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Kosovo needs a locally-owned mechanism to coordinate international assistance in fight against corruption

A piece by Cemaliye Beysoylu and Nicasia Picciano

Since the end of the 1990s Kosovo received an excessive amount of international funds and assistance in building state institutions, establishing mechanisms of good governance and combatting corruption. Twenty years after the conflict, enduring international assistance and high level politics’ commitment could not save Europe’s youngest state to be overun by a rampant corruption.

A recent project, funded by the Kosovo Foundation for Open Society, analysing the way international and local efforts could be more efficient in the fight against corruption, has concluded that the fragmented nature of the international assistance is one of the major factors undermining its efforts’s effectiveness in this sector. Accordingly, there is an urgent need for a better coordinated donors’ action to avoid overlaps and channel international funds and assistance, where it is most needed.

 Many of the key international actors having their premises in Pristina such as the European Union, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the embassies, the UNDP, list combatting corruption and organized crime as their key priority. Primarily, the EU through its civilian mission EULEX and its enlargement framework, played a key role. EULEX retained executive functions, through its judges and prosecutors acting as an integral part of the Kosovo’s judiciary, until its downsizing in 2018.

Other missions also play various roles such as assisting Kosovo institutions to draft legislation, providing training and investing in capacity-building programmes, monitoring judicial processes, offering mentoring services to local institutions. International funds are also supporting local civil society and think-tanks in their advocacy and mentoring efforts.

Over the years, some progress has been recorded under international support in strengthening legal instruments and building state institutions. Kosovo established a solid legal framework and a number of institutions to deter, detect and punish corruption. Also, it has enacted various new laws and regulations aligned to European and international standards.

Amongst many others, the new Criminal Code provides an overall upgrade and introduces the mandatory removal of public officials from office, if these are convicted of corruption; the Law on the extended powers of confiscation improves the legal framework for confiscating illegally owned assets; amendments to the Law on State Prosecutor increase the number of prosecutors in the State Prosecution Office and, the Law on the Protection of Whistle-Blowers improves the framework for their protection.

The international assistance has also been instrumental in supporting new public agencies (i.e., Anti-Corruption Agency), strengthening key institutions such as the police, prosecutors, courts and anti-corruption bodies and investing in human resources and capacity-building. Additionally, funds reached out to civil society, enabling them to develop monitoring programmes and campaigns to increase public awareness.

Despite good intentions and the abovementioned developments, progress is slow and unsatisfactory. Kosovo scored only 36 (0 is the most corrupt) and ranked 101 out of 198 countries and territories by Transparency International Corruption Perception Index in 2019, dropping three points lower since 2017. Corruption is still an ordinary part of daily life.

Even to get simple papers, like a birth certificate, you bribe someone’ says Visar Duriqi, investigative journalist at Insajderi, explaining the level of diffusion of petty corruption among the local populace. Besides that, the country suffers from high level political corruption.

The phenomenon takes various forms ranging from abuse of office, bribery, clientelism and nepotism, where the appointment of party or family members to the boards of publicly owned enterprises and the employment of relatives or close friends in high government positions is a common practice. As Norbert Pijls, Project Director at Helvetas Swiss intercooperation, puts it; ‘…the whole political system is based on clientelism’.

 Our analysis of the international engagement in Kosovo reveals that weak coordination mechanisms are one of the main factors hampering the fight against corruption.

Currently, international institutions come in, observe, monitor and write something that they recognize is in need of improvement, and then they hand it to the local institutions. Local authorities just let any country in and do their stuff, so everything goes in any direction.

There is not a system whereby you can tell the Americans to focus on x issue, the British on y, and the Italians to focus on something else, so as to cover the whole spectrum.

So, you can have three projects doing the same thing here, and no one doing something which really needs to be done.’ says Ken Taylor from Assiom International Ltd.

Taylor further explains that the first time his organization met with one of the other delivering partners, the US embassy, it became clear they were engaging in similar projects. So, they agreed to help each other instead of repeating the same thing. But, this kind of international coordination happens occasionally. It does not rely on a systematic overarching analysis of Kosovo’s needs and it works at the project level only.

Lack of coordination mechanisms is problematic in two ways. Firstly, it turns into efforts and funds being wasted due to overlaps. Secondly, it shows the seriousness of the problem. Ehat Miftaraj, KLI Executive Director, argues that neither the Kosovo government, nor the former Ministry of integration did something to coordinate donations or the external support in the field of RoL between different actors.

The fragmented nature of donors’s involvement needs to be urgently addressed. And, this initiative cannot be left to the internationals for being properly adjusted.

Our analysis suggests the establishment of a locally-driven coordination mechanism properly channelling international funds and paying due attention to projects’ needs and priorities. Additionally, international donors should ask for deliverables from such a local coordination body and its partner institutions, so as to ensure that funds are rationally invested in those areas where institutional, training and capacity-building needs are crucial.

Such a recommendation does not claim that a coordinated international assistance is a remedy to all Kosovo’s wrongdoings in combatting corruption. Yet, striving for a robust coordination in a more systematic way may prevent overlapping projects taking place. Also, it will bring in long-term planning and be accompanied with the potential of boosting local institutional integrity. Besides that, if such a coordination takes place under the Kosovo’s leadership it will significantly increase the sense of local ownership in the process.

This article is a part of the research scheme ‘Building Knowledge About Kosovo 4- Alumni Project’ financed by the Pristina-based Kosovo Foundation for Open Society. Nicasia Picciano holds a PhD on the EU state-building in Kosovo from the University of Flensburg Germany. Cemaliye Beysoylu, PhD, is Lecturer in Politics and International Studies, at the Department of International Relations, Cyprus Science University Ozankoy, Cyprus

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