Macedonia: Airport Corruption Revelations

New corruption probe exposes alleged malpractice in the running of the country's airports.

Macedonia: Airport Corruption Revelations

New corruption probe exposes alleged malpractice in the running of the country's airports.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

Airport managements accused of handing out free plane tickets to cronies and employing a greatly inflated workforce are the latest target of the new Macedonian government in its drive to stamp out corruption.

The national auditor has reported a wide range of improper dealings by the state-run Public Enterprise for Airport Services, JPAU, which last year registered a loss of two million euro. In addition, JPAU owes some six million euro to foreign and domestic banks.

"We face serious economic problems due to the irresponsible policies of the former management. What used to be one of the most profitable enterprises in Macedonia has become a loss maker," the new director of JPAU, Fatmir Besimi, told IWPR.

Besimi belongs to the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, an ethnic-Albanian partner in the coalition that swept to power in September after defeating the former ruling VMRO-DPMNE coalition.

Since then, the new government has conducted a vigorous campaign against the corruption that, it claims, has sprung up in the public services since 1998, when its predecessors came to power.

The state prosecutor's office has so far declined comment but IWPR sources confirmed that charges against the former management of JPAU are expected any day now.

JPAU manages the country's two international airports, one in Skopje and the other in Ohrid. Until November 2002, this enterprise was headed by Ernad Fejzulahu, a prominent member of the Democratic Party of the Albanians, DPA, which played a part in the former government.

After financial worries, over-manning is the biggest problem facing JPAU. An enterprise that had 470 employees in 1997 now has 873 - many of the new recruits being Albanians.

Some of these jobs were fictitious with salaries going to people who never showed up for work. The new director said documentation was in such a mess when he took over that he could not say how many such cases there were.

In a study of JPAU balance sheets for 2000, the state auditor found that Fejzulahu gave airplane tickets to people he had no right to; illegally sponsored sporting, cultural, and other events at a cost of 7.4 million denars (120,000 euro); and allowed some 6.1 million denars to be spent on the company's expense account.

With the company's account blocked because of its debts, employees at JPAU have received no salaries for the past two months.

Fejzulahu denies the accusations of improper dealings and defends his recruitment policies, saying they were designed to boost the number of Albanians who were poorly represented in the organisation. He said there were four when he took over and 170 by the time he left.

The former director blamed the 2001 conflict for the company's financial losses. "Albanian passengers started to avoid flights from Macedonia and travelled from Pristina and Tirana instead," he said.

Fejzulahu stressed that the number of Albanians employed at JPAU was still below the proportion required under the Ohrid agreement that ended the fighting.

Some analysts are reserving judgement on the affair, calling for an independent audit to examine the truth behind the charges being hurled between the old and new managements.

Asim Bekiri, a writer on economic matters for the Global newspaper, which is published in both the Macedonian and Albanian languages, said it was currently difficult to establish exactly what went on.

"Both managements, the old one and the new, were appointed on political grounds so it is natural that their assessments are coloured by party loyalties," Bekiri wrote. "We need a detailed audit by an independent institution."

Irfan Agushi is a journalist at Albanian language daily Fakti

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