Debate on Custom Service in Kosovo

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A BIRN-organised RTK debate at the Pjeter Budi Institute on July 3 looked at the problems facing the Customs Service of Kosovo, which collects 70 per cent of the revenue of the Kosovo govenment budget.

RTK, Pristina, July 3, 2006.

To discuss issues such as the battle against corruption within the service and the education of it staff, BIRN invited a panel consisted of Naim Huruglica, deputy director of UNMIK Customs; Ekrem Hajdari, head of special services within the customs service; Allma Shabi, chief of the service’s anti-smuggling unit; Hans Turner, head of the EU Customs and Fiscal Assistance Office; Avni Haxhiu, owner of a fast forwarding company; Sofronija Miladinoski, professor of international marketing in Pjeter Budi Institute, which educates Kosovo customs officers; and Baki Koleci, board member of the same institute.

The debate, which took place in front of a student audience, initially centred on the customs service’s important revenue-raising role, but Huruglica pointed out that it also played a key part in securing the borders and watching out for smuggled goods.

Hajdari said Kosovo was no longer part of the drugs distribution network as was the case in the immediate post-war years, although he admitted that contraband cigarettes were still a problem.

“Recently the presence of untaxed cigarettes in the Kosovo market today has increased to 20-30 per cent of the total number of cigarettes in Kosovo,” he said.

A recent success in combating cigarrette smuggling was a crackdown on illegal sales by some members of the NATO mission in Kosovo, KFOR.
Huruglica said KFOR help was crucial in this operation as the civil customs service has no access to international military personnel.

Turner said the “custom service in Kosovo is the best such service in Balkans”.

Miladinoski said the inefficiency of the legal system and the courts constituted a problem for the customs service today.

Shabi gave an example. Once her team confiscated 70 thousand litres of ethanol – which can be very dangerous – that was designed for production of counterfeit alcoholic drinks, but were forced to hand it back by the public prosecutor.

The student audience was mostly concerned with the service’s employment policies.

Huruglica said none of its officers have any college qualification for customs work as there was no higher education institute providing diplomas in this field when the service was set up.

Commenting the importance of proper education, Miladinoski said that “when people are properly educated, it won’t be easy for politicians to manipulate with them”.

Koleci said that Pjeter Budi Institute had started cooperating with a university in Macedonia to provide a special education programme for customs officers in Kosovo.

Turner stressed that one of the strengths of Customs Service in Kosovo was that it had started from scratch with mostly young officers – and so had not inherited the vices of previous customs services in the Balkans.

The debate was moderated by Jeta Xharra, BIRN Kosovo Director