Kosovo Government building. Photo: Atdhe Mulla.

Prosecution Probes Allegations of Grant Misappropriation in Kosovo’s Community Programs

BIRN’s investigation prompts the Prishtina Prosecution to investigate the Office for Community Affairs of Kosovo on how its half a million euros meant for non-majority organisations ended up awarded to largely Albanian NGOs

On 31st of May, 2023, the Office for Community Affairs, OCA, that works under the Prime Minister’s Office in Kosovo, opened a call for grants that it emphasised are for organisations working with minority communities in Kosovo. 

A BIRN investigation revealed that non-governmental organisations, NGOs, such as  “Albanian Diaspora Forum” and “Illyricum,”  that have not demonstrated any ties to minorities,  benefited from thousands of euros in grants meant for minority communities: Serbian, Turkish, Bosniak, Gorani, Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian.

This move has sparked widespread criticism, with many labelling it as an abuse of public funds and raising questions about transparency and accountability within Kosovo’s government programs aimed at supporting minority groups.

This injustice first came to light after one woman blew the whistle. The whistleblower is Elisabeth Gowing, who was appointed by Albin Kurti, Kosovo’s prime minister to oversee this office. She resigned from her post after the grant results were announced. 

“I was surprised, upset and disappointed with the fact that a tiny number of NGOs and media that deal with (minority) communities in Kosovo received financial help (from this scheme)” she said in her resignation letter on 2nd of August last year citing that from 42 NGOs that won these grants, only 3 were minority community organisations. 

Laureta Ulaj, spokesperson for the Prishtina Prosecution, confirmed that after BIRN sent the questions about this issue, “this case is being processed according to adequate legal provisions”.

The office of the Kosovo Ombudsman also told BIRN on March 26 that this office is in “the concluding phase of its investigation” about this case, having opened this case in August last year. 

BIRN Investigation

Analysing the organisations receiving public funds,  BIRN found that 50% of the 42 NGOs had never received a grant from OCA before,  as they were not involved with minority communities. The investigation revealed other irregularities, such as the same family members receiving grants for two different organisations.

The “Albanian Diaspora Forum” NGO’s primary field of activity is Albanian cultural heritage, they received a grant of 10 thousand euros from OCA

Sedat Baraliu, the director of “Albanian Diaspora Forum” and a professor at the Faculty of Education at the University of Prishtina,  stated that they “are not limited only to the aforementioned field of activity”, meaning working with the diaspora. However, based on their social media posts, no activities involving non-Albanian communities were found.

The OCA grant scheme began in 2008 and is operated by civil servants within the Prime Minister’s Office. The initiative was meant to support NGOs which contribute to raising the employment level of non-majority community members, media outlets that contribute to protecting and promoting rights of non-majority communities in Kosovo and NGOs that contribute to promoting cultural activities in the fields of culture, tradition, language, cultural heritage, and identity of non majority community members.

BIRN contacted 42 winning NGOs, asking them to share their project ideas about the non majority communities. Only 13 of them responded.  However, none of the 13 NGOs which responded provided proof that their beneficiaries were non-Albanian communities. These NGOs claimed that they will report this only to OCA, not to BIRN.

When BIRN asked the OCA to see the proof of how the non-majority communities benefited from these funds, OCA claimed they need “prior permission from each organisation” to allow BIRN to access those documents. 

Reviewing the social media posts of the organisations that won these grants, BIRN found no proof that minority communities benefited from their activities.

Dusan Radakovic, who leads an NGO in north Kosovo, said that he did not recognise 99% of organisations that won grants even though he has been working in this sector since 2002.

“It is really embarrassing for Kosovo government to support anonymous NGOs in Kosovo,” said Radakovic. 

The only 2 NGOs that he recognised from the Serbian community are 2 media “RTV Puls” from Shilovo and “RTV Mir” from Leposaviq/Leposavic.

Berzat Berzati, a Boasniak who has been an activist in the civil society sector for 20 years and works at the “Kosova Info” portal in Bosnian language, stated that grants from OCA have “mostly been received by Albanian community organisations’ ‘ . 

“Few organisations from the Bosniak community or other communities have received grants”, he stated.

Isak Skenderi, who runs the award-winning “Voice of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians/RAE” NGO, said that only one organisation awarded grant money, “Prosperiteti” deals with RAE communities in Kosovo.

“No other NGOs have been known to work with our communities”, said Skenderi. 

Branislav Krstic, a Serbian journalist from Kosovo who has worked for B92 and Reuters, declared that “there has been a complete lack of information in northern Kosovo regarding this open call”, since no officials have explained what these funds are for.

“The distribution of these grants was a key opportunity to see if the Kosovo government would support vocal activists and critical NGOs in the north of the country, but this has not been done,”  Krstic stated.

Emilija Redzepi, deputy prime minister of Kosovo and a Boasniak, also responded to the way these grants were distributed to non-governmental organisations from minority communities.

“We had the same problem last year when more than 1 million and 500 thousand euros were distributed, and almost all Albanian NGOs and many unknown and very suspicious organisations received large grants,” Rexhepi emphasised.

On the other hand, the Office for Community Affairs insisted that no organisation without experience with non-majority communities has received a grant, despite evidence proving otherwise.

The members of the Commission responsible for selecting winning applications include Besart Tasholli, who currently leads the office and also holds a senior legal position, along with Qerim Berisha, Ekrem Ahmeti, Alutrim Dërmaku, and Arben Elshani as regular members, with Bleta Cana serving as a reserve member.

Civil society activists have also criticised the fact that minority communities are not part of the selecting bodies in the OCA office.

Currently, the OCA does not have a leader after Elizabeth Gowing’s resignation. Early this year the Prime Minister’s Office began trying to fill a a vacancy for the director of OCA, but the process was annulled as no one fulfilled the required legal criteria for this post. 

On  March 27th, the merit-based recruitment project for some public posts run by the British embassy sent their recommendations to Kosovo government’s general secretary for how the call could be restructured to attract better candidates.

, and 02/04/2024 - 19:05

02 April 2024 - 19:05

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.