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.
In previous articles, we have looked into promises on schools in Prishtina and water in Prizren, as well as the construction of a hospital in Ferizaj and a million euro investment in Kamenice.
This week, K2.0 looked into some of the boldest claims from mayoral candidates on economic investments in the very west of Kosovo in Peja, and on spending on sport in its far eastern region of Gjilan.
Claim: 24 million euros to be spent on 37 capital investment projects (Sabiha Shala, PDK)
Traditionally the race for the mayorship in Peja has been a close contest between LDK and AAK. In 2013, LDK’s Gazmend Muhaxheri took the mayorship from AAK’s Ali Berisha, who had been running the city since 2007, a year before Kosovo declared independence.
However PDK have always played a role in politics in the area, often proving decisive in forming municipal governments. In their attempts to win more influence in the region, they have fielded Sabiha Shala, a local academic who is a member of the senate at the “Haxhi Zeka” public University in Peja.
The PDK campaign is seemingly based on the maxim of spending money to make money, with Shala promising in a debate on TV Dukagjini on Saturday (Oct. 7) to spend 24 million euros on fulfilling 37 capital investment projects aimed at stimulating the local economy.
The budget for all capital investments in the Municipality of Peja in 2017 totals 5.8 million euros. In 2018 it will have a slight increase to 6.2 million, while 2019 is set to see another slight increase to 6.6 million euros.
While Shala’s projects based on stimulating the economy may be welcomed in Peja, it would be likely to diminish the budgets for numerous other departments, including the departments of Health, Education and Science, and Culture, Youth and Sports. If around 6 million euros can be estimated as the annual budget for capital investments, it would mean that nearly all the city’s capital investments would have to be spent on the 37 projects promised by Shala.
Elaborating on her promise, Shala stated that 16 million euros would be spent on building new bus stations, for which she promises to incorporate a public-private partnership in terms of investment, as well as seeking assistance from central institutions.
For Imer Mushkolaj, a political analyst who is from the region, the promises of Shala rely heavily on assistance from the central level. “It would be good to talk about doable projects within the financial capacities of the municipality of Peja,” Mushkolaj told K2.0. “Mrs. Shala should explain in detail how the money would be allocated for all these projects because this amount of investments seems too big to swallow for Peja.”
Claim: A million euros to support the municipality’s sports clubs (Lutfi Haziri, LDK)
LDK and PDK have tussled over the Municipality of Gjilan since the first local elections in Kosovo in 2000, with power passing back and forth between Kosovo’s two traditional big parties. However, as with many other cities in Kosovo, Vetevendosje’s general election results have given the party hope that they can also make a breakthrough in local politics in Gjilan.
After finishing in first place with 42 percent of the vote in June, Vetevendosje have fielded current deputy in the Kosovo Assembly, Sami Kurteshi, as a candidate to stand against LDK’s incumbent mayor, Lutfi Haziri and PDK’s Zenun Pajaziti.
All three have spoken about the importance of sport in the Gjilan region. In his 20 point programme for Gjilan, Kurteshi promises to revitalize football pitches in the area and build new ones where needed, while Pajaziti has pledged to work hard to create better conditions for Gjilan’s sportspeople.
Haziri meanwhile describes sport as ‘the identity of Gjilan’ and declared on Facebook that the municipality’s financial support for the region’s sports clubs would “definitely reach a million euros over the next four years.”
Support for sports clubs from the municipalities usually comes from the subsidies budget for the Department of Culture, Youth and Sports, which in Gjilan had an overall total of 190,000 euros in 2017.
With the Municipality’s overall budget not set to increase in the coming years, Haziri will have to reallocate large portions of the budget to cover this promise of spending a million euros on the region’s sports clubs, especially if he wishes to have some money left to spend on culture and youth projects.
Local journalist Amir Jakupi believes that unrealistics promises have become a feature of elections in Gjilan. Jakupi also stresses that while he believes Haziri’s promise is “unrealizable in four years and without analysis,” the need to address the issue of the local sports clubs’ facilities was urgent.K