Kosovo: Power Transfer Concerns

The "transfer of competencies" from international community to local control is hitting a series of stumbling blocks.

Kosovo: Power Transfer Concerns

The "transfer of competencies" from international community to local control is hitting a series of stumbling blocks.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

Worries are deepening over the transfer of power in Kosovo, following the Serb boycott on April 8 of the joint commission meeting aimed at shifting power from the United Nations to the Kosovo government.

Serbs in the protectorate fear the meeting marks the beginning of a slide towards an independent Kosovo in which they would have little or no power.

But while some in the protectorate remain cautious over what transferring authority may mean, many Albanians are adamant that the role of Kosovo's government must be expanded.

Ramush Tahiri, political advisor to the President of the Assembly of Kosovo, is convinced that Kosovars can run the country much better than the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, has done in the past four years.

"The bottom line is that UNMIK's budget ends in 2006 and they have to start giving the power away to the local administrators who speak the language, know the mentality and are here to stay for good rather than on a six month contract," Tahiri told IWPR on Wednesday.

Although substantial areas including budgetary, taxation and overall fiscal control have been handed over, UNMIK will retain control defence, justice and diplomatic relations.

UNMIK, however, appears more cautious about how much authority the Kosovo government can expect to assume. "If you want to carry something heavy, then you need strong arms," Simon Haselock, head of UNMIK's public information department told IWPR on Monday.

"Now they know what transfer means, they know that qualified people are needed to deal with it, and there simply aren't enough of those, so it's not as easy as they thought. They really know now what a decade of being frozen out of government has meant."

Lack of professionalism is a key problem facing the new government, according to Haselock. Under the Milosevic regime, Albanians were excluded from government, so many of the officials running Kosovo's institutions have no previous experience to draw on. Challenged over any shortcomings in their work, they make excuses or try to shift the blame, said Haselock.

Officials outside Kosovo have also expressed concern that the transfer process may be moving too fast. In Belgrade Deputy Serb premier Nebojsa Covic said in an interview last week on UNMIK radio that he felt the problem was not with transference itself but rather with its timing. "We are not generally against transfer of competencies, but the problem for us is when and how it is done," he said.

Bajram Rexhepi, the prime minister of Kosovo, has admitted that his government does lack a clear strategy for the power transfer.

According to Rexhepi this is partly due to the fact that the average government salary of 270 euro a month is hardly a motivation for educated civil servants and local specialists, who are more likely to go and work for international organisations for at least double the money.

However, even enthusiasts such as Tahiri - who claims that the Kosovo government can handle all the responsibilities given to it - confess that there is one challenge which will be extremely difficult to overcome.

Many in the government fear that the Kosovo Serbs are becoming increasingly radicalised by the transfer process.

A day after the transfer of power working group began talks, Kosovo Serbs organised a demonstration in Gracanica, the Serbian enclave in the centre of the protectorate, carrying banners protesting against independence.

The transfer of power has a longer term significance to both Albanians and Serbs. The former, many of whom want sovereignty, see the process as an opportunity to prove they are capable of running their own state.

Mehmet Hajrizi, secretary to the prime-minister said: "It is very important, because it will have a bearing on how Kosovo meets the standards which the international community has laid down as the primary conditions for our independence."

Officials have so far complained that their limited mandate prevents them from working effectively. UNMIK insists that the current government's incompetence in exercising its limited authority means it has not yet earned the right to greater powers. "Faced with a difficult situation, too many local officials raise their hands and ask UNMIK to come in and help them," claimed Haselock.

"The non-functioning of the tax system is one of the most glaring examples," he said, adding that out of 40,000 businesses now registered in Kosovo, the government has only collected taxes from 2,000 - which means that 95 per cent of businesses are not paying. Even the Kosovo Energy Corporation, KEK, the biggest public company in the province, has not been taxed.

Tahiri begs to differ, claiming that UNMIK is the highest authority when it comes making taxation effective.

While the blame game continues, it appears as if the process which is, in theory, being called "the transfer of competencies" may in practice turn into a transfer of incompetencies - from UNMIK to Kosovo government.

Alma Lama is a regular IWPR contributor.

Support our journalists