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 will take some of the boldest claims from leading mayoral candidates, and check how realistic they actually are, whether in terms of budget, timescales, official competencies or other factors.
This week, we kick off with claims from the campaigns in the country’s two biggest cities.
Claims: Seven new schools (Arban Abrashi, LDK) / Five new schools (Shpend Ahmeti, Vetevendosje)
Debate in Prishtina has inevitably taken center stage for much of the week, with Vetevendosje’s Shpend Ahmeti and LDK’s Arban Abrashi — the two most likely candidates to win here — both setting out their visions for the capital. While there are some obvious differences in the two hopefuls’ ideas, there is also some overlap, with both following a time honored tradition of mayoral candidates by promising to construct new schools.
The number of pupils in school classes in the capital are reported to regularly exceed 40 and in some schools at least two shifts are being applied in order for all children to be provided with an education; a lack of space, laboratories and other equipment required to ensure a quality education system remains a concern.
As part of 100 new promises that were launched this week in his “Give Wings to Prishtina” election program, incumbent mayor, Ahmeti, promised to build five new schools with their own libraries, while his biggest rival for the top spot, Abrashi, promised to build seven.
So how realistic are these campaign promises of brand new schools?
A look at the approximate average price of building recent new schools in Kosovo, shows that total costs tend to be around 2.5 – 3 million, although this naturally varies depending on factors such as the size of the school and the location. Last week Ahmeti suggested that to build a school in Prishtina it costs between 3 and 5 million euros.
If we take 3 million as an illustrative example, Ahmeti’s five new schools would cost 15 million euros, while Abrashi’s would come to 21 million.
To fund this pledge significant money would therefore have to be re-allocated from elsewhere in the budget, or sourced externally.
However, the budget forecast for all capital investments in the capital over the next three years is only around 90 million euros and that needs to pay for all capital investment throughout the municipality, such as adequate street construction (20 million euros), a new city market (4.5 million euros) and four new neighborhood parks (3 million euros).
Therefore, despite the need for more new schools, promising to build seven, or even five, new schools with the existing budget of Prishtina seems a difficult task.
Additionally, a look at the 2018-20 budget on capital investments shows that currently no money is foreseen to be invested by the Municipality in new schools; to fund this pledge significant money would therefore have to be re-allocated from elsewhere in the budget, or sourced externally.
One potential source of income to help fund new schools would be capital investment from central government, although according to Ahmeti, not a single cent has been spent on capital investment on education in Prishtina in the past four years. With neither Ahmeti’s Vetevendosje or Abrashi’s LDK in the newly formed central government, and animosity between political parties as high as ever, it seems unlikely that either candidate would be able to rely on central government funds to help fulfill their pledges.
For Albulena Nrecaj, executive director of the active citizenship NGO Initiative for Progress (INPO), which extensively monitors the Municipality of Prishtina, the promises of new schools by the candidates are “questionable” but achievable in principle.
Construction on one new school in the Arberia neighborhood of the city began seven years ago and is still not complete.
“The promises of candidates to construct new schools are achievable promises, as self-generated income in the next three years is estimated to be around 30 million euros and it is the right of the future mayor to decide the priorities on investments,” said Nrecaj, referring to money generated through measures such as licenses and municipal taxes. This anticipated 30 million has already been allocated in the 2018-20 budget however, so even to use this would require withdrawing it from another area.
Besides the costs, it is also worth remembering that major infrastructure projects are notoriously difficult to conclude and are often susceptible to delays or cancellation. Construction on one new school in the Arberia neighborhood of the city began seven years ago under the administration of Abrashi’s LDK party leader Isa Mustafa and it is still not complete.
Nrecaj also highlights that the incumbent mayor has not yet fulfilled commitments in the 2017 budget when it comes to capital investment in schools. According to the 2017 budget of the Municipality of Prishtina, construction of three new schools should have begun in 2017, although none of these projects have yet started.
Claims: 24/7 water supply — within six months (Hatim Baxhaku, LDK) / within four years (Mytaher Haskuka, Vetevendosje)
One issue that has been resolved this past mandate in Prishtina was the supply of 24/7 water, but in Kosovo’s second city, there has been no such breakthrough. With old and inadequate water supply infrastructure, citizens in the Kurilla, Bazhderhane and Dardania neighborhoods, as well as those in a number of villages surrounding the city, still face daily shortages as their water supply is shut off for hours at a time.
Wednesday’s debate on RTV 21’s Debat Pernime program brought an ambitious pledge from LDK’s mayoral candidate for Prizren, Hatim Baxhaku. Baxhaku promised that he would resolve the longstanding water supply problems to the three neighborhoods — which are amongst the city’s largest — within six months.
Baxhaku is one of three candidates thought to have a realistic chance of winning in Prizren, with his main rivals for the top spot considered to be Vetevendosje’s Mytaher Haskuka and PDK’s Shaqir Totaj; the incumbent, PDK’s Ramadan Muja, has decided not to stand for re-election after a controversial mandate.
“To put it simply, their promises are bullet points without analysis, completion timelines, budget, technical capacities or priorities.”
Haskuka, who has also said that the water supply issue is one of his priorities, responded more circumspectly when asked about timescales, suggesting that resolving the problems with water supply would take much longer; he said that he would ensure this was done within the four year mandate.
Hajrullah Ceku, from Prizren-based active citizenship NGO Ec Ma Ndryshe, which has been involved with the local community in trying to resolve this issue for years, says that Baxhaku’s promise is quite simply “unrealistic.”
He points out that problems with the city’s water supply in Prizren are longstanding and that there is no quick fix. “The issue of the water in Bazhderhane neighborhood is 20 years old,” he says. “There has been no solution, despite the efforts of the Municipality and the regional [water] company.”
Asked how much the proposed project would cost, Baxhaku suggested that it would require 7 million euros. To put that in perspective, it would be almost half of Prizren’s total 15 million capital investment budget for 2017, none of which is allocated to improve the water supply infrastructure in the affected neighborhoods.
Ceku believes that the promises on this issue by Prizren’s mayoral candidates are in discrepancy with the the budget and have not been given serious consideration. “To put it simply, their promises are bullet points without analysis, completion timelines, budget, technical capacities or priorities,” he says.K
Feature image: Matko Bulent / K2.0.