Amid the unofficial election campaign, I found myself reading the autobiography of Israeli statesman Shimon Peres.
Peres recounts the first years of the young state of Israel. Within seven years of declaring independence, Israel went from manufacturing bicycles to exporting airplanes. Within half a century, Israel became the youngest and smallest country to launch a satellite in space. As for the economy, Israel is the country with the highest number of startups per capita.
Peres’ generation were witnesses of the birth of a new state, just like we are witnesses of and contributors to Kosovo’s state-building. But the similarities end here.
While within seven years of declaring independence, Israel managed to export airplanes, Kosovo’s biggest export is scrap metal, which comes from dismantled factories. Kosovo’s trade deficit is close to 3 billion euros, while exports cover only 11% of imports.
To put it in monetary terms, Kosovo gives out 3.3 billion euros per year through imports, while exports only bring in 367 million euros. Moreover, raw materials and base metals comprise most of the exports.
Twenty years after liberation and 11 years after the Declaration of Independence, Kosovo imports toothpicks from China and over 80,000 kilograms of garlic per year from countries like China, Egypt and Greece.
Politicians respond to criticism regarding the severe economic situation and the high rate of unemployment with justifications that we are a young country. However, during election campaigns, they promise paradise.
In the last election campaign in 2017, the coalition comprised of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), The Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) and the Initiative for Kosovo (NISMA) — known as the PAN Coalition — ran with a program titled “99 concrete promises.” Of these 99 concrete promises, 54 were related to economic development, fiscal reform, social welfare, and policies regarding agriculture, mining, energy and infrastructure.
According to Democracy Plus’ platform for monitoring the fulfillment of election promises, only 7 of 54 promises related to economy and social welfare have been fulfilled completely. As such, promises for concrete actions were transformed into concrete failures.
The biggest promises have remained unfulfilled. The economic situation and employment trends are worse than they were at the start of the mandate. Data from Kosovo Agency of Statistics (ASK) show that in the first quarter of 2019 there are fewer employed people in Kosovo than in 2017, when the PAN Coalition started its mandate.
The focus of many election campaigns has been to create a more suitable environment for foreign direct investments. For this objective, Kosovo lawmakers approved the Law on Strategic Investments, which reduces administrative procedures for investments, and functionalized the Ministry for Diaspora and Strategic Investments in the recent mandate.
However, data provided by the Central Bank of Kosovo (BQK) shows a decline in strategic investments in 2018 compared to the two preceding years. BQK data regarding foreign direct investments in the first five months of 2019 give little hope that this year will be better than others.
In late July 2019, private sector employees had less purchasing power than they did seven years ago. Meanwhile, the net average wage has increased by only 9.3% from 2012 to 2018, while in the same period, accumulated inflation has reached 10.1%. In other words, the average wage of 333 euros was more valuable in 2012 than the average wage of 364 euros is in 2019.
In the agriculture sector, the PAN Coalition promised to double the budget for agriculture and a fivefold increase in agricultural exports. However, in 2019 the budget of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development is 1 million euros less than in 2017. On the other hand, ASK data shows that in late 2018, exports of agricultural products increased by only 1.8%, while the trade deficit also grew by 2.8%.
The regression in economic development and social welfare that occurred during the PAN Coalition’s mandate is also highlighted by an unfulfilled objective of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, which was included in the 2017-2021 government program, to reduce the number of families that are provided with social assistance. Not only did they fail to implement this, but in fact 295 new families were added to social assistance programs.
The PAN government, led by Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, was the most short-lived since the Declaration of Independence. But in the 678 days that it was in power, the PAN government was involved in countless scandals.
When they reached their 400th day of the mandate, I managed to count 100 scandals, most of which were directly related to decisions made by Prime Minister Haradinaj. So there was a scandal every four days. And many of them have a strong basis for prosecution.
In the last weeks of the mandate, Haradinaj started to push forward the idea of the construction of the Dukagjini highway, with a cost of around 1 billion euros.
Until now, over 2 billion euros have been spent on the construction of the highways that connect Kosovo to Albania and Macedonia, and three highways have been left unfinished due to a lack of budgetary funds, namely the Mitrovica, Peja and Gjilan highways. Despite this, our politicians think it’s right to build another 91 kilometer highway, 40% of which will pass through private properties.
In politics, the saying “a fool throws a rock, 100 wise men can’t find it” does not stand. In politics, a fool throws an idea, and 100 others cannot even correct him. In fact, they embrace the idea.
Such is the case with the Dukagjin highway. Fearing that they would lose votes, none of the political parties have expressed themselves as being completely against the idea of constructing another highway. Any government coalition that plans to allocate 1 billion euros to build another highway will clearly have no funds to deal with other issues related to education, health care, welfare and employment.
With election day (October 6) approaching, a huge percentage of the population is voting every day — with their feet. Voting with one’s feet implies leaving the country to find a better economic system, one which your country does not provide you with.
Based on a study by GAP Institute, from 2009 to 2017, 11% of the population sought asylum at least once in European Union countries. British newspaper The Guardian provides even more concerning data, stating that from 2007 to 2018, Kosovo lost 15% of its population due to migration.
The high level of immigration has influenced the education sector, with the number of students in all schools in all municipalities declining steadily. The millions of euros that were invested on school facilities through the years now make no sense, because many of these schools have had to be closed.
To put a stop to “voting with their feet,” citizens must start to “vote with their heads.” Considering the election promises of all political parties are sounding the same, the vote you cast on October 6 should be a vote of punishment, punishment for the parties and politicians who are to blame for our overall social degradation.
Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha & Arrita Katona / K2.0.