High-Level Donor Forum on the Rule of Law and Education Sectors

High-Level Donor Forum on the Rule of Law and Education Sectors, December 11, 2017

Good morning, Prime Minister Haradinaj, Ambassador Apostolova, Ministers, fellow diplomatic and donor colleagues. Looking around this room, it’s clear that Kosovo has a lot of friends and partners working to make a difference here. The U.S. partnership with Kosovo remains strong, and cooperation among donors with the government, is crucial as well. We saw a great example of this just last week with new contributions from Sweden and Germany to the Kosovo Credit Guarantee Fund.

This is a critical time in Kosovo and the stakes couldn’t be higher. We’re here to help and support your government, but ultimately, this is your country and your agenda. Truly effective donor coordination is a two way street, and that’s especially important in Kosovo where’s there’s such a crowded development space.

That’s why this meeting is so important. We know there are a lot of development priorities in Kosovo but today I’ll be focusing on two – Rule of Law and Education.

I’ll turn first to the rule of law, and thank you to everyone who participated in Anti-Corruption Week activities, and for the great discussion on Friday. The fight doesn’t end just because the week is over, and every priority I’m about to lay out is contingent upon that fight. We can’t lose focus. We have to hold ourselves and each other accountable to the commitments we made last week.

In terms of the immediate priorities for rule of law: first, we know there are tough decisions to be made on next steps for commercial law reform and the analysis on anti-corruption bodies. We urge you to start the Justice Sector review and make these reform decisions as soon as possible. That doesn’t mean we stop ongoing efforts, but the review should help you define your highest-level priorities and focus on how you will get there.  We and other donors have offered support, but this must be GoK led.

Second, we need to address the legislative agenda. My colleague has laid out several key pieces of legislation in the European reform agenda. I support them all but let me just re-emphasize one action that I believe is particularly vital: It’s time to pass the updated Law on Disciplinary Counsel. This will be a critical step forward in strengthening checks, balances, and accountability in Kosovo’s justice system. Ensuring that judicial sector personnel are held to the highest standards of discipline and accountability is crucial to fighting corruption, ending a culture of impunity, and building public trust in these institutions. Frankly, it’s difficult to talk about prospects for economic growth without clear progress on rule of law reforms.

Finally, we need to stay focused on judicial integration in northern Kosovo. We’ve had an incredible breakthrough, and now the real work begins of making courts in the north fully operational in 2018. This means ensuring laws are translated and harmonized in Serbian and Albanian, cases are appropriately transferred, staff receive proper training, and decisions are integrated into Kosovo’s legal structure.

Likewise, there are needed reforms in the education sector that Kosovo must undertake now to help prepare its young people to take their place in Kosovo’s economy.

First and foremost, there is a crucial need to de-politicize recruitment of teachers, school directors, and Municipal Education Directors. Merit must be the only consideration when it comes to hiring those charged with educating Kosovo’s youth. Anything less is a disservice to them and will continue to jeopardize Kosovo’s future.

Similarly, reforms in higher education must continue to ensure that graduates have the skills and knowledge demanded by today’s and tomorrow’s labor market. The reforms taking place within the public university system – that all of us have invested in so heavily – must be seen through completion and championed by your government.

That means implementing Kosovo’s Education Strategy and completing the long overdue revision of the Law on Higher Education. This will improve the academic integrity, quality, and inclusivity of higher education in Kosovo and start to bring it in line with international standards.

I have spoken with hundreds of returning graduates of U.S. Masters Programs and all were challenged by the rigor of U.S. universities. Kosovo’s young people are just as smart as those of any other country – but they need to be prepared appropriately and that is not now happening.

We also need to see full implementation of the Law on Pre-University Education to support comprehensive reforms at that level. Taking the cronyism and opacity out of hiring practices and insisting on rigorous teaching standards is critical.

On both rule of law and education, high-level forums like this one are important, but we all know that our teams are implementing this work every day – and they need to hold regular working group meetings to be effective. I realize more meetings alone isn’t the answer – but unless our teams are getting together on a regular basis and reporting up to us on their progress and roadblocks, we’re not going to get the work done.

The priorities I’ve laid out are no less than the people of Kosovo deserve. The international community has a role to play in suggesting solutions and pushing for change, but this is your country. As always, we’re proud to partner with you, and we look forward to all the good work that’s to come. We know what needs to be done so let’s go do it.