When I went to enroll my son in first grade this year, the procedures I had to follow were similar to those that my parents followed when they enrolled me back in the 1990s. I submitted physical copies of my birth certificate, proof of residence, electricity bill and registration application.
This makes you wonder, was the procedure followed in the 1990s so perfect and functional that there was no need to find another model, a more efficient one? Or, have we entered a vicious cycle, where laziness prevails?
I believe it’s the second case.
During his mandate as mayor of the municipality of Kamenica between 2017 and 2021, Qëndron Kastrati pushed forward an initiative for schools in his municipality to reorganize. This was due to the municipality’s financial losses; there were a greater number of teachers than students. But many, including the Ministry of Education and the United Science Education Union, opposed his initiative, calling it inadequate and outside of local competencies.
Kastrati lost his campaign for a second term in the local elections in 2021. This was not because he had no ideas, but because his ideas were outside the remit of municipal duties. He was expected to only deal with standard issues, such as investment in roads, sewer systems, lighting and housing.
For 15 years now, municipalities have focused on providing these basic services, which is reasonable as there was a great need for investment.
While 15 years ago it may have been utopian to think of electronic kiosks providing administrative services, today it is a mistake to act as if the internet and technology do not exist and to focus all attention on roads, sewers and housing. Today, local government needs innovative approaches and new ideas to make services more efficient for those living within municipalities.
The local elections in 2021 resulted in victories for the opposition. Of the 26 municipalities with an Albanian majority, the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) won nine of them, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) won seven and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) won five. The party in power, Lëvizja Vetëvendosje! (VV), won in four municipalities. This resulted in a generally non-cooperative climate between the municipal assemblies and accusatory relations between the local and national level.
The GAP Institute recorded a total of 1,816 promises made by mayors during election campaigns. Of them, after six months, only 167 promises had been fulfilled; 113 promises or 6% had been fulfilled up to half; 392 or 22% had started to be fulfilled. There are still 1,144 promises, 63% of the total, that have not even started to be fulfilled.
Local level complaints about national level neglect are nothing new. Even in past governments, municipalities have complained that the national level is not fully committed to the development of the local level. Successive governments have contributed to creating this climate, constantly making decisions without properly consulting the municipalities. Similarly, the approach of some municipalities, who see the government as enemies of their party, has not helped.
There are many cases when municipalities get stuck or fail due to differences in what municipalities and the government perceive to be in the public interest. There have been cases when, in different periods, conflicting decisions have been issued from two levels on the same issue.
In April 2022 the VV-led government terminated a decision made by the previous AAK-led government in July 2018 to grant some plots of social property to municipalities. The decision in 2018 benefited the municipalities Gjilan, Ferizaj, Suhareka, Deçan, Junik and Hani i Elezit.
With the exception of Gjilan, the other municipalities had to invest millions of euros in these areas. Between 2019 and 2021, the Ministry of Local Government Administration confirmed the facilities started in these areas as legal. However, in 2022 the government canceled the 2018 decision and returned the same properties to the Kosovo Privatization Agency, justifying their actions by saying that the decision could not be implemented.
The investments that started were cut short and the private companies that carried out the work are expected to sue the municipalities for contract violations. Likewise, the mayors in these areas have let their communities down.
While the uncooperative and accusatory climate was to some extent predictable, the first year of the mandate will also be remembered for inaccurate predictions.
The developments that came post-pandemic and with Russia’s war in Ukraine affected all markets. The prices of services increased, inflation rates in most countries reached double digits and economic development slowed. This situation had a direct impact on Kosovo, in municipalities as well.
Capital investment at the local level in the first six months of 2022 was lower than at any point in the last decade, even lower than in 2020 when pandemic restrictions were in force. In the first six months of 2022, municipalities spent only 19% of the funds allocated for capital investment. In the same period in 2020, 21% was spent. Compared to the same period of the previous year, this percentage was lower by 7%, meaning that in 2021 the municipalities spent 26% of the funds.
There is less capital investment
The municipalities in Kosovo during the year 2022 have a combined budget of approximately 565 million euros available, of which 155 million is dedicated to capital investments, 285 million euros for salaries, 91 million euros for goods and services, 13 million euros for municipal expenses and subsidies of 21 million euros.
In the first six months of this year, only 29 million euros were spent on capital investments. From the category of capital expenditures, payments are made such as the adjustment or repair of roads, the laying or expansion of sewer systems and water supply, the repair or construction of public facilities in education, health, administration, culture, sports, inventory of facilities, expropriations, etc.
The decrease in capital investment will have a negative impact in at least four ways. First, the municipalities will return significant funds as surplus to the Ministry of Finance. Second, the investment plan foreseen by the municipalities will have delays and in most cases will undergo changes. Then, private companies that have done public work may face difficulties in operating and the decline in capital investment will also negatively impact purchasing power in the market.
The problems and obstacles municipalities face cannot always be attributed to external circumstances at a national level. Unfortunately, there are dozens of cases where municipalities invest in and inaugurate public facilities that have never provided services. This happens mainly due to a lack of objective analysis in the investment plan.
Here’s what’s done on the ground.
In 2017, the municipality of Podujeva started the construction of the Health Emergency Center in the center of the city, completing it in 2020. It was later found that the facility was built very close to the yard of a primary school and the emergency cases were having a negative emotional impact on the children. After this finding, the concern was addressed by parents and the center closed. A few weeks ago, the construction of this center’s new facility in another area started. How is it possible that a center that cost nearly one million euros to build was only found to have been built near a school yard after it had already opened?
There are also many other municipalities that build medical facilities without specifying whether they have the professional resources to make them functional.
Examples of this nature can be found in all municipalities in Kosovo.
Over the years there have also been good initiatives, which could be considered revolutionary in the field of local government and set a new standard, but were not fully completed.
Lazy thinking is not only encountered in investments, but also in all other spheres.
An idea for such an initiative was discussed during 2017 in the municipality of Prishtina. The initiative planned to purchase drones, which would circulate during the day in Prishtina and would be monitored from by the directorate of the inspectorate in the municipality. These drones were supposed to help control unauthorized construction or encroachment on public spaces. A brilliant idea, but it was not implemented.
The same happens with investments made in education, culture, agriculture and youth, where each one is presented as a success. Investment in agriculture is not a success, it is the responsibility of local government. But, if during a term an investment is made in a cultivated area of agricultural land and yields increase, this can be presented as success. Have you heard of any municipalities that would present the increase as a success rather than the investment itself? I haven’t.
Lazy thinking is not only encountered in investments, but also in all other spheres.
Have you ever heard of municipalities identifying local roads or high traffic areas where accidents most often occur? I haven’t heard of such analyses, although the data exists and say that most accidents occur at three or four key junctions in cities. Yet municipalities are satisfied by saying that it is their responsibility to place the signs, even though the signs have been invented more than a hundred years ago and are not our invention.
Our intervention should be, at least, to identify these instances, discuss them and offer options for solutions. Analyses and local studies are also lacking in the vast majority of other fields. This is generally because they have not been made governing standards and there are no current initiatives that plan to move beyond these standards.
A national public opinion survey, conducted by DEMOS in June of this year, showed that 78% of those interviewed are satisfied with the services in their municipalities. The results also showed that 73% of respondents believe that their municipality is on track to improve in the next five years.
These statistics highlight two positive elements. The first shows that local government performed well in solving problems or requests that residents had. The second demonstrates that their strategic orientation is appropriate and in line with residents’ expectations.
But now it is time for residents to demand more from municipalities and municipalities must offer more than what they have offered so far.
Although all necessary, few of the municipal services constitute new ideas. Municipalities have the budget and competence to do more than they’ve been doing over the last 20 years. Ideas and initiatives are lacking, as well as the courage to go beyond established standards.
Feature Image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.
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