BIRN Journalist Wins “Best Story on Education” Award

On November 30, 2017, BIRN Kosovo journalist Doruntia Baliu was awarded the “Best Story on Education” prize by the Kosovo Journalist Association and German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ). The award was given to the young journalist for her investigation into a grade falsification scandal in the municipality of Drenas. The story, named “The Silence toward Falsifying Grades,” was illustrated with a show published as a weekly program on “Life in Kosovo.”

The investigation into the Shote Galica School revealed that a teacher named Fehmi Ramaj curved and falsified grades for 12 students. The whistleblower in the story, Ramadan Ramaj, had noticed that the teacher, by the end of 2013/2014 academic year, had falsified the grades of 12 students, including his son’s, in the subject of biology.

Once Ramadan Ramaj provided proof, the teacher himself admitted his wrongdoings in front of other teachers, the school principal, as well as the Education Director. Ramaj had reported this case to the school principal, Sokol Ramaj, who happens to be his brother; however, all the principal did was issue a warning for Fehmi Ramaj, which, according to Ramadan Ramaj, was not enough. Ramadan Ramaj sent the case to the Education Director in Drenas, Sadik Tahiraj.

However, even Tahiraj did not take the issue seriously enough or do anything more than issuing another written warning. The whistleblower, Ramadan Ramaj, continued his struggle to bring attention to the case, which according to him was a crime against students’ success, by going to Prishtina several times to take the case to higher institutions. He then submitted a report to BIRN’s anti-corruption platform KALLXO.com. According to whistleblower Ramaj, the reason why Fehmi Ramaj had this impunity was because he had a so-called ‘certified booklet’ from the political entity Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK).

“Life in Kosovo” managed to find several other breaches in the case.

Ramadan Ramaj, despite the pressure against him, sent the case to the Kosovo Police. As a result, the Education Director of Municipality of Drenas, Tahiraj, was dismissed from his duty due to neglecting the reported case and staying “silent about grade falsification.”

Doruntina Baliu’s investigative reporting revealed this case and the damages it caused to the education system.

BIRN Kosovo Organizes Discussions with Law Students at Prishtina Basic Court

 

On November 27 and 29, 2017, BIRN Kosovo organized two discussions as part of the “Promoting Transparency in Kosovo’s Judicial System” project, supported by USAID’s Justice System Strengthening Program, JSSP, at the Prishtina Basic Court.

During the first discussion, moderated by BIRN Kosovo’s Chief Editor Kreshnik Gashi, law students were briefed regarding the audio and video recording devices in court hearings. According to the panelists, it is highly important that participants of the court proceedings are fully committed to maintaining the integrity of the proceedings and operating in favor of justice. Moreover, public access to court records and hearings holds the courts accountable by ensuring that any errors, misunderstandings, or injustices are completely transparent. Lastly, according to the judges, public access to court records and proceedings assists in upgrading our justice system to the highest standard of accuracy and integrity.

The publicity of detention hearings sparked a lengthy debate among the students and judges during the second discussion, held on November 29, at the Prishtina Basic Court. This time, the discussion hosted not only law students from the University of Prishtina “Hasan Prishtina”, but also students from the Faculty of Law at AAB College in Prishtina. The panelists briefed the students on the standards that limit the circumstances in which the detention hearing may be followed and closely observed by the media,

the public, and court monitors. They also talked about specific cases where the media, observers, and the wider public may not be granted with the opportunity to closely follow such proceedings.

BIRN Kosovo, under the “Increasing Transparency in Kosovo’s Judicial System” Project, supported by USAID’s JSSP, will continue to conduct debates of similar nature in the coming months.

BIRN Kosovo Holds a Debate with Law Students at Gjilan Basic Court

On November 24, 2017, BIRN Kosovo held another debate within the “Promoting Transparency in Kosovo’s Judicial System” project, supported by USAID’s Justice System Strengthening Program, JSSP, at the Gjilan Basic Court.

During the discussion, moderated by BIRN Kosovo’s Chief Editor Kreshnik Gashi, the panelists provided lectures to law students on attending court hearings and accessing court record information. The panelists also briefed the students on the rules and regulations regarding photographing, broadcasting, and recording within a court hearing; moreover, they specifically mentioned that such actions may be fully permitted in a manner that ensures that the fairness and dignity of the proceedings are not adversely affected.

Additionally, panelists and students discussed public participation within court proceedings related to divorce, child custody, property disputes, inheritance, labor disputes, and financial disputes. For instance, according to the panelists, if a case involves certain claims of physical or sexual abuse, the judge has the right to decide on making the case private. Additionally, judges have the authority to restrict public participation, if, for instance, confidentiality is deemed significant.

Nevertheless, public participation is allowed during a divorce trial, unless any particular reasons requiring confidentiality are outlined in advance. Last but not least, students learned that courts are also authorized to limit what may be reported in order to protect the welfare of families and children.

BIRN Kosovo, under the “Increasing Transparecy in Kosovo’s Judicial System” Project, supported by USAID’s JSSP, will continue to conduct debates of similar nature in the coming months.

Global Shining Light Award Judges Honour BIRN

The judges of the prestigious Global Shining Light Award have honoured an investigation by Balkan Investigative Reporting Network with citations of excellence.

BIRN’s investigation “Making a Killing” received special recognition – certificate of excellence – at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference 2017 in Johannesburg on Saturday.

Making a Killing”, which was jointly produced with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, uncovered how billions of euros of arms from the Balkans and Eastern Europe are illegally ending up with Syrian rebels, including Islamic State, ISIS.

In July this year, the story was shortlisted for the Global Shining Light Award, an award sponsored by the Global Investigative Journalism Network, GIJN, an association of 155 non-profit organisations in 68 countries.

The story was produced as part of “A Paper Trail to Better Governance” project supported by the Austrian Development Agency to promote rule of law, accountability and transparency in six South-Eastern Europe countries.

Global Shining Light Award Judges Honour BIRN from BIRN on Vimeo.

Lack of transparency and drinking water in Mamusha

What are the duties of the future mayor of Mamusha?

There are three candidates running for Mayor of the Municipality of Mamusha.

Whoever gains the trust of citizens, either on October 22 or four weeks after during the run-offs, will face plenty of obligations.

Mamusha was transformed from a Prizren-area village to its own municipality in 2008, and with 5,507 residents, it is one of the smallest municipalities in Kosovo. The process of becoming a municipality happened during the time of decentralization and it is a municipal unit without any single village.

Mamusha, which is 93.1 per cent Turkish, is the only place in Kosovo that has a Turkish majority. The other minorities are Albanians, with 5.9 per cent, and Roma, Egyptians, and Ashkalis, with a total of .9 per cent.

The economy of this municipality is mainly based in agriculture and by a low scale in an active market. Mamusha is known for cultivating plants, especially tomatoes; the municipality produces 90,000 tons of tomato are produced annually, all within a surface of 23 kilometers.2

The Municipality of Mmausha has had problems with drinkable water ever since its establishment. The residents of this municipality are supplied with water from Prizren and from the surrounding villages. For years, residents of Mamusha have been asking for a watering canal for agricultural lands, while the sewage and waste continue to be poured in the Topllua River, which passes through Mamusha.

Mamusha is a municipality with no parking lots, no public kindergartens, and no sports hall.

One of the weakest aspects of this municipality is the lack of transparency: it does not have an information official or a coordinator for access to public documents. The municipality does not even publish vacancy announcements on its official site.

Above all, Mamusha is a municipality that has no directorate that is run by a woman.

In order to deal with solving all these problems, there are three candidates running for the head of the municipality: Abdylhadi Krasniç from KDTP, Arif Bytyç from KTAP and Riza Kryezi, who is an independent candidate.

The current mayor of Mamusha is Arif Bytyc from KTAP, who declined the invitation to directly confront his opponents in BIRN Kosovo’s mayoral debate series #DebatPernime (#RealDebates). In this unfortunate situation, #DebatPernime conducted separate interviews with each of the mayoral candidates of the municipality, so that it could understand the candidates’ governing program plans for the future four-year mandate.

In order to solve its problems, the municipality of Mamusha has 1.8 million euros per year to be spent on capital investments.

Lack of drinkable water

One of the biggest problems for the citizens of Mamusha is the issue of not having drinkable water and the inability to solve such a problem because the municipality does not manage or engage a municipal company. Both the opposition and the citizens express their dissatisfaction regarding this point.

Mamusha residents are obliged to buy filters for cleaning the water that comes from the wells that they have opened in their yards. Such a filter costs approximately 700 euros per family.

The citizens expect their mayor to solve this issue.

Irrigation for Mamusha

Agriculture is the main source of income for Mamusha. The farmers have continuously received promises that they will be supported by the municipality. They expect that by implementing a project related to an irrigation system for their lands, the municipality can make their work easier and costs lower.

The citizens complain that they spend hundreds of euros per season only on fuel, because they need it to transport water from wells opened in the fields with their cars. They say that would be able to pay up to 150 euros per month if they had a watering canal.

Sewage and waste

There are three illegal waste disposals in Mamusha, which are mainly located in the suburbs of the municipality.

Waste is mainly dumped in the Topllua River, which passes through Mamusha. Sewage continues to be poured into this River, and the citizens that live nearby the river cannot stand its bad odor.

Lack of transparency

One of the points where the municipality of Mamusha stagnates is the lack of transparency. According to the Kosovo Democratic Institute’s (KDI) evaluation of the Municipality of Mamusha, it is the least transparent municipality in the region of municipalities surrounding Prizren, with only 19.8 per cent of the general level based on 44 indicators taken from KDI.

Meeting minutes taken in this municipality are never published; minutes are a key element of transparency in local institutions. It has not been reported in the Assembly twice a year, as foreseen by law. The municipality does not have an information official or a coordinator for access to public documents. They also don’t practice the possibility of receiving weekly visits by citizens.

No vacancy announcements, including criteria for employment, are published on the website.

Health

There is one center for family medicine in the Municipality of Mamusha. However, the citizens often complain that there is oftentimes a lack of basic materials and the third shift does not work.

Citizens of Mamusha expect that their municipality should have a hospital center or at least a clinic to perform surgeries or gynecology check-ups, since they receive such services in Prizren, which comes with a cost and is quite far for Mamusha residents.

Education

The municipality of Mamusha has two schools, one of them is an elementary school and the other one is a high school; both are subjects of resident complaints that there is a politicization of education.

In the entire municipality of Mamusha, there is neither a public nor a private kindergarten.

Culture and sports

The municipality of Mamusha does not have any active sports clubs or a sports hall.

The house of culture in Mamusha remains empty and until now, no steps have been taken to activate it.

Property taxes

The municipality of Mamusha, according to the findings of the audit, did not manage to finish verifying 1/3 of real estate, as required by the Law on Property Taxes on Real Estate and the administrative order in power.

Out of 1,059 properties in total, until now, the municipality has managed to verify only 48. The municipality has not managed to settle the data system, because there was lack of inquiry of officials in the field in order to verify the properties.

The non-verification of 1/3 of properties can result in the lack of full information on real estate, which can influence that the assessed income on property tax can decrease. The non-application of liabilities in accordance with legal requests of property tax increases the danger that the income from this category will be lower.

Gender representation

In the municipality of Mamusha, as of now, no women have been municipal directorates

BIRN Kosovo Produces Debates for Kosovo’s Runoff Elections

Today, on November 13, 2017, BIRN Kosovo, in collaboration with Internews Kosova, has started the production of pre-electoral debates for Kosovo’s local run-off elections, to be held on November 19th.

 

The debates, which will be broadcasted live on RTV 21, aim to bring the audience face-to-face with the two runoff mayoral candidates, giving people a chance to hear their political platforms, promises, and how they plan to implement their agendas.

BIRN’s debate model #DebatPernime (#RealDebate) aims to raise citizen awareness about the candidates, and also to serve as a platform for revisiting promises after mayors are elected. BIRN will conduct a mid-mandate fact-check of the assurances made during the debates so that the public can know the extent to which their representatives are keeping their promises.

The run-off debates, which are being filmed at BIRN Kosovo’s premises, will host the two mayoral candidates from all runoff parties within 19 municipalities across Kosovo. Citizens all over Kosovo are also encouraged to submit debate questions and concerns through BIRN’s anti-corruption platform KALLXO.com, and on KALLXO.com’s Facebook channel.

BIRN Kosovo’s local runoff election will be broadcasted from November 13 -17, 2017.

BIRN Kosovo Journalist Threatened at a Protest in Gjilan

On November 11, Taulant Osmani, a BIRN Kosovo Journalist, was verbally abused and threatened with physical attack during a protest in Gjilan against the relocation of a monument dedicated to the fallen of the 1941-1945 Anti-Fascist War.

Osmani was covering the protest, following his earlier reporting on the tense debate between Gjilan’s residents, governance, and civil society regarding the monument’s relocation. A statue of early-twentieth-century Albanian military leader Idriz Seferi is being erected in its original place.

Osmani was recording a heated discussion among individuals debating the differing sides when one of the discussants asked him why was he filming, while two others tried to attack him and take his phone.

“As a journalist, in order to portray how polarized citizens are regarding this issue, I started filming their debate. The person reacted aggressively with words, he verbally attacked me asking why I’m filming. In that moment, two other individuals intervened by shoving me, cursing at me and grabbing my phone,” Osmani explained.

Osmani said he does not know what would have happened if other residents would not have intervened.

BIRN journalist Taulant Osmani reported the case to the police, and the Kosovo Association of Journalists, AGK, condemned the attempted attack.

UK Minister of State for Europe and the Americas Visits BIRN and Internews Kosova

On November 8, 2017, BIRN Kosovo and Internews Kosova had the opportunity to welcome UK Minister of State for Europe and the Americas, Alan Duncan, to the their offices. The Minister, along with his delegation and the British Ambassador to Kosovo, Ruairi O’Connell, were on an official visit to Kosovo, meeting with Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi, Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, and other Kosovo Government representatives.

During Minister Duncan’s visit to BIRN and Internews Kosova, he and his delegation were given a tour by Internews Kosova director, Faik Ispahiu, and introduced to the staff working in the fields of reporting, investigation, IT, administration, and the legal team. The Minister was also introduced to the work and production of the online anti-corruption platform KALLXO.com, a platform for civic engagement in the fight against corruption and misuse of public positions and money.

During the meeting, guests discussed the rule of law, Kosovo’s political atmosphere, and other challenges that the country is facing. Ispahiu also presented the 12-year work and cooperation between BIRN and Internews Kosova, as well as the projects they have implemented in media development and monitoring. Challenges such as fake news and threats against journalists were also discussed.

BIRN Kosovo Hosts a Debate with Law Students at the Gjilan Basic Court

On October 27, BIRN Kosovo, held its second debate within the “Promoting Transparency in Kosovo’s Judicial System” project, supported by USAID’s programme, Justice System Strengthening Programme, JSSP; this time, the debate took place at the Gjilan Basic Court.

The discussion was moderated by BIRN Kosovo’s Chief Editor Kreshnik Gashi and hosted Afrim Shala, the Acting Head of the given court, Sabit Shkodra, the court spokesperson, and law students.

During the debate, panelists were granted the opportunity to brief the students on delivering court decisions to the public by using media and social networks. As such, the law students, currently enrolled at the Faculty of Law in the University of Gjilan “Kadri Zeka”, were informed on the role of social media and how it impacts the courts, including the judiciary’s response to the use and abuse of social media by judges, spokespersons, and other court staff.

The panelists also spoke about the importance of ensuring that judges and spokespersons comply with courtroom rules when publishing on social networks. The judges briefed the students regarding the audio and video recording devices in court hearings. Panelists argued that states should impose rational restrictions on the use of cameras and recording equipment in order to maintain the integrity of its proceedings and operate in favor of justice.

The panelists advocated for appropriate and effective use of social media to promote their work, activities, and services. Students were further provided with information on the risks associated with courts’ use of social media networks, such as the lack of court personnel expertise in social media on delivering court orders and decisions to the wider public, including the poor maintenance of updated court information.

BIRN Kosovo, under the “Increasing Transparecy in Kosovo’s Judicial System” Project, supported by USAID’s JSSP, will continue to conduct debates of similar nature in the coming months.