With Kosovo once again preparing to head to the polls — this time in local elections due to be held on October 22 — the claims from politicians are ramping up. Millions of euros are being promised for all kinds of projects from an underground metro system for Prishtina to new hospitals, schools and attracting foreign investors.
Each week during the local election campaign, K2.0 is taking some of the boldest claims from leading mayoral candidates, and checking how realistic they actually are, whether in terms of budget, timescales, official competencies or other factors.
Last week we looked into promises of new schools in Prishtina and the provision of 24/7 water for Prizren. This week, we continue with big words from Ferizaj and Kamenica…
Claim: Completing the construction of a new hospital (Agim Aliu, PDK)
In 2013, when Ferizaj was governed by PDK, a memorandum of cooperation was signed between the local municipality and the Ministry of Health that would see the Ministry invest more than 9.4 million euros to build a brand new regional hospital in the Park of Freedom on the outskirts of the city.
However, while the hospital was included in Kosovo’s 2016 budget, due to alleged irregularities and appeals in the tendering process, which have already resulted in the construction contract being awarded three times, construction of the new hospital has yet to begin.
The upcoming local election has served as the occasion to open up the discussion on this project, with PDK’s mayoral candidate Agim Aliu using the issue to try and score political points against LDK’s incumbent mayor, Muharrem Sfarqa; the race in Ferizaj, where the mayor has always been from either PDK or LDK, is anticipated to be particularly interesting this year with Vetevendosje Kosovo Assembly deputy, Faton Topalli, also expected to seriously challenge for the top job after his party’s strong showing here in June’s parliamentary elections.
Aliu, who was the mayor of Ferizaj when the memorandum was signed in 2013, has made a number of claims that the new hospital will soon be concluded. “The hospital of Ferizaj will be built, together with many other projects, as part of my governing program,” Aliu said on Friday (Oct. 6), during a visit to the city’s existing hospital.
The same claim was also made by PDK party leader, Kadri Veseli, while he was alongside Aliu on the campaign trail at local factories on Tuesday, although Veseli gave an even more ambitious timescale for the project. “Within two years it will be finished,” Veseli said. “I am not saying it will [only] start, but within two years of Aliu’s governance it will be concluded — the hospital that Ferizaj deserves.”
Not wanting to be out-flanked on the issue, on Sunday (Oct. 1) LDK’s Sfarqa met with the Minister of Health, Uran Ismali, from whom he said he “got the support” to go forward with building the hospital.
However the claims made by both candidates regarding the hospital will be hard for them to secure. While whoever is elected mayor of Ferizaj on October 22 will inevitably have an important role to play in lobbying central government to drive the project forward, responsibility for the new hospital is not a competence of the Municipality.
For Albulena Nrecaj, the executive director of the active citizenship NGO Initiative for Progress, which extensively monitors the Municipality of Ferizaj, the promises made by candidates on completing the hospital are “futile.” “The promises of the mayoral candidates, both in the past and now, are empty promises and deeply politicized as this project is led by the Ministry of Health,” Nrecaj says.
Suggestions that the project will be completed any time soon should also be taken in the context of comments made by the PDK Minister of Health during his recent meeting with Sfarqa. “I cannot say I can make it [the hospital] within the month — matters of health take longer — but next year, you and us together will celebrate the beginning of the end of this problem,” Ismali said.
Claim: 1 million euros to renovate the entrance to the town (Kujtim Gashi, PDK)
Since the war, power in Kamenica has been held by either LDK or PDK, with LDK’s candidate Shaip Surdulli having been mayor for 11 of those years, before being replaced by PDK incumbent Begzad Sinani in 2014. This year however, the traditional head-to-head race here has also been shaken up by the rise of Vetevendosje, which won the largest share of the votes in the recent general election and newly-elected Kosovo Assembly deputy Qendron Kastrati is expected to be in with a good chance of disrupting the duopoly.
In a mayoral race more competitive than ever, PDK’s Kujtim Gashi raised the stakes this week in a debate on RTV Dukagjini by promising to invest over 1 million euros to redesign the main entrance of the town that links to the main square.
The scale of the proposed investment is impressive, but a look at the Municipality’s finances suggests that it will be very hard to achieve in reality. The Municipality of Kamenica’s total budget for capital investments for 2017 has been less than 125,000 euros — or one-eighth of the promised investment.
That means that even if the entire capital investment budget for the Municipality was invested in this project for each of the four years in the next mandate — and all other planned capital investment projects were therefore dropped — it would still only cover half of the 1 million euros that have been promised.
Amir Jakupi, a local journalist from Kamenica, says that the idea of renovating the town’s entrance is not a new one, and that this was a longstanding promise made by Gashi’s party colleague, Begzad Sinani, when elected for his current mandate.
Jakupi suggests that while Gashi’s promise would be “welcomed,” it is unrealistic given the current budget of the municipality, which he points out has had “trouble” to even secure petrol for fire trucks and the local hospital’s ambulance.
When asked during the debate how he planned to fund his promise given the municipality’s limited budgetary lines, Gashi responded that it would not be finished within one or two years and that it would involve a “public and private partnership.”
For Jakupi, this raises a number of questions, not least around what incentive there would be for external investment in such a project, which unlike other major infrastructure projects would appear to have few future opportunities to recuperate investment. “I don’t know why businesses and citizens would participate in [such a] public investment,” he says.K
Feature image: Matko Bulent / K2.0.