investigation 01 Feb 13

Flush PDK Leaders Take Invalids’ Pensions

Kosovo Mayor and an MP defend getting invalidity benefits on top of their considerable salaries, in spite of having no visible injuries.

By Liridona Hyseni

Sami Lushtaku is doing quite well for himself by Kosovo standards. The Mayor of Skenderaj is worth more than 1.6 million euro, according to his 2012 wealth declaration.

He also took home 51,000 euro, most of which came from a combination of his salary as mayor and profits from his supermarket. But a portion — 2,400 euro — came from his war invalidity pension, awarded to veterans of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, who were permanently disabled as a result of their wounds.

Balkan Insight has learned that at least two powerful Kosovo politicians, Lushtaku and Bekim Haxhiu MP, receive such pensions.

Members of the ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, both are far wealthier than most Kosovars. More importantly, neither shows any visible signs of a physical disability.

Lushtaku confirmed to Balkan Insight that he receives an invalid’s pension but refused to explain his wartime injuries or how they debilitated him.

“You can find all the information on my invalidity status, the time and the place I was wounded and the degree of invalidity, at the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, in the relevant department,” Lushtaku said in January.

The Ministry of Social Welfare told Balkan Insight that it deemed Lushtaku eligible for an invalid’s pension beginning January 1, 2008. The ministry said it had approved Lushtaku’s request after a medical commission had examined him.

The ministry did not disclose Lushtaku’s injuries or how they continue to affect him, however.

Law categorises injuries:

The law On the Status and the Rights of Martyrs, Invalids, Veterans, Members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, Civilian Victims of War and Their Families, has a system of payments for various categories of people affected by the 1998-99 war.

A government commission is currently registering war veterans, including invalids, and verifying their status. So far 12,885 people have applied for veteran status, with 1,489 applying to be considered invalids.

The law divides invalids into eight categories, which correspond to monthly payments based on the percentage of “body damage”.

A KLA veteran with 20 to 30 per cent “body damage” receives 180 euro per month, whereas someone with more than 80 per cent damage gets 358.50 euro per month.

The law doesn’t clarify how “body damage” is determined, however, leaving that to a medical commission.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare refused to provide any further information about how the medical commission determines invalidity.

PDK MP Bekim Haxhiu has received an invalid’s pension since 2003. He currently gets 2,890 euro per year, 255 euro a month, for his war wounds.

According to his 2012 wealth declaration, Haxhiu earned more than 20,000 euro per year from his Assembly post and from his job as an assistant at the University of Pristina’s Faculty of Medicine, where he teaches physical therapy.

He also reported property and cash worth around 400,000 euro.

Haxhiu told Balkan Insight that he received a head injury from a grenade blast while he fought for the KLA in the village of Ternavc.

“Not by my will, on the April 11, 1999, I was wounded in clashes on the front line,” he said.

Haxhiu wouldn’t provide further details about his head injury, or how it affects him. But he said the medical commission deemed him a 31 to 40 per cent invalid.

“I haven’t violated the law with any action, I am within the law. The law defines the benefits,” Haxhiu said.

Fadil Shurdha, head of the KLA Association of War Invalids, said he isn’t bothered by the fact that Lushtaku and Haxhiu take invalids’ pensions, despite being gainfully employed.

“If I could, I would hire them all,” Haxhiu said, of pension recipients generally.
Rame Buja, the Minister of Education, was also wounded during his time in the KLA when a bullet went through his jaw.

But Buja, who earned about 25,000 euro in 2012, doesn’t receive an invalid’s pension.
Ministry Spokesman Arber Morina told Balkan Insight that the minister had never requested one.

“The reason is that the minister wanted to symbolically save some money,” Morina said.

Driton Selmanaj, of the Kosovo Democratic Institute, which monitors the Assembly, says no government official should seek or accept a war invalid’s pension. He said that such officials are in a privileged position already, and don’t need extra money.

“Withdrawing [from any pension claims] would prove that they hold citizens’ interests first, and do not want in any way to become robbers of the public purse,” Selmanaj said.

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