In-depth | Local Elections 2017

Shaqir Totaj vs. Mytaher Haskuka

By - 15.11.2017

Old governance and new in the race for historical Prizren.

Prizren is the second biggest municipality in Kosovo. In the last three mandates it was led by mayor Ramadan Muja of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK). In 2013, Muja, alongside a number of his colleagues at the municipality including many directors, was accused by the State Prosecution of misusing municipal properties, and was sentenced in 2014. However, the case against Muja and others is yet to be closed as the Appeals Court brought it back for a retrial.

After the issues with Muja, Shaqir Totaj became PDK’s new candidate for mayor in Prizren, winning 29.8 percent of the vote in October and a spot in the runoff election on Nov. 19. His opponent will be Mytaher Haskuka, Vetevendosje’s candidate who won 22.6 percent of vote. Vetevendosje will consider this result a success, leaving the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) out of the Prizren runoff for the first time.

The two programs both work around four general points: economic development, improvement of the situation in healthcare and education, investment in infrastructure and reformation of the municipal administration.

In his first public appearances, Totaj was asked by journalists about how he sees Ramadan Muja’s governance. While not condemning Muja’s governance, he asserted that his candidature itself shows the need for change. “I am a young member of PDK and I am not too connected with its past,” he said.

The campaign in Prizren has been characterized by a strong rivalry between Totaj and Haskuka. In October, a recording was published of Totaj saying that the municipality of Prizren and Has should not be led by people who cannot speak Albanian. He went on to ask his audience: “Do you think that someone else, a Turk who doesn’t speak Albanian, will come and fix the water and electricity issues?”

Vetevendosje described these comments as slander, racism and hate speech against their candidate. They went on to press criminal charges against Totaj, who continued to insist that it is not right for a municipal head to not know how to speak Albanian properly.

PDK’s branch in Prizren  has claimed that the audio recording is an attempt at framing their candidate, proving Vetevendosje’s inability to secure votes in the municipality. The office also called for a more dignified campaign.

Accusations were also made by Haskuka that the PDK candidate was treated with privilege by state institutions during the campaign. He cited the organization of an event on Bosniaks’ Day in which Totaj was presented as the candidate for the Prizren mayorship, despite the rally being financed by the Kosovo Government. Vetevendosje has issued a complaint over the incident at the Central Election Committee.

Despite the high tensions during the campaign, the political programs of the two candidates are similar on many points. In fact, the two programs both work around four general points: economic development, improvement of the situation in healthcare and education, investment in infrastructure and reformation of the municipal administration.

They say that these fields are interconnected with one another, and that each of these points will contribute to the development of all others. Here, K2.0 presents a summary of their promises in the race for the top seat in historical Prizren.

Economic development the focus of both candidates

Totaj’s program is based around 17 points and a total of 55 pledges. He has stated that his main focus is economic development for the city, and the creation of a 2 million euro ‘Fund for City Development’ is one of Totaj’s key points. The fund will aim to support the establishment of new businesses, especially by focusing on subsidizing business ideas that come from women and young people.

The means for creating this fund will be secured by an improvement in the collection of taxes, where Totaj sees potential in securing more financial income. The process of legalizing facilities which have been built without permits, set to be initiated in Prizren, is another method through which extra income could be secured for the municipality according to Totaj.

He also believes that the creation of the Ministry of Innovation opens up more possibilities for securing financial means, and PDK’s program for Prizren foresees organizing a competition in which economic projects would compete, with the three best receiving financial aid for implementation.

Haskuka has identified this promise as one of Totaj’s unimplementable ideas, highlighting earlier promises of this kind that were made in the past but have remained mere promises. He further stated that even if this fund were to be created, the money would be allocated in the form of subsidies. Haskuka points out that the total budget for subsidies in Prizren is 477,000 euros, and most of these subsidies are allocated for aiding businesses in the agriculture and culture sectors respectively.

Prizren’s business park, a public space created in the last decade that is provided by the government for facilitating business has faced many issues. Both candidates have highlighted its lack of proper functionality.

One of Totaj’s promises is to functionalize the business park, saying that it would influence economic development in the city, but he has not provided details about the way it would be functionalized, its cost or its usage.

Haskuka also aims to functionalize the business park so as to increase the level of economic development in the city. He promises that within 6 months he will make the park functional through public-private investment partnerships or foreign donations. Haskuka also promised to solve the issue of ownership over the land the park is built on, which is the subject of an ongoing court case.

Providing municipal land which businesses can utilize, and investing in the surrounding infrastructure is another point in the Vetevendosje plan for Prizren. Another pledge is to develop business plans for applying for international grants, which will be co-financed at a value of 10 percent by the municipality. “These projects are ready to implement as soon as we win,” he says. His program also promises to facilitate businesses by subsidizing their involvement in international fairs.

Haskuka’s program also foresees subsidizing the agriculture sector by promoting agricultural products in the international market. He distinguished nuts and crafts as the symbol of Prizren and also promised to create small markets in each neighborhood.

Heritage only for its economic potential

Cultural heritage sites, which are plenty in number in Prizren, are seen by both candidates to have potential for developing tourism and influencing economic development.However, neither of the candidates mention concrete projects for protecting the city’s cultural heritage, despite the fact that the destruction of one of the buildings in Prizren’s historic center took the life of a child in 2016.

This young girl tragically died when a damaged wall collapsed from their neighbouring building as she was crossing the road with her mother. A fierce debate ensued about who was responsible for protecting cultural heritage and about the lack of action on the municipality’s part, at the time governed by PDK’s Ramadan Muja.

His fellow party member, Shaqir Totaj, has nothing concrete in his program regarding the protection of cultural heritage sites. When addressing the subject he has said that he believes that the first step that must be taken is reforming the Tourism Directorate, and creating an application through which the municipality would promote tourism opportunities.

Totaj does however have concrete ideas for hikers. He has said that in cooperation with the Hikers’ Association, he will organize trips for tourists in the mountains of Prizren, enabling them to find accommodation in the villagers’ houses. Totaj said that this will, in turn, promote bio foods which are prepared by the villagers.

Both candidates have promised to compile the cultural events calendar and the cultural sites map. Regarding cultural heritage, Haskuka also sees economic benefits in subsidizing this sector, believing it will increase tourism.

He has accused the previous government of misusing funds. Haskukua points to an incident when 10,000 euros was allocated to compile a list of addresses of hotels in the municipality, when this could have been achieved by using official data from Ministry of Trade, who already hold information about the addresses of all businesses.

For Haskuka, it is important to create conditions which enable tourists to stay in Prizren for multiple days, not just visit on a one day trip. He feels this can be achieved by cooperating with local and international tourism agencies.

Investment in infrastructure

Vetevendosje candidate for Prizren, Haskuka, believes that infrastructure investments should be made in order to redesign the city’s public transport system, with the objective of reducing the number of cars on the city’s streets.

He also wants to reorganize traffic with a special emphasis on the historical center, promising to invest in 300 new parking lots, mainly in areas that lead into the city, as well as promoting the use of buses in the inner parts of the city.

Haskuka’s program also foresees investments in water supply. He promises that within his first mandate, he will provide 24 hour drinking water to Prizren’s residents. Furthermore, he promises to build a sewage system in Kurrile, Arbane, Randobrave, Pirane, Malesi e Vrinit, Nashec and Bajram Curr.

Haskuka also pledges to expand the public lighting system. He said that within four years, each neighborhood and village in Prizren will be included in this network. The Vetevendosje candidate also further promises to expand green and recreational zones, clean up the Drini i Bardhe and Lumbardhi river beds, build facades on the outer parts of the houses in the Historical Center of Prizren, and install public lighting in and around cultural heritage sites.

On the other hand, Totaj believes that infrastructure investments should aim to “liberate Prizren’s Historical Center.” One of the main objectives in PDK’s program is to revitalize this area, and Totaj has suggested halting car traffic in the center, even those supplying local businesses. He believes that the addition of new parking lots will have a positive effect and has promised to build three big parking lots.

However, despite his dedication to the center, Totaj has been accused by other candidates of building his house in contrary to the Law for Prizren’s Historical Center. Totaj has responded by claiming that his house was built before the law came into effect.

Waste management is another issue which the PDK candidate has raised, to help with which he has pledged to build a waste treatment implant. Totaj has also promised to build new squares, green zones and bike lanes.

Education, health care and municipal administration

Shaqir Totaj has highlighted in TV debates that Prizren’s health care system is the best in Kosovo, an evaluation he insists is shared by the World Health Organization. However, other candidates have opposed this claim, mentioning the lack of medicine available in Family Medicine Centers.

Totaj has rejected this idea, assessing that Prizren’s health care sector is “relatively good.” He has not offered specific proposals for other health care projects, however, Totaj has promised to invest in this sector.

Haskuka meanwhile, has promised to reorganize and functionalize the Main Family Medicine Centers, equip them with medicinal equipment and laboratories, and further train medical staff.

Haskuka promises to offer mobile health care services in Prizren, outlining a policy of having two automobiles which offer these services. Haskuka also pledged to invest in creating a ‘Daycare Center’ for Pensioners and visits from medical professionals for pupils of schools in Prizren.

Regarding the education sector, Totaj has complained about the competences of the municipality being limited by the Ministry of Education, claiming that the only thing that is left to the municipality is “proper management of the schools.”

Totaj’s promises for the education sector in Prizren are providing schools with laboratories and other equipment, and building more physical education halls. He also promises to build more kindergartens, but does not mention exact numbers.

In terms of improving the quality of education, Totaj also promises to organize training for teachers, to increase the level of security in schools and  create conditions which will enable schools to work for only one shift.

Haskuka’s program for education begins with his pledge to depoliticize the education system by increasing the level of transparency in this sector’s employment process, and having the community participate in the election of school headmasters.

Regarding capital investments in the education sector, Haskuka is more concrete, promising that he will build four kindergartens. However, he does not offer details about their respective potential locations, their cost or their maintenance.

Regarding the quality of education, Haskuka promises to invest in opening new chemistry, physics and biology laboratories, as well as new music facilities, saying that this will increase quality. He has also highlighted the Municipality’s poor results in the national achievement tests.

Regarding programs, Haskuka promises to organize additional hours for pupils that have unique talent, as well as pupils who continuously show poor results. He further promises to organize sports events, through which he aims to identify talented youngsters and support them in the following year.

The reformation of the municipal administration is another field which has been prioritized by both candidates. Totaj has promised to establish the “Performance Management Office,” which will aim to seek accountability from administration workers, as well as compile plans for administration functionality.

On the other hand, Haskuka pledges to be transparent in every decision he makes, including employment, spending and procurement. He further promises to reduce the number of directors and expand the space provided for the Municipality’s archive. Haskuka also wants to digitalize the Civil Service Center and create a “One Stop Shop” for municipal services.

The issues that have faced Prizren throughout the year will continue to be challenges in the next mandate. Prizren’s municipality has dealt with the highest number of accusations made against its officials for corruption, meaning public administration reforms were pledged by both candidates.

Totaj has never explicitly distanced himself from the past government and has not been clear about whether or not he will continue to work with Ramadan Muja’s former colleagues, many of whom have indictments filed against them, if he wins the headship in Prizren. Throughout the campaign Haskuka has focused on criticising that government and promising that his will be a different one.

The degradation of Prizren’s Historical Center is another issue that will need to be solved by the next mayor. Whoever that is, it is without a doubt that the preservation of cultural heritage sites is not something that can be bypassed. It remains to be seen whether the degradation of these sites is set to continue, or whether we are to welcome a new situation in this regard.

Other challenges include regulating the sewage system, providing non-stop water supply, regulating traffic, creating parking lots and creating conditions which facilitate tourism in Prizren.

On Nov. 19, Prizren’s citizens will have the opportunity to choose between two programs which attempt to find solutions for these challenges. One belongs to PDK, a party which has governed this municipality in the past three mandates, the other belongs to Vetevendosje, who has only led one municipality throughout its political history — Prishtina, the model they are now using for other municipalities.K

Illustration: K2.0.

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