New buses for Prishtina will be delayed

Although the first steps have been taken to obtain new buses for the Kosovo capital, a political battle and lengthy bureaucratic procedures augur that the wait for reliable public transport will continue.

Across from the Bill Clinton statue on the boulevard of the same name, informal cabs, without signs or permits, line up. A driver lifts his index finger to signal that he is serving as a replacement for the bus line number 1. People fill up the car and off they go, paying only ten cents more than the bus for a ride, which saves them a long wait and discomfort.

Arian, who commutes from Prishtina to Fushe Kosove daily, says that he prefers informal taxis to the bus, which is unreliable, unkempt and slow.

“Buses stop in some fictional stations for passengers to get off, they stop anywhere where there’s people who want to get in. This frequent stopping can take 30-40 minutes before we even get in the capital from Fushe Kosova, which is a distance of only 8 kilometres,” says the 25-year-old who lives in the ever-expanding suburbs of the city.

To escape these delays he says that he almost never uses public transport. “I usually travel with the so-called ‘small ones,’ the informal taxis. They’re very efficient, they save up to 20 minutes of your time.”

The small cabs are faster, more comfortable and more reliable in contrast to the buses managed by Trafiku Urban, the public enterprise in charge of the capital’s notorious transportation.

When Shpend Ahmeti from the Vetevendosje movement was elected mayor in 2014, he promised the revitalization of the public transportation network, which relies on 10 bus routes traversing through the town and its suburbs.

The purchase of 51 new buses, which emit fewer gases, is also part of Ahmeti’s plan, but bureaucratic and political hurdles have stopped it in its tracks. A loan, negotiated with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in July last year, will make the bus purchase possible.

Squabbles over who is responsible to take the next steps, the Municipality or the Ministry of Finance which are run by rivalling parties Vetevendosje on one side and the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) on the other, have halted the project.

As a response to the stalemate, a group of citizens initiated a petition “For Prishtina” which calls for the Minister of Finance to sign the guarantee for the loan. With public pressure mounting, all parties have promised to do their part for the project to go through, but a bureaucratic saga still awaits the Municipality of Prishtina before the project is actually implemented.

Bus Prishtina

A legal and political kerfuffle

As an old decrepit bus, a second-hand donation, wheezes down the lane, a handful of passengers line up in front of the doors. A stench of dust and old car seats accompanies the uncomfortable and, time wise, unpredictable ride.

The long delays and an inconvenient timetable of the buses, give the informal taxis a sort of moral legitimacy in the eyes of Prishtinali.

“We work only until eight in the evening,” says Agim, a conductor of route 1 Prishtine – Fushe Kosove, his voice drowned by the deafening din made by the old bus. The optimization of the bus schedule was one of the mayor’s main promises during his election campaign.

Neither he nor the driver were sure about the production year of the bus, but they were certain that it could not have been made later than 1995.

Next to  “the last station” of the informal cabs running on route 1 opposite Grand Hotel in central Prishtina, stands a table covered with posters “Minister, Sign!” where volunteers are gathering signatures for the “For Prishtina” petition.

Yet, days after the petition began the Ministry of Finance was quick to inform the public that it would sign the loan as soon as all necessary steps had been taken, denying that it was obstructing the project.

Asdren Osaj, adviser to the Minister of Finances, a former spokesman of the municipality of Prishtina when the current prime minister Isa Mustafa was sitting mayor, explains that the Municipal Assembly were supposed to vote on the issue first.

Article 30 point 1.2 of the law for Public Debt gives a clear answer of who is responsible for blocking the finalization of the agreement for loan for Trafiku Urban,” said Osaj, implying that the Municipality itself had been blocking the project. He adds that since Trafiku Urban is a public enterprise its main shareholder is the Municipality of Prishtina.

In contrast, Ahmeti’s cabinet considered it was sufficient that the shareholders of the company Trafiku Urban, who are appointed by the municipal assembly, had signed a special authorization on the loan.

Dardan Sejdiu, deputy-mayor of Prishtina, told Prishtina Insight that the problem should not have existed at all knowing that the public enterprise are authorized by the Assembly and as such can function as a legal entity independently.

“Trafiku Urban is authorized by the shareholders who were delegated by the Municipal Assembly that the director of the enterprise Halil Mustafa should sign the loan, ” said Sejdiu.

Sejdiu He accuses the Minister of Finance Abdullah Hoti for deliberately trying to delay the implementation of the project. Although Trafiku Urban’s director requested a guarantee for the loan in April 2015, the Ministry did not respond until February 16, 2016. Legally, it is required to reply in 60 days. In the reply, the Ministry asked for clarification and all formal communication stopped until the matter became of public interest in May this year due to “For Prishtina” initiative.

Krenar Shala, an activist who initiated the petition with other citizens of Prishtina, agrees with the municipality’s understanding of procedure. His civic movement aims to put pressure on the Minister of Finance to sign the guarantee for the bus loan. Similar to the municipality, Shala believes that the legal hassle is a politically motivated hurdle, stemming from the dispute between the government and opposition on a central level.

“Every time there’s blockade with political background they always try to find an issue in the procedure. I don’t think that the Municipal Assembly needs to approve anything else, because the same Assembly last year had authorized the shareholders, who authorized the executive director, who signed the terms and conditions of the contract,” said Shala.

Bus prishtina 2 rron gjinovci

Running against the clock

The differences in interpretation between the municipality and the ministry ended with officials from both sides blaming each other. In the end, the Municipal Assembly of Prishtina put the matter of the loan on a vote on May 17, 2016, succumbing to the Ministry’s demands.

If the Ministry of Local Government Administration approves the decision, it will enter into force, allowing Trafiku Urban to continue the project’s realization.

Nevertheless, a series of other procedures, decisions that have to be taken by third parties (other institutions) still have to materialize before this loan can be taken out.  A specific date of the buses purchase and arrival is yet unimaginable.

The adviser to the minister Osaj told Prishtina Insight that unless there are other issues or disputes, the steps should be followed until the end – when the bill arrives at the President’s Office and the Kosovo Parliament.

The Ministry of Finance will proceed to the government the draft decision for giving a state guarantee for taking out a loan from EBRD, and the draft decision for the President to authorize the Minister of Finances to sign the international agreement with EBRD for giving state warranty for the loan.

If this sounds complicated that is because indeed it is – and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

After the approval in the government and by the President, the minister has to sign the agreement with EBRD and provide a state guarantee.

Then, the Ministry of Finance needs to send the agreement with the EBRD for approval to the government. Once it is approved it will be presented as a  “draft law” to the Parliament.

The bill will be ratified by a two-third majority vote of the Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo – the same assembly that has been boycotted by Vetevendosje and other opposition MPs for months now with non-attendance, tear gas, water and whistles.

Osaj explains that it will take up to a month to send the draft law will be sent for final approval to the Parliament, but “then everything depends on the Parliament’s procedures.”

This means that two ministries, the government, and the presidency should approve the decision before the Parliament also ratifies it – a procedure more complicated than the Presidential election or a change in the Constitution of Kosovo.

Kosovo still does not have a law for the capital, which would give a greater autonomy to the municipal authorities and increase the set budget for Prishtina.

Meanwhile, getting on the new buses, which have no chance of arriving before the approval by all the aforementioned institutions, for the moment remains a great desire of the municipality and of the citizens it governs.

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