serbian

Municipal Procurement Report

The publication analyses procurement procedures involving key actors from Kosovo institutions including government officials, Kosovo Assembly members and non-governmental organisations.

BIRN discovered that only a limited number of complaints about procurements were resolved in favour of businesses that appealed, with most decisions going in favour of the municipalities. Municipalities did not change their decisions despite demands from businesses to review their decisions, the report found.

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Monitoring Report on the Integrity of Kosovo’s Tax Administration

Monitoring Report on the Integrity of Kosovo’s Tax Administration (TAK) covers the period September 2018-February 2019. The monitoring was launched as a result of the reported low level of confidence that citizens have in TAK, and their perceptions about the level of corruption in the institution.

The aim of the report was to identify the ‘black holes’ in the process and raise red flags about the need for improvements in the standards, procedures and legal bases which enable and improve integrity within TAK.

The report concluded that TAK must seriously engage in improving the overall situation at the institution. Among the 15 recommendations made, BIRN and D+, partner on the project, suggested improvements to the Disciplinary Commission of TAK, the efficiency of its staff and resources, and for tax inspectors to be included among the public officials required to declare their assets.

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Report in English

BIRN: Stop Targeting Slobodan Georgiev

BIRN calls on all relevant institutions, especially the Serbian Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor’s Office, to react urgently to the latest attacks on our editor Slobodan Georgiev.

A day after BIRN published photographs pointing to a connection between Andrej Vucic, the brother of the Serbian President, and Zvonko Veselinovic, a notorious businessman from Kosovo, a campaign started on social networks, attacking and threatening both Georgiev and the investigative portals BIRN, CINS and KRIK.

A video recording, available on Twitter from last night, describes Georgiev as a “foreign mercenary”, a “traitor” and as an associate of Albanian and Kosovo politicians.

The footage uses cover pages of the pro-government tabloid Informer, which refer to the “lucrative jobs” BIRN has done for foreign donors. Such slurs have been disproven in court. The same clip also targets CINS and KRIK media outlets.

The background tone of the recording is the alarm siren used during the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999.

The release of the video has attracted numerous comments that contained insults and threats, some of which have been removed in the meantime.

As has happened before, instead of the dealing with the results and evidence presented by investigative media centres, raising awareness about threats to the rule of law, the fight against the corruption and the work of institutions, attention is being directed to editors and journalists who then become targets of attacks.

This spread of lies and misinformation is creating additional pressure on all journalists who want to work independently and professionally and critically report on the activities of the authorities. It is making them targets.

BIRN would remind the public and the relevant institutions that its editorial team has been almost constantly targeted by pro-regime media and ruling party bots on social networks since 2014.

We point out also that the attacks on Georgiev and BIRN have been reported to the authorities many times – without any concrete action being taken.

BIRN Kosovo Reports on Public Institutions’ Recruitment Process Problems

BIRN Kosovo has published a monitoring report entitled ‘Carving up the Pie’, produced as a part of the Monitoring of Recruitment Processes of Senior Managing Positions project that BIRN is implementing in cooperation with the British Embassy in Kosovo.

The report finds that Kosovo institutions have failed in implementing an agreement signed with the British Embassy by appointing people to senior positions who did not meet criteria set by an assessment by British experts.

Last year, Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj and parliament speaker Kadri Veseli signed a number of memoranda of cooperation with the British Embassy in Pristina on the provision of assistance to institutions in recruitments for senior management positions.

The purpose was to support joint efforts to ensure independence, meritocracy and professionalism in the process of recruitment for senior management positions in the civil service and on the boards of public enterprises.

BIRN Kosovo’s monitoring report contains details of specific vacancies, indicating violations and interference that took place to appoint people who did not meet the criteria.

In some cases, BIRN was not allowed to monitor important vacancies for positions in Kosovo institutions. The government did not allow BIRN to monitor vacancies for positions on the boards of 14 public enterprises.

Report in English
Report in Albanian
Report in Serbian

Resonant Voices Workshop Held in Berlin

Selected Resonant Voices Fellows attended a workshop in Berlin on March 25-29, 2019, marking the official start of this year’s Fellowship program. The fellows will produce compelling content that pushes back against a polarising, inflammatory, and radicalising discourse.

In Berlin, the fellows received comprehensive training in reporting, writing and structuring skills and worked with BIRN editors on developing their story ideas. The workshop lasted four days and, besides work with editors, included visits to a number of organisations and meetings with relevant stakeholders in the area of migration, integration and radicalisation. The fellows were introduced to the work of local organisations such as Disruption Network Lab and Mediendienst Integration, which deal with issues relevant to the their reporting projects.

Going forward, the fellows will be mentored by designated editors and visual communications mentors in order to benefit from their practical experience and produce stories of the highest quality.

Click on the links below for videos where you can find out more about the in-depth stories the RVI fellows are working on:

Learn more about the Resonant Voices Initiative and follow the work of the RVI Fellows.

Herceg Novi to Host BIRN’s Investigative Journalism School

Herceg Novi and its stunning coastline will be the setting for the BIRN Summer School of Investigative Reporting in 2019.

The school brings together some of the world’s best journalists and trainers for six-days in the Bay of Kotor, known as the southern-most fjord in Europe.

Between August 18 and 25, reporters will have the opportunities to learn cutting-edge investigation skills while enjoying the delights of Adriatic Sea.

Successful applicants will be provided with excellent possibilities for networking – and the possibility of getting a grant for a story idea.

The lead trainer on the course in Montenegro is one of the best investigative editors in the US, Reuters’ Blake Morrison, a three-times finalist for the Pulitzer investigative award.

As part of the school, you will learn how to dig for data, convince difficult sources to talk, transform your research into sparking prose and harness the power of videos.

Who the Summer School is for:

The training course is suitable for both investigative journalists with a few years’ experience as well as those who are more skilled.

We encourage application from experienced journalists that want to learn new trends and work with a new generation of reporters, as well as editors interested in encouraging investigative reporting in their media outlets.

Investigative Story Fund:

The 30 reporters selected to take part, of which 20 will hail from the Balkans, will work together in groups throughout the week to develop an idea for a hard-hitting investigation, which will be presented to a panel of judges on the final day.

The three best story ideas will be awarded with funds and editorial support. 

Montenegrin coast:

Known as the southern-most fjord in Europe, the Bay of Kotor boasts a landscape that you won’t easily forget. The Iberostar Herceg Novi hotel is at the entrance to the bay, surrounded by forested mountains and a crystal blue sea, to which you have direct access.

On the opposite side of the bay you can admire Herceg Novi, the city that gives its name to the hotel and that has a history dating back over six centuries.

In a secluded location away from the hustle and bustle but well connected with the airports of Dubrovnik (26km) and Tivat (30km), the hotel is just a few kilometres from the popular tourist spots such as Kotor, Perast and Herceg Novi.

Participants will have the chance to enjoy the idyllic surroundings while honing their investigative journalism skills.

Apply here!