Kosovo's prime minister Ramush Haradinaj attends a ceremony to unveil a memorial commemorating 157 members of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission; June 12, 2018. | Photo: AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu via Beta.

Haradinaj’s white collar crimes

The mandate of the Haradinaj government may be short, but the consequences of its decisions will follow us for the next 30 years.

When journalists asked former Prime Minister Agim Ceku in 2006 why he wore the same tie almost every day, he said that it is a habit of military men who are accustomed to uniforms. But when it comes to ties, his fellow fighter and current prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, has a different opinion. Last year, Haradinaj justified his decision to double his salary by saying that a prime minister needs to have the money to buy ties. Gazeta Jeta ne Kosove compiled a collage of the ties Haradinaj wore in the first 90 days of his mandate: he never wore the same tie  two days in a row.

In contrast,  during Haradinaj’s nine months as prime minister, legal violations by his government have been visibly more frequent than changes of his ties. White collar crimes are non-violent offenses by government officials and office employees that are mostly to do with financial abuses. According to an FBI report cited by professor Dan Ariely, in 2004, white collar crimes in the United States of America reached a value of 600 billion dollars. During the same period, all other ordinary crimes did not cause more than 16 billion dollars of damage.

Similarly, the financial crimes committed by Haradinaj’s government tremendously exceed the financial damage that may be caused by ordinary thieves. I will list some of the gravest financial crimes carried out during this government’s mandate.

1. In June, Haradinaj’s government decided to grant an additional 53.1 million euros  to  Bechtel-Enka to build the highway between Prishtina and Skopje, saying that the government needs to pay this financial penalty due to delays in payments. Although funds from the budget were specified every year according to the contract, the current and the preceding government never allocated them to the company. A few days after taking office, Haradinaj’s government signed an annex contract with the company that cost the government another 53.1 million euros. The current government accuses its predecessor of negligence, but neither of them appealed to the state prosecutor to investigate the losses. This proves that government officials of each government defended each other even when faced with this level of abuse.

2. Haradinaj’s government is delaying the approval of the final list of Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, war veterans. Not doing so continues to hold back the changes made through the Law for KLA veterans,  approved by the assembly in December 2016. The law stipulates that the total amount of veteran pensions cannot exceed 0.7 per cent of the GDP per year. Thus, the government could include tens of thousands in the veteran lists, but the budget would remain the same. In order to avoid this limitation imposed by the IMF,  Haradinaj is not approving the final report. Last month, almost 40,000 individuals received veteran pensions. The budget for these pensions increased from 25 million euros in 2016 to 64 million euros in 2017. If this trend continues, the budget for pensions will go up to 80 million euros in 2018. If the final report from the Commission for the verification of veterans were to be approved, the yearly budget would not exceed 44 million euros per year. Through this delay, Haradinaj’s government is damaging the country’s budget by at least 37 million euros.

3. In April 2018, Haradinaj’s government approved the Draft Law on the status of Albanian education workers during the ‘90s. According to the draft law, every Kosovo citizen who has at least one year of work experience during the parallel education system during the 1990s is entitled to a monthly pension. The government approved this draft law even though it was opposed by the Ministry of Finance, who said that there is not enough budget to apply it. The evaluation on the draft law’s financial implications was deficient, thus hiding its real cost. According to an analysis by the GAP institute, which was later confirmed by the Ministry of Finance, the yearly cost of this law will reach 25 million euros. In the next 30 years, about 650 million euros will be necessary to  enforce this law.

4. From September 2017 to March 2018, Ramush Haradinaj signed over 80 decisions for appointments of deputy ministers. According to statements by the Anti-Corruption Agency, seven deputy ministers were appointed to the Ministry of Education alone. The whole government has over 170 political advisors, and the Ministry of Education holds the record again with nine advisors, although the Regulation on the Work of the Government does not allow the appointment of more than seven advisors per ministry. Haradinaj’s government is the largest government by number of ministers, deputy ministers, and political advisors. The current government has an additional three deputy prime ministers, four ministers and 61 deputy ministers in comparison with the previous government.

5. In December 2017, Haradinaj’s government made a decision to increase the salaries of the prime minister, deputy ministers, political advisors, cabinet chiefs and and some civil servants in the prime minister’s office. The Anti-Corruption Agency assessed that the decision goes against the Law on Prevention of Conflict of Interest and as such needs to be annulled. After the government insinuated that it would not respect the agency’s opinion, opposition MPs submitted the case to the constitutional court. The court declared that the decision does not violate the constitution, but also said that it is not competent to review conflict of interest. Thus, the government cabinet received the green light to retroactively receive increased salaries. With these changes, annual salaries of the government cabinet exceed 5 million euros. In comparison, the salaries of the 2008 government cabinet were around one million euros.

6. One deputy prime minister and seven deputy ministers from Srpska Lista have frozen their positions in the government since late March in a sign of protest against the arrest of Marko Djuric, head of the Serbian government’s office for Kosovo, by the Kosovo Police. This case exemplifies the loyalty of part of the Kosovo government towards the government of Serbia. These eight officials continue to receive salaries from the Kosovo budget. The government will pay at least 50,000 euros in the next three months for their idleness, and will continue to do so until the mandate concludes.

7. After the government sated itself with ministers and deputy ministers, Haradinaj’s government came up with a new position: the national coordinator. Until now, four such coordinators have been appointed, and they cover the same portfolios as ministries: National coordinator for the new generation, National coordinator for state reform, National coordinator for climate change and environmental issues, and National coordinator for culture, youth and sports. Each of them receives a minister’s salary, 2,000 euros a month. Haradinaj’s government did not consider appointing five deputy ministers at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports as sufficient, so it appointed another two coordinators at the level of a minister, effectively appointing three ministers for one ministry. Five deputy ministers were also not enough for the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning, so another coordinator needed to be appointed. The government will waste 96,000 euros per year on the salaries of these four coordinators, not including per diems, offices, official lunches and phone calls.

8. In December 2017, Haradinaj and the Minister of Economic Development, Valdrin Lluka, signed the contract for the construction of a new coal-fueled power plant of 500 megawatts. According to the GAP institute and assessments by the Energy Regulatory Office, the new power plant will increase electricity fees by at least 50 per cent. Additionally, if contractual obligations are not fulfilled, the government will have to pay the private company at least 19 million euros from the get go. Regarding the contract, the European Energy Community said that it violates rules on the internal electricity market, because it guarantees the purchase of electricity to the producer from the government, thus favoring it above other operators in the market.

9. Haradinaj’s government gave 290,000euros to the families of the people who were killed and convicted of terrorism in the 2015 Kumanovo conflict. Some of the individuals who participated in the conflict had gone against Kosovo law before, one of them even attacking the Kosovo Police station in Prizren.

10. Through two separate decisions, Haradinaj’s government allocated over 626,000 euros for summer vacations and rehabilitation for post-war associations. The current government is not the first to make these kinds of decisions. Since 2008, every government has made such decisions, allocating a total of 5.8 million euros. These funds are always take from the category of ‘unforeseen costs ’ even though they are given out every year. What is concerning about the allocation of these millions of eurosis that, as soon as they are transferred to the associations, there is no further control over how they are spent and if they are really being used for the rehabilitation of war-affected communities . Seeing how the process of verifying war veterans is going, I suspect that serious abuses are committed with these millions of euros every year.

11. This March, the government apportioned one million euros to cover energy losses in northern Kosovo due to the lack of payment of spent electricity by the Serb community. Until recently, energy losses in the north, along with other technical and commercial losses, were invoiced to regular customers. But after the Ombudsperson report stated that this violates human rights, and after the Basic Court of Prishtina requested the suspension of this practice, the government started paying the losses through the state budget, indirectly financing a company’s losses with taxpayer money. Until the end of the year, the Transmission, System and Market Operator, KOSTT, is expected to have annual losses up of 10 million euros. The government has not tried to find a solution to this problem, but continues to solve its issues through budget allocations.

12. Haradinaj’s government has continued to strengthen the monopoly in the sector of vehicle inspections. In 2009, in a closed-off process without competition, Thaci’s government signed an agreement with a private company that he gave exclusivity to for 10 years. Now that the time has come for the agreement to expire, the Ministry of Infrastructure approved an administrative guideline which again secures this company a monopoly even beyond 2019. Although the guideline was opposed by the Kosovo Competition Authority, the ministry did not respect its opinion.

Following the logic of “we need him there,” as stated by former Democratic Party of Kosovo MP Adem Grabovci in leaked wiretaps from two years ago when he was settling people from his party in independent institutional boards, Haradinaj’s government has continued this legacy since the beginning of its mandate. Although Haradinaj signed a memorandum with the British Embassy in Kosovo for the recruitment of professionals for boards, heads of independent agencies, and key state administration institutions, this memorandum is not being respected. At an unprecedented scale, Haradinaj’s government has politicized the telecom, the energy corporation, the Central Bank, Trepca’s board, the Health Insurance Fund, ministerial secretaries, and many other civil service positions. The transfer of deputy ministers to department directors has already started. Only two months after being appointed deputy minister of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, Cerkin Dugolli was made director of department at the ministry, securing himself a permanent civil service job.

Haradinaj is in good company to accomplish these and many other violations. Four of his 21 ministers are indicted, suspected of violations ranging from unlawful firing of arms to fraud in privatization. Unfortunately, the prosecution and courts have not issued indictments for the abuses mentioned above, because the list of people accused and punished should be much bigger.

Haradinaj’s government is not even nine months into their mandate, and few believe that it will last its full four years until the next regular elections. In contrast, the consequences of the financial damage, seized independent institutions and financial assistance schemes for specific groups will continue to have effects for the next 30 years.

The opinions expressed in the opinion section are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.

26 June 2018 - 12:21

Agron Demi

26/06/2018 - 12:21

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.