June 07th 2008 03:48:59 PM
In a December post titled Corruption Eruption, I mentioned the former deputy head of UNMIK, Steven Schook, who was told his contract with the UN wouldn’t be renewed because of certain “inappropriate” behavior and “closeness” with top Kosovo officials, but this was not elaborated upon by any report at the time. But today we have an article from May 5th which passingly gives some of the sordid details:
The new government in Kosovo has failed so far to live up to its promise of fighting corruption.
The Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), leading member of the ruling coalition, ran a pre-election campaign on anti-corruption rhetoric that projected now Prime Minister Hasim Thaci as one of the last few clean politicians in Kosovo.
But the report ‘Fighting Corruption With Rhetoric’ published last week by the Pristina-based NGO ‘Democracy, Anti-Corruption and Dignity’ (COHU) says that by the beginning of April when the Thaci government completed its first 100 days (since it took office Jan. 9), the government has failed in all its promises.
The report says the government has mostly focused on replacing officials loyal to the previous government with its own, promoting privatisation without transparency, and damaging the interest of public companies.
Indications of a strong nepotistic culture have emerged. Minister for Public Health Alush Gashi approved a list of candidates selected for specialisation at the University Hospital in Pristina, ignoring the report of a commission that the selection was done in violation of the law.
“In this list you can find the daughter of Gashi’s advisor, Safa Rexhep Boja,” COHU member Blerton Ajeti told IPS. “You can also find children of various directors of departments, advisors and medical staff within the Ministry of Health and the University Hospital.”
The government’s failure to stand up to its promises comes at a time when corruption is killing the economy of Kosovo. Transparency International’s 2007 Global Corruption Barometer ranked Kosovo as the fourth most corrupt country, after Cameroon, Cambodia and Albania.
The people seem not to want to fight corruption either. “There is a very strong survivalist culture in Kosovo that creates a social solidarity of not exposing issues, and accepting corruption and the informal market,” a French United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) customs officer stationed in the region for more than five years told IPS on condition of anonymity.
“Corruption has been institutionalised by failing to tame organised crime associated with veterans of the Kosovo Liberation Army who dominate local politics, and by the involvement of international personnel,” the customs official said.
“The best example is Steven Schook (former deputy head of UNMIK), who flew away in the middle of the night while he was under investigation. He was involved in overpricing the construction of the Kosovo C electricity plant,” the official said.
Schook, a retired U.S. army general, left Kosovo suddenly last December while he was undergoing internal investigation. He left after being informed that his contract with UNMIK would not be renewed in 2008, meaning he would lose the diplomatic immunity granted to UNMIK staff.
The Kosovo C project, the biggest and most expensive since the international community arrived in 1999, is still pending though it could become a valuable source of income for the region. The project opens up access to Kosovo’s lignite reserves, the richest in Europe.
There was also this, particularly nasty, tidbit in connection to Schook’s firing:
The former American brigadier general said he left because he loved his job too much, but that wasn’t the real reason. It also wasn’t because of his supposed weakness for beautiful Kosovar women, or because he considered it useful to “get drunk with Ramush Haradinaj once a week,” as described in a German situation analysis.
No, Steven Schook’s contract was officially “not extended” after the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) investigated his administration and looked into (unproven) reports that the American had revealed the whereabouts of a man who had testified against Haradinaj. The man was living under a UN witness protection program.