Photo: Atdhe Mulla

The veterans’ coup

Overblown figures of KLA veteran pension schemes sustained by Haradinaj’s government are set to cause millions in damages, while those responsible remain far from the reach of the court.

Even if there ends up being 100,000 veterans of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, they need to receive their pensions, regardless of whether the lists are inflated. Were it not for them, another language would be spoken at the Kosovo Assembly today. This is what Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, MP Ganimete Musliu, said at an assembly session in October 2017. In the same session, President of PDK and Assembly Speaker Kadri Veseli said that the veterans’ lists were inflated because there was political consensus to do so.

To Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, the inflated lists are no issue whatsoever, because according to him “there are 30 thousand veterans only in the region of Dukagjin,” although he previously stated in 2000 that there are not more than 3,000 veterans in that area.

While state leaders expressed such views, they also called on the prosecution to investigate the inflated lists. It happened. After a long period of investigations, the prosecutor charged with the investigation of the inflated veterans’ lists submitted an indictment in July 2018. The same prosecutor stepped down a month later due to threats he received while carrying out his duty.

Considering that Haradinaj and Veseli openly stated that there is political consensus for meddling within the veterans’ lists, it is natural that all those who have the courage to argue differently or investigate the manipulations will face political pressure and threats. This fate is shared by resigned prosecutor Elez Blakaj, and the whole judiciary of Kosovo, which are under both political pressure and control. Blakaj accused Kosovo Chief Prosecutor Aleksander Lumezi of pressuring him after Blakaj interviewed Veseli as part of the investigation – the same man who called for an investigation from the prosecution in the first place. Why would Veseli not invite the prosecution to investigate, when he himself is protected by the chief prosecutor?

While Ramush Haradinaj was not involved in the prosecution’s investigation regarding the inflated veterans’ lists, it seems that the prosecutor is being investigated by Haradinaj. In a televised interview, Haradinaj called Blakaj “a thief, a punk who fled to Bllaca [refugee camp in Macedonia].” This is the biggest public accusation that a former KLA commander and prime minister can make against the justice system. If Haradinaj blatantly attacks a prosecutor in such manner, then one can only imagine the hidden attacks made against prosecutors and judges on a regular basis. Haradinaj’s insults came only three weeks after he gave judicial institutions an ultimatum to show concrete results regarding high-level corruption cases. But those results need to suit Prime Minister Haradinaj.

The power that KLA veterans have in Kosovo is so widespread that governance in Kosovo resembles a tacit paramilitary government. A stratocracy where fighters have replaced their military uniforms with ties and see the government only as a possibility to extort in the name of war merits. Veterans and veteran associations have not rarely influenced political decision-making in the country, oftentimes threatening decision-makers individually, or threatening the destabilization of the country.

Due to their influence, each successive government after the declaration of independence has apportioned millions of euros from the pool of unexpected expenses of the state budget to veteran associations. Between January 2008 and May 2018, government decisions have granted at least 5.5 million euros as subventions for veterans’ associations, supposedly for beach holidays or rehabilitations, a sum of money that was never accounted for.

Veteran associations threatened Kosovo MPs during an assembly session in November 2017 when the latter discussed the involvement of women who were victims of wartime rape within the Law on the Status and Rights of Martyrs, Invalids, Veterans and Members of the KLA. Veterans also undertook an initiative in late 2017 to repeal the Law on the Specialist Chambers, an initiative that was aborted following tremendous pressure from the international community.

Yet, the most influence these associations have had so far is regarding the approval of the Law for the War Veterans of the KLA, which guarantees lifelong pensions for fighters and their family members. The whole process of the verification of veterans’ lists, the approval of the status, the drawing up of the law and the allocation of pensions is controlled by the veterans’ associations.

Started in late April 2010 through a government decision to fund a commission for verification, the verification process of the veterans’ lists seems without end. Seeing that the budget for veterans was veering out of control, the International Monetary Fund, IMF, conditioned the government to make changes to the aw, setting a limit to the annual expenses for veterans’ pensions that does not exceed 0.7% of the country’s GDP per year. But for this rule to come into force, the government needed to approve the final report for the veterans’ lists. It has not been approved yet. Isa Mustafa’s and Haradinaj’s governments approved incomplete lists, but they never pushed forward the submission and approval of the final report with the lists of KLA war veterans. The commission received mandate extensions four times. The main person who is responsible for this now is Haradinaj.

Considering that the changes to the veteran pensions law have not entered into force yet, the yearly budget for the pensions of this category exceeds 1.2% of Kosovo’s GDP. To see that the budget for veterans surpassed every possible expectation, all one needs to do is look at budget plans since 2015. Pension allocation started in 2016, and 25 million euros were initially planned to be spent. But, the sum jumped to 32 million euros after budget review. In 2017, 38 million euros were planned, but it was again increased to 64 million euros after the budget was reviewed. With the 2018 budget, 58.7 million are expected to be spent, but this will also not be enough. Only in the first six months of 2018, 37.8 million euros were spent, 64% of the planned sum. Until the end of the year, between 75.7 and 81 million euros in total are expected to go towards veteran pensions.

By the end of 2017, 66,300 people applied for veteran status. 46,203 people received veteran certificates, whereas, as of August 2018, 39,984 people receive veteran pensions. How is it possible that almost all of those receiving veteran certificates are also unemployed, and qualify for immediate pensions? This happens because the government is not verifying through the Kosovo Tax Administration and the Fund for Pensional Savings whether the people who applied for the pension are employed.

By age, the youngest person who receives a veteran’s pension is 20 years old, and the oldest is 93 years old, but 75 per cent of war veterans were born between 1961 and 1980.

According to the Kosovo Agency of Statistics, the largest number of veterans is from the Dukagjin area. Although there has been a continuous increase in the number of veterans in all municipalities, the most significant increase between October and December 2017 was evidenced in the municipalities of Decan and Peja. This time frame corresponds with the election of Haradinaj as prime minister, who was also a KLA commander in the Dukagjin Area during the Kosovo war, which means that the inflation of the lists was made to increase the number of votes for Haradinaj’s party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, and other coalition parties.

Based on the average age of the veterans that receive pensions, a minimum of 2.5 billion euros will be spent in the next 30 years for this category.

According to the indictment by Blakaj, published by Koha Ditore newspaper, 19,060 veterans were falsely added to the lists, causing annual damages worth 38.8 million euro to the state budget.

But it looks like the indictment prepared by Blakaj will not make it to court, at least not for a while. According to Reshat Millaku, chief prosecutor of the Special Prosecution of Kosovo, the indictment does not include the names of the 19,060 fake veterans, although it does list the names of the individuals responsible for their verification. It seems that political pressure will also cause this corruption case to fail, as happened with tens of other cases.

The pension scheme for war veterans and other schemes that are divided based on patriotic categories need to be removed. Why should there be pensions for KLA members, political prisoners, teachers, members of parallel political institutions in the 90s, and many other categories of volunteers? If the budget apportioned for pensions and other social schemes was oriented towards poorer groups of society, and not towards categories based on their patriotic past, it would be enough to help everybody out of poverty.

Thus, besides the necessity of prosecuting list-meddling and sentencing the individuals guilty of deception and corruption, a new government needs to remove all social schemes based on categories and instead create an inclusive scheme based on the socio-economic situation of the people.

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

22 August 2018 - 14:43

Agron Demi

22/08/2018 - 14:43

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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.