‘Life in the municipality’ debates put local governance in the spotlight

Ahead of the 2021 local elections, the performances of mayors at 37 municipalities are being assessed through BIRN’s ‘Life in the Municipality’ debates.

Aiming to expand media scrutiny beyond Kosovo-Serbia relations and the work of the Government and Assembly, BIRN has been putting local issues in the spotlight in recent weeks with a series of debates entitled Jeta ne Komune (Life in the Municipality), which are being broadcast on four channels, including RTV Dukagjini, and online via KALLXO.com.

Hosted by anchor Jeta Xharra, the debates focus on whether promises made by mayors during the October 2017 election campaigns have been met over the last three years, following extensive research by BIRN’s monitors in the field. The issues raised help highlight the day-to-day problems that citizens face, including a lack of drinking water and sewerage.

Debates in this format, where promises are recorded and checked halfway through each mayor’s mandate have been organised by BIRN since 2017. According to Eugen Cakolli, a member of civil society who monitors local governance, the debates help serve the public interest, especially as local elections are scheduled to be held next year. 

“These debates are really important to increase the level of accountability from those elected,” Cakolli told BIRN. “They also increase transparency, as citizens have the opportunity to see the level of implementation of certain projects.”

Cakolli added that the debates also help increase competition between mayors, leading to improved performances. “The public discourse pushes competition between the municipalities to improve performance and gain additional funding from central government or other donors,” he said.

Imer Mushkolaj, a political analyst based in Prishtina believes the local issues are not covered sufficiently by the Kosovo media.

“It is the very minimum to organize one debate during a mayoral mandate,” Mushkolaj said. “There should be one every six months or once a year in order to keep mayors accountable. Unfortunately, citizens’ attention is mostly focused on the central level and very rarely on local governance, meaning sometimes the poor performance of the mayors passes unnoticed.”

Before heading to one debate, the Mayor of Mitrovica Agim Bahtiri also called on the media to be more focused on local governance, adding that mayors must not fear being held to account. “I am not afraid of being accountable, instead I feel answerable to the citizens when I come to debates,” Bahtiri said.

During the debate with Bahtiri, a local resident and civil society activist, Nerimane Ferizi, criticised the Mitrovica Mayor for language he used during a Municipal Assembly meeting, including calling assembly members “idiots” and telling people to “shut up.” 

“How do you justify your behaviour towards Assembly members that represent the people?” Ferizi asked. Bahtiri conceded that this had happened, but justified his actions by arguing that the Assembly members were attempting to disrupt proceedings during the meeting.

Gazmend Muhaxheri, the mayor of Peja, was less enthusiastic about facing scrutiny through televised debates, which he described as “futile” and only producing negative energy. “I came to this debate only so no one could say ‘the mayor was afraid of debating’,” Muhaxheri told BIRN.

“During a TV show, I have a maximum of 30 minutes, and I can talk about five projects, while around 150 projects are ongoing in Peja,” he continued. “If you start to criticise all 150 projects you’ll barely understand what is happening. The form of the debate and the discourse is negative, instead of bringing more positive energy.”

Muhaxheri dismissed the idea that debates can provide accountability for local politicians. “Accountability is given to the citizens when elections take place, not to journalists,” he said.

However, Diellor Gashi, the head of the Department for Performance and Transparency within the Ministry of Local Governance disagrees, stating that debates on local governance help provide scrutiny for the public. “Ensuring mayors face up to their performance is a form of social oversight,” he told BIRN.

During the debates, members of the local Assembly had the opportunity to participate and raise questions to mayors, while BIRN also selected inspiring initiatives and individuals that have contributed to their respective municipalities.

All of the debates are available to view at the KALLXO.com Facebook page.

The BIRN municipal debates are supported by the Decentralisation and Municipal Support (DEMOS) which is a Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) project, co-financed by Sweden and Norway, implemented by HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation-Kosovo.

03/11/2020 - 14:00

03 November 2020 - 14:00

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.