A BIRN investigation has revealed that officers responsible for protecting whistleblowers appointed in several Kosovo institutions are affiliated with former governing party PDK, raising concerns over their impartiality and independence.
Kosovo is among the most advanced countries in the region concerning legal protections for whistleblowers, a framework which includes obligations to appoint responsible officials from within large public and private institutions to protect whistleblowers.
According to the law, officials responsible for protecting whistleblowers must act honestly and impartially, maintain confidentiality, and act independently of political views.
However, a BIRN investigation has found that in at least three major public institutions, whistleblowers will be protected by people close to the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, specifically the Kosovo Tax Administration, the Independent Media Commission and the Ministry of European Integration.
Naim Gashi, the brother of former PDK MP Latif Gashi, confirmed to BIRN that he has been employed as a whistleblower protection officer at the Kosovo Tax Administration, KTA, for nearly a year.
“I was assigned on March 19, 2019,” Gashi told BIRN. “By official law, I am responsible for protecting whistleblowers. I was also involved in drafting the law.”
The KTA is responsible for the collection of taxes, including VAT, corporate income tax and personal income tax. Earlier this year, the Special Prosecution filed an indictment against the Head of the Investigation and Intelligence Unit of the KTA, Safet Krasniqi.
The indictment was filed following investigations launched based on evidence provided by a whistleblower, Murat Mehmeti, to BIRN in November 2016. Mehmeti, an investigating officer at the KTA, revealed how some businesses led by accountants managed to evade tax payments, causing damage to the Kosovo budget worth millions of euros.
The Independent Media Commission also confirmed to BIRN the appointment of a responsible official for the protection of whistleblowers last year: Ardiana Sejdiu Musmurati on June 12, 2019. BIRN contacted Ardiana Sejdiu Musmurati, who confirmed that she is the daughter-in-law of former PDK General Secretary, Basri Musmurati.
At the Ministry of European Integration meanwhile, Novitet Nezaj was appointed as the responsible official for protecting whistleblowers in March last year.
The news of the appointment was confirmed to BIRN by Nezaj himself, who stated that he took up the position on March 25, 2019. Nezaj was a PDK candidate in last year’s parliamentary elections held on October 6.
Flutura Kusari, a media law specialist, told BIRN that the appointment of persons affiliated with political parties is a failure of law enforcement and evidence that corruption is flourishing. “Any conduct revealing that they are not politically independent would mean the failure of law enforcement to protect whistleblowers,” she said.
Kusari added that the appointment of politically-affiliated individuals as ‘protectors of whistleblowers’ is a sign that the law will not be implemented, and whistleblowers’ protection is at risk.
“Implementation of the Law on Protection of Whistleblowers is a matter of political will,” she said. “So far PDK and other ruling parties have not shown willingness to implement this law. It is up to [Vetevendosje and the Democratic League of Kosovo] to show willingness for this law to be implemented. Whistleblowing is one of the most efficient methods of fighting corruption, and protecting [whistleblowers] is important. If protection fails, the current government does not have the will to fight corruption.”
Anti-Corruption Agency ‘hides’ names
The list of people proposed as responsible officials for protecting whistleblowers is in the possession of the Anti-Corruption Agency, ACA, but the agency has refused to make the list public. Director of the ACA, Shaip Havolli, told BIRN that they are unable to publish the list as whistleblowing within institutions is a sensitive issue.
“The list of officials is not public because we, as the Agency, have no right to make that list public,” Havolli said. “We have names of officials who are nominated by the institutions. We have also had to explain to NGOs that we do not have the right to make it public because we are dealing with persons who are involved with whistleblowing within institutions.”
Havolli added that the decision over whether to publish the names is dependent on a regulation currently being drafted by the Ministry of Justice, which will outline more clearly the procedure for dealing with cases of whistleblowing. However, he conceded that institutions in which they are stationed are capable of disclosing the identity of protection officers at any given time.
“The institution has the right to publicly announce, we cannot stop it,” Havolli told BIRN. “The rules of procedure on the conduct of contact persons and whistleblowers have not been drafted yet and are ready to be finalised within this month.”
Media lawyer Kusari believes the names of officials responsible should be public, and keeping them a “secret” raises doubts over the process so far.
“It is the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice and the ACA to make public the names of the officials who will be dealing with whistleblowers,” Kusari said. “The fact that the ACA has so far kept them hidden from the public raises doubts over whether the names suggested so far are independent.”
Yllka Buzhala, a researcher at good governance NGO Levizja Fol, told BIRN that during the course of her fieldwork, she has encountered officials protecting whistleblowers that were completely unqualified. Examples included IT officers or cadastral officers being designated as the responsible official for whistleblowers inside public institutions and municipalities.
“It is very important that these persons are lawyers or human resources practitioners, so they have knowledge of the specifics of the institution they work for,” Buzhala told BIRN. “For us, their background was disturbing. These people were not even informed about the laws or whistleblowing as a concept.”
According to Buzhala, the institutions have “only fulfilled a legal obligation,” adding that the manner in which responsible officials employed this way will carry out their duties is likely to be far from diligent.
Buzhala has also asked the ACA for details on who and how many officials have been appointed. “We have requested access to official information from the Anti-Corruption Agency, asking to be provided with a list of all the institutions that have appointed a responsible official,” she says. “But we have not been provided this information on the grounds that they are still being appointed.”
09 March 2020 - 10:59
Tax inspector Murat Mehmeti decided to go public with information on o...
After closing a potential tax evasion case, the Basic Prosecution of P...
Protection of whistleblowers, called ‘informants’ by Kosovo law, i...
Whistleblowers say lives are at risk from the scale of wrongdoing at K...
The tax investigator who revealed a large scale tax evasion scheme in ...