Ambassador Delawie’s Remarks at FOL Hapur, March 29, 2017
Thank you very much Petrit, guests, thanks for inviting me to participate in this forum today. I appreciate it very much. I’ve spoken often of the importance of civil society and media to a democratic society, so it’s exciting for me to sit down with you and engage in a discussion on the issues currently facing both Kosovo and the United States.
As you know, the United States and Kosovo share a special history and the United States is fully committed to Kosovo’s success. I speak about this often. Since even before Kosovo’s independence, my government has invested millions of dollars in this country to help strengthen rule of law and democratic governance; to facilitate economic growth; to support education; and to ensure security, both within Kosovo and in the region. Our engagement in Kosovo spans the breadth of U.S. government agencies and is implemented in dozens of different sectors and projects.
We provide technical assistance to the justice sector, support to modernize and reform the energy sector, and we invest every day in Kosovo’s small businesses and budding entrepreneurs. We’re also partnering with citizens and municipalities throughout the country to help Kosovo’s diverse communities advocate for their priorities, and to build the capacity of local governments to be more responsive to the needs of their people. Regarding local governments, one of the programs we are just starting to roll out right now is an electronic procurement initiative for five major cities in Kosovo. This will increase transparency of public procurement, making it easier for municipalities to get the best price for the things that they need to buy and make it much harder for people to spend public money in the wrong way.
Another key cooperation element between the United and Kosovo relates to the Kosovo Security Force. As I think many of you know, the U.S. has invested a great deal of time, effort, and U.S. resources into building the current Kosovo Security Force to its high level of professionalism. U.S. advisors have worked closely with Kosovo planners to develop the Strategic Security Sector Reform, which calls for Kosovo to develop its own Kosovo Armed Forces. And the creation of a Kosovo army is certainly our goal as well as that of the people of Kosovo. But we feel that this creation must be done in the best possible way – according to the lines of the Strategic Security Sector Review, according to this road map that had laid out through changes to the Constitution after consultation with all of Kosovo’s communities. That is why we have been promoting a different avenue to get to where we all I think want to be, the avenue we have actually been promoting for years, which is this avenue of a Constitutional change.
My government has been clear and will continue to be perfectly clear on this. We have publicly urged everyone in Kosovo to take a breath, slow down on this potential legislative change and to launch a serious, good faith effort to secure support for KSF transformation from all of Kosovo’s societies and all of Kosovo’s communities. We think the government certainly needs to coordinate its transformation of the Kosovo Security Forces with the United States, with Kosovo’s NATO partners and allies, and of course the other European countries that are so important to Kosovo’s future. We are absolutely ready, willing, and able to engage in this process ourselves.
I have also said that we understand the frustrations associated with pursuing this initiative via a constitutional amendment. We are sympathetic, absolutely. However, we are concerned that creating an army now, through legislation alone, could damage Kosovo’s relationships with its international partners , with NATO, etc. These are the relationships that are vital for Kosovo and these are the relationships that preserve Kosovo’s security today and have since independence.
I’d now like to turn to another one of our shared priorities: strengthening the rule of law and fighting corruption. I cannot stress enough how important this is for Kosovo. Corruption threatens everything you have worked for as a country. It erodes the public’s trust and slows Kosovo’s European integration. And of course it chokes off economic development and deters investment that would create badly-needed jobs. Foreign companies simply do not want to conduct business in places where paying bribes is considered the routine cost of doing business, and which lack the accountability and stability that a functioning rule-of-law system can provide.
But corruption is not just about paying bribes – it’s also the abuse of power and influence to ensure friends and family get jobs for which they may or may not be qualified. I can’t tell you how sad it is to hear over and over from people all across Kosovo that their children have no future here because they believe the good jobs are all locked up in patronage systems run by people in power. Not only is this sad for those individuals on the outside of the system, it’s a crisis for Kosovo. And I recommend that everyone look at a terrific article that was in Balkan Insight in December 2016. It wasn’t about Kosovo, it was about Bosnia. It was very interesting and actually it was very sad as well because according to this article, medical practitioners in Bosnia that were being trained in Bosnian medical schools that were being paid for by the state, many of them are having trouble finding jobs in Bosnia; therefore, they are going to Germany to work. So you have this perverse issue where the Bosnian taxpayers pay to train doctors, nurses, etc in Bosnian medical schools, and then these people cannot find work in their profession in their country and then they head off to Germany to provide medical services. And they can’t find work in Bosnia, according to this article once again, all I know about it was what was in this Balkan Insight article, is these medical graduates do not have the family connections, the party connections, whatever, to get jobs in the medical profession in Bosnia. That is a terrible circumstance for any country and I feel very sorry for Bosnia about that. I think it is very important that we recognize the challenge this patronage system presents to any country, especially a developing country. We can’t let that happen here.
With corruption controlling employment, Kosovo is almost guaranteed to lose her best and brightest young people to opportunities elsewhere. No country can afford this.
Think about it- if you are a public servant and there is a job you have to fill, and you know that your cousin is looking for a job. Is it likely that your cousin, that of all the people in Kosovo, that your cousin happens to be the best person to fill that particular job? The odds of that being true are astronomically against. People who work in public service, that the taxpayers pay for, need to be employed based on their qualifications, their merit, and their ability to do a job. Not who they know, not who they are related to, not what party they belong to, etc. It is qualifications that are important. I see a lot of young people in the audience, maybe people worrying about what is going to happen to me after I graduate from college. Am I going to be able to get a job? I hope so, and I hope you get a job based on qualifications and not on something else.
This problem of nepotism and patronage destroys people’s faith in government and the justice system. And despite a December survey showing that public trust in the courts has improved recently, it is still troubling that less than 25 percent of Kosovo citizens are satisfied with the courts, and less than 20 percent are satisfied with the work of the prosecutor’s office. Those are abysmal statistics and should be a loud wake-up call. Kosovo’s judicial system as a whole must do a better job of earning people’s trust. It must ensure that procedures are above question, that judges and prosecutors are hired on the basis of merit alone, and that the actions that these officials take are just and transparent. This is one of those other issues that we have been working with the Government of Kosovo on is the reform of the Office of the Disciplinary Council. This is the part of the government that looks at alleged problems with judges and prosecutors and decides on whether they need to be disciplined or not. We believe this office needs to be strengthened, the Government of Kosovo has agreed that this office needs to be strengthened and we have been supporting the efforts of the Ministry of Justice to strengthen this office.
Another step is what happens to people once they have been convicted of a crime. When people are convicted and sentenced to prison, the justice system must ensure that they are all treated fairly and equitably. If they are supposed to be in prison, they need to be in prison. There should be no special treatment for VIP or politically connected prisoners. Our goal, and I think the goal of most of Kosovo’s citizens, is that everybody be treated equally under the law. Whether you are the person sweeping the floor or you are a senior government official, you should face the same level of justice, you should face the same consequences for violating the laws that are in place and once those consequences are imposed they need to be applied effectively.
Another draft law we are supporting strongly is a draft law on the execution of penal sanctions. This law, which takes responsibility for suspension of sentences out of the hands of politicians and gives it to the courts, we believe is essential. But despite the desperate need for this law, we are not prepared to provide our support to it at any cost. Some amendments that have been suggested would arbitrarily reduce the sentences of all convicted criminals by one-third. We believe those are unacceptable to those who value justice and they make a mockery of the rule of law. I would certainly urge Kosovo’s elected officials in the Assembly to eliminate those amendments and pass the law as submitted by the Justice Ministry, and put the decisions on the release of prisoners in the hands of judges where they belong and not in the hands of politicians.
I know I’ve just laid out a heavy agenda for our interactive discussion, and thank you very much for making the time for me today. I think these issues that I’ve discussed and am prepared to discuss with you all are vital for Kosovo’s future, and as representatives of civil society, it’s important to me that you understand our positions on them. You all have a very powerful role to play in Kosovo’s democracy and in developing the future of your country. I would encourage you to play that role. It is impressive what people can do when they work together. It is important for civil society groups who have similar views to try and join forces to press your case. I’m a government official, it is my responsibility in my country to listen to what the people in the United States say. I think it is incumbent on the officials of any country to do the same and obviously there is strength in numbers. The more you work together in civil society on issues that are important to you, the more resonance your statements will have.
Discussion at Fol Hapur with Ambassador Delawie
Moderator: Thank you Ambassador. As I said, we will have a discussion of, perhaps, 15 minutes, 20 max. I would like to have [questions] from the audience. Of course, we have a microphone that should be handed around. Gersi, hand it to Burim, please! Gersi [directs Gersi where to hand the microphone].
Audience: Thank you very much Petrit. I am Burim Ramadani from Security Policies Research Center (SPRC). Mr. Ambassador, of course, I will focus on the first point, the first issue, which is about the transformation of KSF into a military mission. Of course, an all-inclusive process for this initiative, or this process, is not only necessary but also facilitating. At the same time, an element that you mentioned is extremely important, at least the way I understood it, which is that you are ready to engage in this process, in the constitutional changes if the process is more comprehensive. And this is, I believe, the point that builds the consensus in the Kosovar society as a whole, including the role of civil society. We, the SPRC, wrote on March 15 a memo asking the institutions exactly this – that the process be maximally comprehensive. At the same time, how is it possible for Kosovo Serb political representatives to engage while not losing the opportunity – after all – for promoting their own rights? Completion of the architecture of Kosovo’s national security is also necessary, as much as necessary is the preservation of the American support and of NATO in general. So, in one sentence – Kosovo needs both the army and the American and NATO support, but can this all-inclusive process, or maximally comprehensive process, happen within an optimal timeline within 2017? It was both a comment and a question, thank you.
Ambassador Delawie: Thank you. Is it possible for this to happen in 2017? Well, I can tell you, and for the young people here I’ll tell everyone, that you should never enter the field of diplomacy unless you are an optimist because the idea that you could change the world using nothing but your voice is challenging and to think you can really do that, you have to be an optimist. So I’m an optimist, and that will frame my answer for you. I think it is possible this happens in 2017. I’ve tried to make clear publicly and privately what our view is. I hope I didn’t leave anyone with any doubt, sometimes diplomats are vague and I was trying not to be vague, I was trying to be clear. No country other than Kosovo has supported the development of the Kosovo Security Forces more than the United States has. Ask every single member, 2500 in the KSF and they will tell you that. We are the strongest supporters outside of Kosovo. We helped develop the Strategic Security Sector Review Plan, our Department of Defense worked on it. It is a strategy to get from here to the full armed forces. You probably know, it is a ten year period and lots of things have to happen, there are benchmarks for something to happen every year. I think if we all engage in a concerted effort to explain, what does it mean? This plan is on the internet, anybody can read it. It is seventy pages, I understand why everyone doesn’t want to read it, but it is there.
I think we need to explain, and I’m including myself by the way, I’m not saying this has to happen only for Kosovo government officials or NGOs or whatever. I’m willing to do this too. To explain to all of Kosovo’s communities, what does it mean to have a Kosovo army like any other country in the region, in the world basically has. What does it mean for them? I think we can get to agreement. But we do have to engage in a systematic effort, and it is not going to happen overnight, to explain to all of Kosovo’s communities, to try and persuade people that this is something that they want to support. That is what I want. I am willing to devote my time to that and that of my team at the Embassy and that is what I think should happen.
Moderator: Thank you Ambassador. Gersi, it is Valmir now.
Audience: I am Valmir Ismaili from “Democracy+.” Mr. Ambassador, I have a question related to local elections. So, recently we had from the President of our country that he will initiate an initiative not to include politicians who are under investigations in the political parties’ lists. So, this is something that we have raised, as civil society, a long time ago, and they never respected it. So, now, do you think that political parties will respect this or this is just something that we are used to hearing and not to realize in practice?
Ambassador Delawie: I’d rather tell you what I think than analyze what is actually going to happen in the future because my crystal ball is not working very well today. I think every political party in Kosovo has talked about the importance of fighting corruption and organized crime. Sometimes they use different words but they have all said they are against corruption and organized crime. I think it would be a terrific demonstration of that commitment if the political parties, all the political parties, would refuse to put on their voting lists for elections, for parliamentary or municipal elections, people that are under indictment or have been convicted of crimes. I think that would really help reassure the citizens of Kosovo who want to see clean government that the parties are working more for them. I would certainly support any initiative to ensure that people running for election are not under indictment, are not under investigation, have not been convicted and not fulfilled the punishment that was meted out during conviction. Does that kind of answer your question?
Audience: Yeah. Actually, my concern is that we have his [President’s] former political party who has already announced one of the candidates from one of the municipalities, it will be a person who is under investigation now. So, we have something completely different in practice and completely different in theory, so, what they are saying. I don’t know, this is my concern – is it going to happen for real?
Ambassador Delawie: I don’t want to get into too much detail. There is a problem with investigation versus indictment. Under the Kosovo Constitution you are innocent until you are proven guilty. Now what we are not talking about is an action by the government, we are talking about action by a political party. I don’t want you to try and pin me down exactly where is the bright line. I’m willing to say that the bright line- if you have been indicted for a crime I would certainly not like to see you on an election list. This investigation thing…I’d have to think about. Or rather, I don’t have to think about it, the people in Kosovo have to think about it. I can’t make anything happen here. But sometimes people are investigated and the prosecutor says ok, there is no evidence or insufficient evidence. That is a more difficult question for me and it probably would be better for NGOs, lawmakers, political parties themselves to think about exactly where is the bright line. Indictment for me though is a bright line. Indictment and conviction, those are clear.
Audience: I am Luljeta Demolli from the Kosovo Center for Gender Studies. We are just past the “Week of Women” that was organized by NDI. I would like to know – because you have met many women who you certainly hold to high esteem – I would like to know your opinion about representation of women in the leadership of political parties. Or, in a way, I would like that, along with your vocabulary or argumentation about the fight against corruption there also be included the issue of involvement of women in politics – as much as possible. Because, we maintain every time that in their leadership, or in decision making, the political parties are not including women sufficiently although they continuously say that they are in favor of that. But when it comes to decision-making or inclusion in leadership they are not so much in favor. Thank you.
Ambassador Delawie: Thank you. I thought the Week of Women was great. I thought we had a bunch of people from my Embassy that were visiting different activities. We helped support that week financially and we have for many years. I agree with the sentiment underlying your question, absolutely, that there need to be more women in politics. There need to be more women in every professional field in Kosovo. USAID is spending a lot of time and effort to help develop programs to improve the prospects for women in business, for women in politics and we will continue to do so because it is foolish for a country to leave half its players off the field. Kosovo is worse off for not having women involved more in every professional aspect of Kosovo’s life, whether it is politics, business, or whatever. I would certainly encourage everybody to lead by example. Absolutely more women need to be in senior levels of political parties, absolutely they need to be decision makers. I agree with that 100%. This is not just about doing the right thing because it is the right thing, which it is. It is about doing the right thing because it will improve the performance of the political parties, it will improve their connection with their constituents, half of whom are women. And it will help ensure that women continue to grow in their ability to take their rightful place in Kosovo’s society.
I realize that we, the United States, Europe, Western European countries are kind of asking for a big change in traditions here in a relatively short period of time. But we are doing it because we think it is so important for the country. When you look at the statistics and you see that only a handful of percent of women inherit property from their parents, usually their father, or only 19% of women own property in Kosovo, you say gosh, there is a lot of work to be done and there is work to be done in every field. Certainly political parties, government and civil society as well.
Moderator: Thank you Luljeta. If there is one student of political sciences who, if there is someone from political sciences I would – no, no, not to journalists – I would ask a question. If not, Ambassador: Two days ago the Serbian List decided to – and this will be the last question – return to Kosovo institutions and in the Parliament. And one is discussing whether to adopt demarcation or not. You know that Kosovo citizens are the only country in Europe who cannot move freely in the European Union. Do you believe that this return of the Serbian List in the Kosovo Parliament will also send the demarcation, and that demarcation will pass, and, of course, that this will be another step closer to visa liberalization?
Ambassador Delawie: There are several elements there that I want to address. If I forget one that is important to you, you’ll have to come back to me. At the end you’ll know.
I think it is very positive that Srpska List parliamentarians have returned to the Assembly, I am very happy to see them back. I’ve said many times that they can only do their jobs representing their community if they are actually in their seats doing their jobs in the Assembly or in the government. I think it is very important for them to be there to promote the interests of their communities, all of whom are Kosovo citizens. That is a very positive thing.
Regarding the Border Demarcation Agreement, which I have talked about perhaps too many times in the past for some people’s tastes, we feel it is a fair agreement, it is a just agreement. The State Department has looked at the line that was drawn by the Government Commission between Kosovo and Montenegro. The line they drew is identical to the line that has existed between the two states since they were both provinces in Yugoslavia in 1974. For the legal scholars here, they may know that the Kosovo Constitution refers to Kosovo consisting of the territory that existed in the autonomous province of Kosovo in December 31, 1989, and the last time the border was changed before then was 1974, that is where 1974 comes from. In our view, that line has existed for decades, the government experts kind of drew it with modern technology and GPS but it is still the same line that has existed for a long time. We certainly think the agreement should be passed, we think it is very important not just to continue to help Kosovo exercise its sovereignty over all of its territory. It is important to have lines, there is an agreed border line with Macedonia for example. This would make it with Montenegro as well. But it is also very important to preserve Kosovo’s excellent relationships with Montenegro. Montenegro is one of the earliest supporters of Kosovo, recognized its independence right towards the beginning. I think there is a terrific relationship between the two countries and the inability to finalize this agreement with Montenegro is an unwelcome source of tension.
I think there are plenty of other problems that the people of Kosovo, parliamentarians of Kosovo, need to focus on and I will just list my usual ones: corruption, which I talked about already; creating better conditions for employment, creating small businesses, medium businesses, which are the real engines of jobs-I think we all know that with a more than 25% unemployment rate, jobs is a key issue for Kosovo; and to continue to improve relations with the neighbors. I guess that is a long answer to a short question. The more parliamentarians you have in the Assembly, the easier it is to get to 81 votes, which is required for international agreements such as the Border Agreement with Montenegro. I hope parliamentarians will look carefully at this. We believe it is the right line, the agreement is a good one. We had experts from the State Department look at this and we do actually have people that look at borders seriously, they are very important to us. We have global responsibilities. We need to know where every border is around the world so we don’t cross it inadvertently and we agree with the line the Border Demarcation Commission has drawn. Yes, it is more likely it will get passed, I hope it does, I hope people will be able to vote for this, the Border Demarcation Agreement, and help everybody move on to really more important issues.
You know, when I travel throughout the country I talk with local officials and I always ask, what do you think about all this controversy about the Border Agreement or the Association of Serb Majority Municipalities? And invariably I hear: “that is so far from my life as a local official. I don’t care about that. I care about how are we going to help my citizens get jobs? How are we going to improve prospects for business?” Things like that. The topic of discussion in Pristina, the political topic of discussion in Pristina seems to be divorced at times from what the citizens really care about. So that’s it, that’s my answer.
Moderator: Thank you, Ambassador. [Turns to audience] Thank you very much. As I announced it to you, we had these 40 minutes because of the very busy agenda of the Ambassador. Thank you very much for being here today and thank you for your understanding. [Turns to the Ambassador] Thank you very much, Ambassador, for finding the time during these two very busy days of yours.