Photo: BIRN.

Controversy over new public enterprise boards

Several members appointed to the boards of publicly owned enterprises by the Kosovo Government on Thursday have links with governing political parties, particularly Vetevendosje.

On Thursday night, the acting Kosovo Government dismissed the boards of three publicly owned enterprises, the Prishtina Regional Water Company, Kosovo Post and Infrakos, which runs Kosovo’s railways. 

In a Facebook post published on Friday, acting Prime Minister Albin Kurti stated that the enterprises “now have new and professional boards.” Kurti added that the boards were temporary, and will “deal with the full extent of the abuse and fight against crime and corruption within them.”

However, the newly appointed boards contain a number of individuals with connections to political parties that make up the governing coalition, including with Kurti’s Vetevendosje. A senior LDK official has told BIRN that the ministers selected by the party remaining in the acting government did not vote on proposals for the new boards.

“LDK ministers in the Government of Kosovo did vote for any proposal of the Government on interim boards,” the official said. “They did not vote at all.” 

At the Prishtina Regional Water Company, new members appointed to the board include Mentor Hyseni and Seat Bilibani. 

Hyseni stood as a candidate for MP for Vetevendosje at the previous parliamentary elections in October 2019, while in 2017 Bilibani stood as a candidate for MP for Nova Demokratska Stranka, the party of Minister for Administration and Local Government, Emilija Redzepi. 

Speaking to BIRN, Minister Redzepi confirmed that Bilibani was a candidate for MP from her party, but stated that he was no longer a member. 

Economic minister Rozeta Hajdari confirmed for BIRN that both Hyseni, and Artan Dermaku, who was appointed to the board of Infrakos, were both members of Vetevendosje. Abdullah Lala, who was also appointed to the Infrakos board, confirmed to BIRN that he is a member of the Vetevendosje branch in Podujevo.

It has also been reported that Vetevendosje’s Kujtim Shala was appointed to the board of Kosovo Post. However, speaking to Kallxo’s Krypometer fact-checking service, Shala stated that the reports were false, and that the person appointed simply shared the same name as him.

Defending the appointments of Hyseni and Dermaku, Minister Hajdari stated that the boards were only temporary, and that full time boards would be selected through an open and transparent process, in no later than six months. 

Hajdari also argued that although Hyseni and Dermaku recently joined Vetevendosje, they were proven professionals and not party militants, adding that neither hold a position in decision making structures within the party.

Article 17.2 of the Law on Public Enterprises states that in order to serve as a director of a publicly owned enterprise, a candidate must not have been an elected public official, a political appointee, or the holder of a leadership or decision making position in a political party during the previous 36 months.

Lala also argued that he was not a part of decision making structures within Vetevendosje so had not violated the law.

“I think that the boards of publicly owned enterprises should all be professional and without political influence,” Lala told BIRN. “I do not have any decision-making function in the party structures in Podujevo, I am only a member. The law clearly specifies that within the last 36 months you should hold in any decision-making position in the structures of a political party.”

An amendment to the law in 2012 clarified that a ‘political appointee’ is defined as an individual “appointed or proposed by the political entity as a candidate for an elected post,” which would include Hyseni and Bilibani.

BIRN contacted Hajdari’s legal adviser, Geotar Mjeku, who reiterated that the appointments fulfilled the legal criteria, but made no reference to Article 17.2, which rules out political appointees.

“We have appointed proven professionals,” Mjeku told BIRN. “The CVs will be available to the public. All appointees meet the conditions listed in section 17.1 (which ensures the integrity and independence of the appointee) and in section 17.4 (requiring accounting knowledge).”

The Kosovo Democratic Institute, KDI, a good governance NGO, has criticised the appointments, stating that they are in contradiction with laws governing public enterprises, as well as electoral promises made that boards will be politically independent.

“The Acting Government must urgently prohibit such practice, and the recruitment process must be preceded by the announcement of public competitions so that these boards can recruit people with credibility, integrity and professionalism,” KDI stated.

Opposition party PDK, described the appointments as a clear attempt to capture the state. “We join the voice of civic criticism and condemn the appointments of political members of Vetevendosje, who are former candidates for MPs and members of this party,” spokesperson for the party Shaqir Totaj told a press conference.

Totaj added that under the PDK’s governance, a memorandum was signed with British company BDO to assist in recruitment to the boards of public enterprises in as professional and meritocratic a fashion as possible.

In August 2019, both the British and American embassies withdrew their support from Kosovo’s Property Verification Agency after the appointment of Naser Shala as its head, against the recommendation of BDO.

*This story was updated to include response from a senior LDK official and Geotar Mjeku

and 03/04/2020 - 17:20

03 April 2020 - 17:20

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.