Interview with

Mr. Bajram Rexhepi
Prime Minister

March 22nd 2002

What is your vision and expectations of the future Parliament of Kosovo?

It is not difficult to answer you, despite of the question about the future status of Kosovo. We have our vision about that, and we still have to do a lot to achieve it. First of all, we are creating an internationally recognized government; we started doing that about one month ago. Very soon the government will be completed. We are working to complete the Cabinet of the Prime Minister, and the cabinets of the other ten ministers. We have a lot of work to do, and at the moment we only have 30 officers as local staff, without internationals. We started our operations as a joint activity of local and international staff provided by UNMIK. We will hire new people through advertisement in local papers, and probably it will take us time until the end of May. We needed three months to establish government, and now we are facing problems with the office space, because we do not have a government building. For example, the office of the Prime Minister and several other ministers are in the building of the parliament, but others are dispersed in different parts of the town, and till the end of this year we will not be able to be all together in the same building, which is very important for a better communication between the different ministries. The building that will house the government is still under reconstruction.
Another important issue is the regulations and Constitutional Framework of Kosovo. As you know we don't have all the powers in our hands. There are some limitations, sometimes even disproportions between the constitutional framework and the transitional regulations. These are usually complex issues like, the managing of KEK Corporation (Kosovo's Electric Power Corporation), PTK (Post and Telecom of Kosovo) and some other issues. We need to have a good connection between the government and international specialists, to use their experience in developing democratic institutions. We are in a process of testing our capacities. These capacities are watched from the international community but also from the countries in the region, our neighbours. We have to stick to competition with neighbouring countries in building the democratic society and in building the market economy. Some of our neighbours may be faster, some may be slower, but we will create a strong competition. Our biggest handicap is the lack of experience, but our big advantage is that we have started from zero; we don't have to go back to transform any bureaucratic system.
As I said at the beginning, we have to complete first, the government, second the legal infrastructure with all the legislation of different branches of the economy, social cases, education and a lot of other legal infrastructure. We have to prepare a government, its program, and we have to get it approved by the Parliament before starting with the practical work. Our priority is to set the focus in eight points, which were all agreed by the three main political parties. We intend to finalize the work at the end of this month, and we will include some more issues apart from those eight points. In one of my first speeches I said:" in Kosovo everything is a priority", especially the economic recovery and education. We have to deal with some issues that are for short, medium or for long-term strategy. We prefer to have a firm strategy instead of dealing with our problems on a daily basis.

Could you please elaborate on the 8 points that form the basis of the government program?

Our main priorities are aimed at creating more employment possibilities and developing education in the country so that on the long term we will have more skilled workers. Another issue of high importance is the creation of the Privatisation Agency, which is under the public discussion in different institutions. We expect that by the end of the next month will be harmonised text of that regulation. I am confident that this will happen, since Mr. Steiner, the Special Representative of the Secretary General, is also very supportive for cooperation with Kosovo institutions.. The privatisation is of vital interest for Kosovo; it is the precondition of the economic development. It will also stabilize Kosovo politically, because now there are a lot of arguments about the question of ownerships and many of them are not correct.

How would you define the current status of the privatisation process, as well as the investment climate?

We don't have very big ambitions to that respect. At first, we would like to create the legislative background in accordance with the rules of the World Bank, or IMF that will open its office very soon in Kosovo, and other international financial institutions. I believe that only by having strong financial institutions and clear legal framework, we can attract foreign investments into the country. We think that there is a real chance to bring Kosovo Albanian diasporas capital into Kosovo's economy. Those people have real capital in their hands and they also have the good will to invest here. I think that for small and medium size businesses, these people represent a serious possibility. We would like to be oriented towards production more in the future because for now the economy is mostly based on services, such as cafes, restaurants and others, which do not represent a long term prospective. We will have to orientate ourselves more towards production because now the majority of the goods are imported and there is not much export for the moment. In our long-term strategy, we have a lot of projects that will have to be financed by the state budget, like social or educational matters. Through promotion of production development, we will soon have the opportunity to export our products and to generate better incomes for the budget. We would like to be realistic in our approach, because we understand that it is very hard to be able to compete, but I am optimistic that there will be regions where we will find export possibilities in branches like agriculture for instance.

The primary objective is to have stability both economically and politically, what is the government doing to endorse it?

We are doing a lot to have a stable political status. I was the mayor of Mitrovica, where we used to have a lot of problems before. These problems are becoming again a hot issue, which will need more constructive approach by UNMIK, KFOR and Serbs. We can say that in general, the situation in Kosovo is safe; there are some sayings that there is very high criminality, or that it is dangerous there, but generally it is not true. Most people are satisfied since we have signed the agreement of building democratic institutions, which I think is the only possible way to escape violence. One of our priorities is also the question of integrating the minorities, especially the Serbian minority. I have just begun concretely to act and to promote integration, and I am taking it very seriously. My goal is to integrate Serb enclaves that were physically isolated until now. We will try to integrate them, to offer them a role in all government institutions, but also on the level of the economy, in enterprises and employment, to bring together different entities and to create multi-ethnic enterprises. Some of these ideas were "born" in Mitrovica, but until now we didn't succeed to implement them in real life; so, this is one of the issues to which I dedicate a lot of my time. I have to say that the security now is much better there than it was a year ago, and we expect it to improve furthermore in the aspect of security and also politically. We are experiencing some difficulties with some of the Serbian leaders who are in indirect contact with some of the Serbian politicians, who to our bad luck are still opposed to integration and are not willing to accept reality. Unfortunately, they are used as instruments for the sake of some political ambitions of some politicians and now it is the time of opposition for some enclaves. We used to have much more and bigger problems before, especially in Mitrovica, but we all worked together with KFOR, UNMIK police and other UNMIK institutions and all together we will try to do the best to solve the rest of the problems, to have a stable situation and to be able to fight against different forms of crime.

Establishing a new government means also establishing new contacts and relations with the surrounding countries, what would you say about the future international relations of Kosovo?

As you know, we do not have the mandate of talking directly with our neighbours, because the UN Resolution 1244 and the Constitutional Framework does not include it, but we have a good will to have very good relations with all our neighbours in the region, and we will do all what is necessary for that. Usually, we deal with our neighbours through Mr. Steiner, the Special Representative of Mr. Annan. We are ready to visit all neighbours in the region and we are prepared to have talks with them regarding all the pending issues, especially economic ones. It is necessary to maintain good relations with the neighbours and beside that, the status of Kosovo has still to be defined. We already have invitation for talks to Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Croatia; and I think that we will go there together with Mr. Steiner, because for the time being I don't have the mandate to work on it on my own.

From an economic perspective, what is the competitive advantage of Kosovo?

We don't have many possibilities at the moment, however, wine production for instance is one of them. We have very good quality, but now the problem we have is bureaucratic and it is related to its codification. We also have a problem of transportation, because the roads go through the former Yugoslavia. Nevertheless, we will try to support the producers of wine from Rahovec and the others from Gjakova. There are also some small companies, which with very small investments, have started to produce juices though the quality is not good enough yet. We have also other agricultural products that can be exported, like tomatoes, potatoes etc. but we are not allowed to export them for the time being, probably we will have possibilities with Albania because of the level of our relationship with them. This will also help us to enhance export and help and protect our farmers. Of course we want to become a free market economy, so we do not intend to protect our farmers by restricting imports.

What about the heavy industry?

Yes, we can not forget our heavy industry, where we used to have a big potential. We have a big complex called Trepca. Unfortunately, the Trepca complex now is only an illusion of both the Albanians and Serbians. Trepca cannot be as good as it was 15 years ago. Its development is not included in our top priorities; the first and major issue that we would have to deal with is the issue on ownership. Apart from that, we would also have to solve the political situation in Mitrovica, even though it is calm there, but the situation is not know stable and unless we make it stable on the long run we cannot expect investments in the Trepca Corporation. The soil where Trepca is situated is full of natural resources that should be exploited and that can represent a perspective. Practically with this factory we will have to start from scratch, with installing new capacities for finalization, hiring new labour, etc.
But the situation is not so bad everywhere, there are companies like Ferronickel for example, that to my opinion can be put on its legs with a medium term strategy and it does not require big investments. Also the company Balkan in Suhareka is a potential target for the investors. We also have potential in building materials; we almost completed the reconstruction of the damaged houses, it is a process but we are working on it and it supports our industry at the same time. I think that the companies mentioned above have the potential to become profitable with a medium term strategy. The problems with heavy industry and the reason why we do not have big ambitions for the moment is that in order to be able to develop it, you need a stable electricity provider for instance and as you might know we still have strong electricity restrictions. The situation is improving slowly. For the moment we have a power plant: "Kosovo A" which is very old, and we will not be able to work on it, so probably next year we will encounter difficulties with the production of electricity because the coefficient of efficiency is very low. There is also another power plant: "Kosovo B" that is a little bit better in terms of technology, but certainly in the future we have to think about creating new capacities. We plan to build two new thermo energy plants each with a capacity of around 320 Megawatts. The reason behind building 2 plants is that we want to be able to provide electricity even if one of the plants is malfunctioning. We have to change the mentality of the people; we use too much electricity for heating, we have to change it and use oil and other alternatives instead.

Could you give us a brief overview of your professional background, and how you became Prime Minister of Kosovo?

I am a doctor by profession, a surgeon to be exact. I finished my post graduate studies, but I could not finish my master degree I had no time yet but I will finish it very soon. I have finished my studies in the Medical Faculty in Pristine, and the specialization of general surgery at the institute of Mladen Stojanovic in Zagreb. I had worked in the hospital of Mitrovica since 1985. In 1990, I lost my job, because of a one-day strike and after that I had a short practice in the health institute " Mother Theresa ". When the war started I was supporting the KLA and I was wounded as a civilian. I am married and I have a daughter.

What final message would you address to our readers and potential investors?

We are very open about our future. Our vision is to have an independent Kosovo, and we will have it. It is not our intention to be isolated but we want to be an integrated part of the region and in the future to be a part of Europe as an independent country. It will be very difficult and we realized that, and we know that it will take some time to get the investors come here and even then, the big investors will only come once the juridical status of Kosovo is recognized. It is necessary to do that as soon as possible, to create our democratic institutions, constitution and to prove to the international community that we are mature enough to be independent.

Note: WINNE cannot be held responsible for the content of unedited transcriptions.

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