Defense that does not require an army

On the continuous threats to the public health of Kosovar citizens and the army of civil servants that has failed to defend them.

Forming a Kosovo army in order to improve the state’s ability to defend itself from potential external attack, especially from Serbia, has become a heated topic of debate in the past few weeks.

Calls for forming an army increased after the change in the US administration, increasingly intense provocations from Serbia, the construction of a wall in the northern part of Mitrovica, and the launch of the Belgrade-Mitrovica train.

Nine years after its declaration of independence, Kosovo continues to not have an army and does not control the entirety of its territory. Defense is one of the basic functions of a state. But, apart from defending its borders, what has Kosovo done to create institutional mechanisms to protect its citizens from internal threats? And by internal threats I do not mean threats from terrorist attacks or other criminal activities, but the threat of living in an environment that is detrimental to one’s health as a result of failed government policies.

Here are some examples of how Kosovo citizens are threatened every day due to the failure of state protection mechanisms:

For many years, residents of the Prishtina area have lived in an environment that is a public health hazard due to the pollution caused by two power plants, the use of coal and wood for heating, and emissions from old vehicles. But in the last three months, thanks to air quality meters installed by the US embassy, citizens are more alarmed by the high levels of pollution. Despite constant demands from citizens, protests and campaigns, the government of Kosovo and the municipalities of the Prishtina area have not taken any measures to reduce the level of pollution.

It has been over a year since claims that dairy products in Kosovo contain palm oil, a carcinogenic product, were made public. Recently, a representative of local producers once again accused certain companies of using this vegetable oil in their products. On the other hand, the Food and Veterinary Agency has declared that they have not taken any action to verify these accusations “because governing institutions and representatives of the European Union did not request such a decision to be taken.”

Meanwhile for years people have been concerned about the use of heating oil with high levels of sulphur, an additional danger to the health of citizens. Three years ago Prishtina residents were alarmed when oil used to heat schools was tested and appeared to contain very high levels of sulphur. According to assessments conducted by the municipality of Prishtina, two Prishtina neighborhoods, Dardania and Kodra e Trimave, were the most polluted as a consequence of using substandard heating oil. The Ministry of Trade and Industry has not taken any serious action to ban oil with high levels of sulphur.

In 2014, Albania blocked flour being imported from Kosovo because of a substandard level of proteins. Meanwhile in February 2015, during an Assembly session, Kosovo MP and Faculty of Agriculture professor Sali Salihu claimed that the flour imported into Kosovo contained bran or was of the same quality as animal food. Once again, the Food and Veterinary Agency has not issued a report investigating these claims.

A few days ago, the former manager of KEDS’ Safety and Health at Work department, Fahredin Macastena, declared that the company’substations used carcinogenic oils. This was also reported by the media a year ago, but again, no action has been taken.

Last week, endocrinologists wrote a letter to the Ministry of Health requesting a ban on Gensulin, a non-identical copy of insulin, which is not safe for use. Health Minister Imet Rrahmani responded that “the moment that it is demonstrated that such medication should not be used, we will take measures.” Who should be dealing with the elimination of such suspicions if not the Ministry of Health itself?

Regardless of one’s ideological position towards state functions, everyone agrees that one of the necessary functions of a state should be the protection of public health. For such protection one does not need armies, or weapons, no constitutional changes, or getting the approval of all ethnic groups. The examples I’ve mentioned above affect all citizens without discrimination on the basis of their ethnicity, religion, sexuality or gender.

These kinds of problems should not only serve as an excuse to create new administrative structures in order to employ more civil servants or increase budgetary spending. For each of these problems, the government has existing accountable institutions, such as the Ministry of Spatial Planning and Environment, the National Institute for Public Health, the Food and Veterinary Agency, and the Department for the Protection of Consumers within the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

In 2017, 3.4 million euros have been distributed for public health and 302 civil servants have been employed to this end. 1.3 million euros have been distributed to the Kosovar Agency for the Protection of Environment and this agency employs 84 people. The Food and Veterinary Agency operates on a budget of 7 million euros and employs 181 civil servants. Laws and strategies have been ratified  to address all these problems, including the Law on consumer protection, the Strategy on consumer protection, the Law on the protection of air from pollution, the Strategy and action plan for air quality, and many other laws and strategies.

Thus, this “army” (dozens of executive institutions), with these “soldiers” (hundreds of civil servants), with all these “weapons” (budget, laws, and strategies), needs to begin to defend the public health of its citizens.

14 February 2017 - 14:53

Agron Demi

14/02/2017 - 14:53

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.