Corruption is Kosova’s greastest challenge

US Ambassador Delawie’s Interview with KTV,  December 5, 2017


KTV: Welcome to Rubikon Mr. Ambassador.

Ambassador Delawie: Thank you Adriatik, it is great to be here.

KTV: We are in Anti-Corruption Week in Kosova. The Embassy is sponsoring the Anti-Corruption Campaign. What are the key issues that the U.S. Embassy is involved in this area?

Ambassador Delawie: We kicked things off yesterday, the United States along with Quint Ambassadors, the EU Special Representative, several NGOs. We had an opening ceremony in the morning, it was really terrific. There is a great week of programs, most of them are run by non-governmental organizations and they are addressing a variety of corruption issues. I think this is so important because I think corruption is Kosova’s greastest challenge. We are looking to find more progress in the anti-corruption field from the judicial sector, from the governing sector, from the Assembly, and to work on several important things.

To be more concrete though, there are several things we are looking for that I think are reasonable to expect in the relatively near term. First of all, is a new law on the Office of Disciplinary Council for Judges and Prosecutors. We have been working on this, together with the government of Kosova, for the last year or so, the law is almost ready, it should appear in the Assembly soon. I hope the members of Parliament will vote to approve it.

Other things- there is a Justice Sector Review that we are conducting with the Minister of Justice to look at the challenges that have emerged in Kosova’s laws and regulations over the almost ten years since independence and come up with some reasonable solutions that could be pushed through or could be submitted to Parliament for consideration. We’re hoping that electronic procurement, transparent procurement, will be rolled out across the country and through all municipalities finalizing in the next month or so. This is so important because 40 percent of Kosova’s government budget relates to procurement. So you provide transparency, make it harder to be corrupt in the procurement field, you have done a lot to ensure that Kosova’s tax payer’s money is actually spent for the best possible purpose. Hiring based on merit for government jobs, this is anti-nepotism or anti-cronyism, is another extremely important thing that I think everyone in government should be able to commit to. So these are not magic wand issues. These are things that people could do real things about in the relatively near future, this month for the disciplinary council then a couple of months for procurement. They would go an awful long way towards improving the lives of Kosova’s citizens, giving them more confidence in their own government and to advance Kosova’s goals of integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions.

KTV: Are you seeing willingness among institutional representatives or among the society to tackle issues of corruption, to fight corruption, because as we say sometimes we can have good laws, but we need implementation of those laws.

Ambassador Delawie: We are having positive feedback. Some of these things I wouldn’t be pursuing if the government, for whatever reason, were resistant. Electronic procurement is going very well. It is complicated, it is probably more complicated than everyone was expecting at the beginning to implement. But it is doable.

The laws on disciplinary council- we’ve got great cooperation with Kosova institutions on that. Definitely I am sensing cooperation, I am sensing willingness amongst many people that I deal with. And regarding society as a whole, I think we know from public opinion polls that for the citizens of Kosova corruption and rule of law issues are the single most important problem for your country.

KTV: Sometimes we hear politicians saying that what people are talking about when people talk about corruption is mostly perception and not cases that are factual. Because they sometimes also mention that if you ask individuals, “do you know of certain cases of corruption,” they will answer around 20 percent yes. But if you ask them directly, is Kosova society corrupt, or institutions? They will answer 70-80 percent yes. How to link those two?

Ambassador Delawie: Corruption is one of those issues where the terrific work of ten honorable people could be undercut by one person. Because it is such an emotional for people because they see their taxpayer dollars going away to crooks. It is a very emotional issue, and therefore we kind of depend on everybody to do things right. Unfortunately, because there are people involved, not everybody always does everything right. Certainly there is a real issue and certainly there is a perception issue. I cannot dispute your analysis that the perception issue is bigger than the real issue. But there is definitely a real issue.  We see in the public opinion polls also, “have you had to pay a bribe in the last year” and a percentage, I don’t know remember if it’s the twenty you mentioned, but a percentage says yes. That is a real issue.

KTV: What are your expectations after this week that we say in full capacity, meetings, talking about corruption, conferences, so people will be more aware of the problems and work harder against them?

Ambassador Delawie: That is basically it. Raise awareness, push for solutions.  That is what diplomats do.  That is what I have to do. I have no magic wand, which is why I focused on the issues that don’t require one. We raise awareness, we try to build support among the people, among the politicians, among the bureaucrats for reasonable solutions that we’ve worked out.

KTV:  There are concerns sometimes in Kosova with the new administration in Washington.  How will the U.S. involvement in the region and especially in the context of Kosova look like.  Did something change lately?

Ambassador Delawie: Clearly there is a new administration since January in the United States. But regarding support for Kosova or U.S. involvement in the Balkans, the United States remains as committed as it has been for decades.

Let me just narrow my comments to Kosova, which I can speak more directly about. There has been tremendous support in the U.S. government, including from the new team, for Kosova. We have had recently a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense was here, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hoyt Yee was here a couple of weeks ago. We had the U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchinson a month or so ago here. President Thaci met with Vice President Pence a couple of months ago. We have had numerous Congressman and Senators visiting Kosova over the last several months. Clearly, there has been a lot of interest in Kosova, there is a lot of U.S. involvement in Kosova, and I expect that to continue.

KTV: Nothing changed with the policy of the U.S. toward Kosova…

Ambassador Delawie: I can’t think of anything in particular that has changed. Our policy, our support for Kosova and for the Balkans in general has remained relatively consistent for decades and I don’t see any change.

KTV: Speculation in the media, rumors that the division of Kosova is again on the table, what do you have to say about it.

Ambassador Delawie: For the United States, division of countries or re-division of countries along ethnic lines remains completely off the table. We – I don’t think people understand the types of difficulties that would emerge from dividing populations along ethnic lines. There is a famous American author named H.L. Mencken, who said something like, “for every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, and clear, and wrong.” And I think that applies in this case. Looking for an easier solution to lop off a piece of one country and give it to another actually would make things far more complicated and far more dangerous. The United States continues to support Kosova’s territorial integrity along its existing borders, the borders it has had since it declared independence in 2008 and I certainly don’t expect that to change.

KTV: Dialogue with Serbia, it is a phase when we do not have much certainty how it will look like.  What is your take on the Dialogue so far and what is the vision for how this Dialogue should continue?

Ambassador Delawie: The U.S. certainly supports the Dialogue between Kosova and Serbia because we feel it is essential for both of those countries to make progress towards their European ambitions.  It’d be foolish to deny that there’s some kind of dialogue fatigue that’s set in here, but I think that just makes it more important to re-energize the work on the dialogue.  The United States has been involved in the dialogue since the beginning.  It’s of course led by the EU, facilitated by the EU, but with the strong support of the United States.  We continue to support it, and I think it’s important to recognize the dialogue has brought real things to real people in Kosova.  The most recent example is the justice sector integration in the north that began just a month or so ago.  Bringing Kosova rule of law to a population that hadn’t really seen it for some time.  So this is a practical element of the dialogue that is improving the lives of Kosova citizens.  We can talk about other things, too, like integrated border management along the Kosova-Serbia border, the telephone code that is phasing in over the next several months, Kosova Police integration, all of these things happened as a result of the dialogue, and we will continue to support the dialogue as best we can in the coming months and in the coming years as well.

KTV: Sometimes the impression is that all these agreements that had been reached are not being implemented and people are losing patience.  For example you mentioned border management or the integration of the police.  We had agreements on paper, but we don’t see them being fulfilled completely.

Ambassador Delawie: Well, I have to disagree with you a bit there.  The Kosova Police are integrated.  In the north of Kosova the Kosova Police is in charge of law enforcement there, they work for the headquarters of the police which is in Prishtina.  Regarding the border management, customs duties are being collected for goods that pass from Serbia into Kosova, and according to the dialogue agreement, the money from Kosova duties is being used to support projects, mostly in there north.  There’s a commission that deals with that.  Of course there are other things that are still hanging on, but the dialogue has brought important benefits to Kosova and I hope it continues to do so.

KTV: What about the request from Kosova Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj to have more U.S. involvement in the dialogue.

Ambassador Delawie: The United States has supported the dialogue from the beginning, will continue to do so today, will continue to do so in the future.

KTV: Will there be a special envoy or something like that, the U.S. special envoy for the dialogue?

Ambassador Delawie: I’ve got nothing to announce.  Right now we are trying to work with the EU team, Federica Mogherini’s team, to figure out how we can best contribute to the success of the dialogue that the EU is facilitating.  We will continue to do so, and we will change as we need to, as circumstances change.

KTV: So the answer to the Prime Minister from the U.S. is we will continue to be involved as we were up to today?

Ambassador Delawie: The answer is that we will continue to be involved and support the dialogue between Kosova and Serbia.

KTV: We will take a short break from some advertisement and then come back.

KTV: Mr. Ambassador, this week we had the proceeding of the law on demarcation with the border with Montenegro from the government of Kosova to the Kosova assembly.  We know about the division in the debate with this issue.  What are your expectations for the border demarcation?

Ambassador Delawie: Mature states have to deal with complex issues and do them right.  As Kosova approaches its 10th anniversary in just a couple of months at this point, I think that’s particularly true for Kosova.  So I understand this is a complex issue, but I think it’s important for me to emphasize the U.S. government’s position on this agreement has not changed.  We announced in 2015 that the Border Demarcation Agreement at that time had outlined the line between Kosova and Montenegro that has been there since 1974, that they had done so correctly according to the experts at the State Department, and that we supported that agreement.  So I think that’s important to recognize.  The reason that 1974 is an important year is because that’s when the Kosova constitution said that the territory of Kosova consists of the territory of the municipalities of Kosova.  So, and of course the municipalities are based on the cadastral records of the municipalities.  Now I think this new group basically endorsed that idea, though perhaps inadvertently.

KTV:  …the Bulliqi Commission…

Ambassador Delawie: Yes.  So they basically said, “well, if you look at the cadastral records I guess maybe you do come up with the same answer as the old commission,” but clearly they didn’t like that answer.  So they used a bunch of gibberish and Latin phrases to try to obscure..

KTV: … you call them gibberish…

Ambassador Delawie: Gibberish.  I don’t know how to interpret that, I’m sorry.

KTV: Yeah, we’re going to translate that.  We understand that.

Ambassador Delawie: ..Gibberish and Latin phrases to kind of obscure that conclusion.  So look, I understand people have strong opinions about this issue.  I understand that sometimes we all wish that history had turned out a little bit different, but I think it’s important to face this issue like most issues realistically.  And the reality here is that this is a very important issue for Kosova’s future.  I want Kosova to be able to earn visa liberalization.  The EU has made it clear what has to happen to get there.  This border agreement is one of those important issues, and I think it is clear that the answer for Kosova, for the Kosova assembly now that it is in the assembly, is that it should pass the border demarcation agreement as is.  I don’t think people should rely on fake news or imaginary explanations of alternative realities to deal with important issues that affect the future of two million of Kosova’s people and their ability to travel more freely within Europe.  Especially when the right answer is in front of you and has been in front of you all along.

KTV: So who is doing this fake news on this issue?

Ambassador Delawie: I talked about the gibberish and the Latin phrases.  I think it is important to recognize that the Border Demarcation Agreement, the 2015 deal, is the right deal.  It represents the border between Kosova and Montenegro that has been there since 1974, and it needs to be formalized in law by the Kosova assembly.

KTV: Again Mr. Ambassador, can we say it as precise as we can.  Does the U.S. or your Embassy ask to ratify the border demarcation that was signed in 2015, or you support some kind of new agreement with Montenegro?  Because we hear different things from different government officials, or different political party representatives.

Ambassador Delawie: We, the U.S. government, me but also my government, supports the 2015 agreement as it was drafted and endorsed by the Montenegrin assembly.  That’s the right line.  That’s the one that Kosova’s assembly should also ratify.  It’s the line that’s existed between the two countries since they were provinces or autonomous republics, and it’s the line that’s on Kosova’s flag.  It’s the right one.

KTV: And you expect the MPs in Kosova assembly to vote for it?

Ambassador Delawie: I certainly hope the MPs will vote for it. This is something that’s in the interest of Kosova’s citizens, that Kosova assembly gets right, and I hope the members of parliament will put aside their political considerations and vote in favor of Kosova’s people.

KTV:  What will happen if they will note vote in favor of this demarcation?

Ambassador Delawie: The first thing they teach you in diplomacy school is not to answer hypothetical questions, so I’m going to give that one a pass.  I’m going to work to get the right answer.

KTV: So you’re positive that this demarcation issue will pass in the Kosova assembly.

Ambassador Delawie: I’m going to work as hard as I can to help persuade members of parliament that they should approve this existing agreement.

KTV: And what about Prime Minister Haradinaj who still is saying that he is not convinced that Kosova is not losing ground, not losing land?

Ambassador Delawie: The United States is persuaded that the 2015 agreement is the right agreement.

KTV: And Kosova is not losing any land.

Ambassador Delawie: Kosova is not losing any land.

KTV: How do you evaluate the work of the new government? It’s almost 100 years of the Haradinaj government.

Ambassador Delawie: Days.

KTV: Days. Sorry for that.

Ambassador Delawie: Look, I’m not here to grade governments, but there are certainly, there’s a sense of energy, that’s positive.  The members of the coalition government seem to be working pretty well together, so that’s positive. The assembly started to pass a couple of laws, especially the law on religious freedom which we support strongly, they’re working on the budget, they’re starting to do important things, so those are positive elements.  I’m pleases that the way the government and government institutions including the presidency are out in the country explaining about the Kosova Security Force transformation proposal, and trying to explain that to people.  I think the citizens of Kosova need more information on that issue. So those are important issues.  I think it is important for the government to continue to work on all of these things.  I think it’s important for the government to work on the European reform agenda, which is very important to the EU and therefor it’s important to Kosova’s future.  I think it’s important for Kosova to be able to demonstrate, for the government to be able to demonstrate to Brussels that it can get things done that are positive for Kosova’s citizens and in line with European ideas and rules.  So those are all elements that I think are positive or should be worked on.

KTV: What about the size of the government?  There is much criticism about having 21 ministries, and also more than 60 deputy ministers in the government.

Ambassador Delawie: It’s not for me to tell Kosova exactly how to run its government.  There are two million U.S. government employees. We of course have a much bigger country, but that’s not my job.

KTV:  How do you see the result of local elections?  Everything that was during the election campaign, the Election Day, and everything that came after.

Ambassador Delawie: Well, let’s start with Election Day because I think Election Day went really well.  Both election days, in fact, all the election days for 2017.  This is the best election year Kosova’s ever had.  And I think when everything doesn’t go exactly right I think it’s important to keep in mind that there is a lot of growth in Kosova, including Kosova’s democracy, and many countries would be envious of the way Kosova ran its elections during 2017.  So election days were great in general.  There were a couple of problems, most of which were spotted and dealt with by Kosova’s institutions, and those are good things.  I think in the run-up to election days in the majority community things were pretty good.  In the minority communities, as I’ve said previously, I was disappointed that there was not more democracy present, that there were not more candidates, in some of the minority municipalities.  It’s hard to have a democratic election with only one candidate.  It’s hard to have a democratic election when foreigners are interfering in your campaign.  So that’s a challenge.  We have to keep working on that.  But overall I feel pretty positive about the local elections. Now I’d certainly call on all of Kosova’s officials, but national government officials and the local government officials, now that the election period is pretty much over except for Istog, I think it’s important for people to buckle down and say “how am I going to help my citizens, all of Kosova’s citizens for which I’m responsible for, and get important stuff done for them?” Because now the politics of elections are over, it’s time for all of these people who were picked by the voters to start to work for the voters, and I hope they’ll do so.

KTV: Ambassador Delawie, thank you for the interview.

Ambassador Delawie: You’re quite welcome Adriatik.

KTV: My pleasure, thank you.