In-depth | Politics

Do mayors keep their promises?

By - 17.10.2017

What has or hasn’t been done in the last four years in the bigger municipalities?

When Donald Trump was running for the White House, two of his pledges regarding foreign affairs stood out: tremendously improving relations with Russia and easing tensions with North Korea. Less than a year has passed and relations with Russia have worsened, whereas with North Korea, the U.S. is on the brink of war — easing tensions is the last thing he’s done in this regard.

Promises are plans, and as such, in some cases their implementation is influenced by many factors.

The same happens with the many promises made by candidates who run for the position of municipal mayor in Kosovo. They make promises related to different fields and projects, and later during their mandate they realize that the realization of these promises is not completely in their power, or impossible. According to GAP Institute, the Kosovo municipalities, excluding those in the north, gave a total of 548 promises and fulfilled only half of them over the last four years.

Now they are making new promises. The achievements of municipalities in the past four years have been presented by the current mayors during this campaign, whereas their setbacks and failures will be utilized by the other candidates, who will promise that these setbacks and failures will not exist if they get elected as municipal heads.

However, each municipality in our country has, in the past four years, realized projects which have made their respective headships proud. Some projects have been realized despite not being promised during the campaign, whereas other projects or plans have not been completed, despite being promised as priorities during the election campaign.

To help cut through the rhetoric, here is a brief recap of some of the successes and setbacks of the municipal governments in Prishtina, Gjakova, Peja, Prizren, Mitrovica, Gjilan and Ferizaj over the last four years.

Prishtina: Successes in health care, administration, entrepreneurship and kindergartens. Setbacks in projects.

Never have people spoken more about Prishtina than in the last four years. This is positive, as it does not allow the municipal headship to avoid the problems and priorities of the citizens. But what are the main achievements of Shpend Ahmeti’s mandate?

Prishtina. Photo: Creative Commons license.

The health care sector has been reformed, the staff has been disciplined, and there is now a hierarchy of service and responsibility. The time it took to receive services in the past has now been halved, and medical equipment is generally functional.

The same has happened in the administrative sector. Prishtina was one of the first municipalities in the country to use e-Kiosks, which enable citizens to receive services — such as obtaining birth or marriage certificates — within seconds.

Two enterprises in Prishtina, Trafiku Urban (the city’s public transport system) and the Public Residential Enterprise, have experienced an increase in capital in the past four years. Four years ago, a worker at Trafiku Urban was paid 120-170 euros per month, and often had to face delays of up to four months in receiving this wage. Now their wage is 350 euros and is received on a monthly basis. The annual income of the Public Residential Enterprise in 2013 was 300,000 euros, whereas in 2015 it reached 1.1 million euros.

Before 2013, the Municipality of Prishtina had not managed to open any publicly-owned kindergartens. The inability to do so was largely due to the fact that the Ministry of Finance did not allow an increase in the number of employees in the public sector.

This restriction forced the municipal headship to look into new models of opening kindergartens without raising the number of employees. The public-private model, also known as kindergartens based in communities, has functioned well and has managed to alleviate the situation that was created by a lack of kindergartens in the capital.

Five kindergartens were opened using this model, which can now be transferred to other municipalities, as it does not require the spending of the public budget in the category of wages, and simultaneously urges parents and neighborhoods to be active around the environment in which their children are settled.

Other achievements in the Municipality of Prishtina in the last four years include: stopping illegal construction, free meals for pupils, new buses, elevating pedestrian walkways, making the procurement process and the process of issuing construction licenses transparent, expanding roads and adding more public lighting.

But the capital has also faced some setbacks and issues. The Municipality did not properly manage the project for building a plateau in the Dardania neighborhood. Construction took a very long time and the quality of the work is unsustainable.

Furthermore, the general level of capital investments has fallen. In 2013, Prishtina had a budget of around 35 million euros for capital investments, whereas in 2017, the budget for this category is less than 23 million euros. In addition to this, property tax has risen, in some zones up to 80 percent, and the city is not any cleaner than it was before.

The public space close to the municipality building, Adem Jashari Square, offers an ugly sight of the city and this has not been changed. The Municipality lost a Swiss donation for this space because of a lack of coordination with the Kosovo Assembly, which owns a part of the space. Other setbacks and problems faced by the Municipality of Prishtina in the past four years include: street sellers, a lack of parking spaces, stray dogs, illegal taxi cabs, and potholes.

Gjakova: Managed to become independent from Peja, but didn’t manage to functionalize its economic zone

Gjakova’s separation from Peja could be considered one of the key achievements of its municipal mayor, Mimoza Kusari Lila.

For example, Gjakova now has its own license plates, different from Peja and other cities — they start with 07. This has not really changed daily life for Gjakovars, but when it was promised, no one believed it would happen.

Gjakova. Photo: Creative Commons license.

Over the last four years, Gjakova has received 16 million euros in the form of donations, from both the Swiss and German governments. Gjakova has allocated these donations to solving the sewage issue, and fixing the central heating system in the city.

Other successes in Gjakova in the past four years include: an expansion of the agricultural subsidy list, the establishment of an information office for tourists, the creation of a special fund for supporting small and medium sized enterprises, continuous support for sports clubs, the opening a center for innovation, the expansion of the water supply network to the Reka e Keqe group of villages and the reconstruction of roads and sidewalks in some zones.

Problems and issues faced by the Gjakova municipality in the past four years include: no improvement in the quality of health care, a lack of functionalization of the economic zone, a lack of initiation of projects related to expanding the Gjakova-Prizren road and connecting the city with the Ibrahim Rugova highway, no new kindergartens being built, no expansion of the public lighting system to the villages, no recreational/sports projects, and no playgrounds in city neighborhoods.

Peja: Successful in tourism and education, setbacks in agriculture and health care

The Mayor of the Municipality of Peja, Gazmend Muhaxhiri, led the Urbanism Directorate within this Municipality before leading as mayor for the past four years. This meant that he was well informed about local plans, and advantages and disadvantages in the field.

Peja. Photo: Creative Commons license.

This mandate will be remembered for initiative and dynamism in beginning the implementation of the tourist project, “Borea,” which cost about 55 million euros. It is expected that this private operator (a public-private partnership) will offer skiing services, provide cable cars, hotels and tourist services all year round. The winning company has been selected and the project is expected to be finalized in April 2019.

Another success of Muhaxhiri’s governance is the construction of the medical middle school, after it was delayed a few years back, at times because of proprietary issues, and at others because of budgetary issues. This school has now been built and medical students will be transferred to this building from the technical school, where they have been attending class up until now.

Muhaxhiri also showed success through the project for expanding the road that leads into the city from Prishtina, by asphalting the roads in the villages of the Rugova region, and by identifying illegally occupied municipal properties.

Peja’s main setbacks in the last four years were in agriculture and the healthcare sector. The Municipality did not manage to realize a promise it made for establishing zones for orchards, greenhouses and cultivating tomatoes. There were no important developments in the health care sector either. Medical centers in villages have still not been functionalized and equipment and services have not been expanded either.

Prizren: Investments in digitalization and security, failure in heritage

Prizren is a city that attracts thousands of tourists, but not as a result of the Municipality’s work. This city benefits from million of euros from the DokuFest film festival, which is organized by volunteers, artists and activists in Prizren. However, citizens and visitors are generally faced with a lack of parking space, public toilets or trash cans.

Prizren. Photo: Creative Commons license.

The Municipality has managed to place cameras in the city’s main areas which in some cases have helped to solve criminal cases. They have also digitized administrative services, while the expansion of the water supply network to include many more settlements and the increase in drinking water levels could be considered as successful achievements.

The Municipality has also worked together with the regional water supply enterprise, receiving a donation of 21 million euros from the German Bank of Development, which they used to treat sewage issues and build a plant.

On the other hand, Prizren has been criticized for not protecting its cultural heritage sites. Some protected buildings collapsed and in a few cases the Municipality even gave permits for demolishing them. The Municipality’s inability to keep their promises on opening the business park within the 84 hectares that were designated for it, as well as implementing public-private partnership projects, could also be considered as failures.

Mitrovica: New square, but failure in employment and development

The result of the last local elections in Mitrovica surprised many people. It was expected that the race would be won by the candidates from either the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK)  or the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) candidate. Instead, Agim Bahtiri from the New Kosovo Alliance (AKR), an unknown figure to the public at the time, won the mayorship.

Mitrovica. Photo: Creative Commons license.

Bahtiri will be remembered for building the city square. He has also been praised for refusing his wage as mayor, instead contributing it to a students’ group in Mitrovica. The criteria for selecting the group that would benefit from this was set by the mayor himself, and he favored students who were in an unfavorable economic situation.

He also improved communication between citizens and municipal officials by increasing the frequency of municipal headship visits to different areas in the city and by hosting citizens in the mayor’s office once a week with no prior appointment.

The city square was realized despite it not appearing as a promise during the mayoral campaign, whereas promises that were made during the campaign have mainly remained just promises.

Some of them include: creating 15,000 new jobs, employing at least one member in every family, and opening a mushroom factory that would employ 1,000 people. A mushroom factory was built and opened, but up until now it has employed only 55 people. Bahtiri has also promised to unify the divided city of Mitrovica and create a law governing the Trepca mine complex. The latter has been done, but not by Bahtiri, as it is not a competence of the local level.

Gjilan: Plans and big donations, but little investment

The Municipality of Gjilan was one of the three municipalities, alongside Peja and Gjakova, that have inherited big debts to private operators from their respective predecessors. These debts were mainly created as a result of local governments before them signing contracts with private operators without having secured the means to implement them. The new municipal mayors were obliged to pay off these debts, and were therefore unable to invest in new projects.

Gjilan. Photo: Creative Commons license.

In the past four years, the main success of this Municipality has been the compilation of the plan for solving the sewage issue. For this, Gjilan received a 6 million euro donation from the Austrian government, but they are yet to start implementing the project.

Current mayor Lutfi Haziri had promised some big projects for Gjilan, including expanding the road that leads into Gjilan from Prishtina to four lanes, allocating a million euros to farmers in the first year of his mandate and 2 million in the second year, and reducing property tax to 40 percent. None of these promises were realized.

Ferizaj: Success with the square, failure with the railway

The last year of mayor Sfarqa’s mandate has seen the mayor focus on starting the construction of the city square, which will extend from Naim Beka Street, along Deshmoret e Kombit Street, up to the mosque and Orthodox church. Later, construction will continue from the municipality building up to the green market. Construction is still ongoing, however, the square has already been named after Tony Blair. This could be considered the Municipality’s main achievement in the last four years.

Ferizaj. Photo: Creative Commons license.

Despite promises made, there has been no construction at the city’s railway station. During his campaign, the mayor had promised to relocate the rails by a few meters, to build underpasses and place security barriers. None of these have been implemented, whereas accidents, even fatal ones, have occurred in this area of the city.

The Ferizaj municipality has also faced setbacks and problems in the field of construction, health care, education, agriculture and the economy. For example, the Municipality failed to build or open an industrial zone, even though in 2013 it considered it to be — and promised it would be — one of the highest priority projects.

In agriculture, the Municipality has not managed to build more plantations or increase production, despite subsidies, while in economic matters, the Municipality’s plans for creating industrial zones and parks have not been implemented due to a lack of a concrete initiative.K

Feature image: Creative Commons license.