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feature 01 Jun 17

Kosovo Voters Seek Stronger Focus on Health, Economy

While Kosovo's politicians mostly target foreign policy and national security topics, the voters with whom BIRN spoke said they wanted the next government to work more on social and economy issues.

Die Morina
The candidates for Kosovo Prime Minister; Ramush Haradinaj, Avdullah Hoti, Albin Kurti

As the campaign for the general election in Kosovo on June 11 hots up, focusing mostly on security issues, relations with Serbia and the future operations of the Special Court for war crimes, most people actually want to see a stronger focus on social care, education and the economy, according to a BIRN straw poll.

Most citizens in the capital, Pristina, to whom BIRN spoke on Tuesday, said they wanted the government to work more on improving the health system and schooling.

“The most important issue ... is the health system, and education also. If public universities were of a higher quality, we would have better doctors,” Emine Bajraktari, 25, said.

A pharmacist, Arta Vataj, aged 30, said she also thinks improving the health system is what people in Kosovo need most. “It is an essential issue for citizens,” Vataj said.

As BIRN previously reported, since the end of war in Kosovo in 1999, Kosovo has not had a proper health insurance system and the cash-strapped state is still struggling to put one in place.

The biggest problem in public health centres is the shortage of drugs and other basic medical supplies. Beside the lack of basic supplies, problems include inadequate staff, some of whom have poor performance and attitudes.

Many doctors working in public hospitals continue moonlighting in private clinics at the same time, which explains their substandard performance in their work in the public sector.

“The government should also work on employment and education, considering that our country has the youngest population on our continent,” Vataj added.

Fatmire Gjergji, a student at the University of Pristina, said that apart from the health system, which needed urgent work, the focus should be on industrial development and stopping privatisation.

“They should stop the process of privatisation of public enterprises and leave them as state properties in order for citizens to benefit more, because Kosovo has many resources,” Gjergjaj told BIRN.

A report by BIRN and Group for Legal and Political Studies in 2016 said that while Kosovo has privatised around 500 companies, examples of successful privatisations are rare.

"Only a small number of enterprises are currently functional and even fewer continue production at pre-privatisation levels," the report wrote.

It added that the process had been marked by a negative impact on employment, underpriced sales of companies and agricultural land, non-utilisation of privatisation funds and the exclusion of ordinary people from the privatisation process.

A lawyer from Ferizaj/Urosevac, Bled Selimi, meanwhile said more work was needed on the judicial system.

“The government should focus on strengthening the rule of law, reforming the education system with new curricula and new teaching methodologies,” he told BIRN.

The OECDs December 2016 study Programme for International Student Assessment, PISA, ranked Kosovo as one of the countries with lowest performance in math, science, and reading, trailing behind its regional counterparts.

Ibrahim Murati, 30, from Gjilan/Gnjilane said the government should also pursue economic reforms, because if new economic policies fail to attract foreign investors, no new jobs will be created.

“With the current bureaucratic system, corruption and the lack of will to make a change, we are pushing away investors. Reform of economic policies is a must,” Murati said.

A World Bank overview said that while Kosovo's “economic growth has outperformed its neighbors and been largely inclusive,” this did not “sufficiently reduce the high rates of unemployment, provide formal jobs, particularly for women and youth, or reverse the trend of large-scale outmigration”.

“Kosovo’s current growth strategy needs to be focused on addressing the infrastructure bottleneck in energy, creating an environment more conducive to private-sector development, equipping its young population with the right skills to make them attractive to employers, and building up governance and the rule of law,” the report said.

Arber Rushiti, aged 46, felt no optimism about any of the candidates in the election.

“Our government should focus on finding flight tickets for each of them to Argentina or Brasil. We citizens can pay for those tickets - but one-way tickets. That is the best solution,” Rushiti said mockingly, underlining his disappointment with the current set of politicians.

The election campaign officially started on May 31 and the candidates for the post of Prime Minister are already out and about, issuing colourful political, security and economic pledges at meetings all over the country.

The front runner, Ramush Haradinaj, the joint candidate of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, the Initiative for Kosovo, NISMA, and other small parties - on Tuesday promised to achieve visa liberalisation with the EU within three months.

Visa liberalisation is a burning issue in Kosovo - now the only Balkan country left out of such arrangements.

The EU has conditioned progress on visa-free travel with ratification of a controversial border agreement with Montenegro, which parliament has delayed voting on several times.

Meanwhile, Haradinaj's coalition partner, the current speaker of parliament, Kadri Veseli, has promised 30-per-cent salary increases in the public sector. 

Avdullah Hoti, the joint candidate of the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, and the New Kosovo Alliance, AKR, promised to hike the state annual budget from 2 billion currently to 5 billion euros.

Albin Kurti, candidate of the opposition Vetevendosje party, among other issues, has promised to review the border demarcation agreement with Montenegro and the faltering EU-led dialogue with Serbia.

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