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(Mis)reading Kosovo politicians’ asset declarations

If the Anti-Corruption agency continues to work as it has until now and if the media keeps fixating on the salaries of high officials, asset declarations will be useless and only serve to legitimize the actions of high officials.

If one looks at asset declaration forms from 2010, President Hashim Thaci’s wealth looks like this:

In 2010 he declared that he sold his house in the Arberia neighborhood for 260 thousand euros. With the money from the sale and a loan of 100 thousand euros, Thaci bought a plot of land in Veternik and began the construction of a 700 square meter house. The house and the land were valued at 360 thousand euros. Last year, a few days after the President submitted his asset declaration form, it was reported that he sold his unfinished house in Veternik for 360 thousand euros. The buyer, a famous businessman and a Thaci  family friend in business and in politics, Rrahim Pacolli presented the house full of pride in a television clip. But in the asset declaration of 2017, Thaci declares that he had 290 thousand euros of cash in the bank from the house’s sale, and not 360 thousand as declared by the buyer Rrahim Pacolli. And in this entire transaction, it seems like Thaci did not count the interest rate on the ten-year loan. When he got a loan from NLB bank in 2009, the annual interest rate for the loan was 12 per cent. For the 100 thousand euros he borrowed, with a ten year loan term, the minimum he would have to return would be 130 thousand euros.

As luck would have it, the President happened to be one of the 20 per cent of the high officials whose wealth was verified by the Anti-Corruption Agency, AKK, last year. This was an opportunity for the AKK to verify whether the house in Arberia was really sold for 260 thousand euros, and whether the sale happened formally. They could have also verified if the land in Veternik was bought for real, and whether the transaction happened through a bank. They could have verified if the 100 thousand euro loan from NLB, with a ten-year return policy, was really taken out. They could have verified if Rrahim Pacolli really bought Thaci’s house for 360 thousand euros, as he claims, or 290 thousand, as Thaci said.

To be able to better understand how the wealth verification process for high officials works, I met with two Agency officials last week. They informed me more about the process. Taking the asset declaration forms of President Thaci as a concrete example, I asked them if the verification process included bank transactions. “Banks don’t cooperate with the Agency and do not show bank transactions. This can only happen by a prosecutor’s order. But before the case can go to the prosecution, the Agency needs to have based suspicion to take the cases to the prosecutor,” the AKK official responded. Although false wealth declaration is a criminal offence, by law the Agency only has administrative competencies. This way, from a process of verifying wealth, one really gets a process of legitimizing wealth.

If the Anti-Corruption Agency does not have a mandate to investigate bank transactions, how can it fight corruption? How can it open an investigation, for example, against President Hashim Thaci, when it cannot even investigate a bank transactions that he declared since 2010?

Every time the asset declaration forms are published, the same ritual is repeated in the media, who report on the wealthiest politician, who saved the most, whose salary is the highest. Such a reading of asset declaration forms is wrong. The salaries that high officials get are salaries regulated by law, thus we do not need AKK forms to conclude whether such a salary is reasonable or not. By focusing only on salaries and savings, we are ignoring important facts within the asset declarations.

Two years ago, analyzing all the asset declaration forms of high officials in the central level of administration, the GAP Institute produced data which show the level of nepotism in the public sector. From 120 MPs that declared their wealth in 2015, over 45 per cent of them had at least one other source of income on top of the MP salary, while 26 per cent of MPs were getting two salaries from the public sector itself. A little over 15 per cent of the MPs had at least three sources of income. Close to 38 per cent of MPs had spouses that were working in the public sector.

With regards to the officials in the Prime Minister’s Office, over 13 per cent of them had at least two salaries from the public sector. Over 55 per cent of officials in the PM’s office had an employed spouse, while in 30 per cent of these cases the spouse worked in the public sector. From 53 ministers and deputy ministers that declared their wealth, in addition to the ministerial salary, over 43 per cent of them had at least a second income, while in 24 per cent of the cases, the second salary was also from a state budget source. Close to 40 per cent of the ministers and deputy ministers had spouses working in the public sector.

From the 158 employees at the Ministry of Health who were obligated to declare their assets, 38 per cent took at least one other salary from hospitals or private clinics. On the other hand, from the 94 university deans, pro-deans, the rector, or members of University of Prishtina’s steering board, 60 per cent have at least one secondary job. Over 25 per cent of them receive salaries from private universities, while 19 per cent have at least three sources of income from teaching.

Thus, the salaries that officials get according to law are not an issue – the issue is that these officials share their time in doing two or more jobs. MPs are not simply MPs, ministers are not simply ministers, and doctors and professors work in a few hospitals and universities. At the end of the day, none of them can do their jobs as they should, and as a result, the public budget is wasted, both on small and big salaries. While a large part of Kosovar families have no employed family members, the majority of high officials have at least spouses working in the public sector.

Focusing only on the salaries and savings of politicians casts a shadow on the vast irregularities that can be found on the asset declaration forms. The Anti-Corruption Agency should have larger investigative competencies. It is futile to classify fraudulent asset declaration as a criminal offence as long as the Agency has only administrative competencies. If the Anti-Corruption Agency continues to work as it has until now, and if the media keeps fixating on the salaries of high officials, asset declarations will be useless, with the exception of legitimizing the actions of high officials.

     

21 June 2017 - 15:09

Agron Demi

21/06/2017 - 15:09

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.