Experts say Balkan countries only make tough cuts if forced to do so by international financial institutions.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 23/06/12
The government of Prime Minister Hashim Thaci is bloated, according to critics. [Laura Hasani/SETimes]
For a country of less than 2 million people, Kosovo's government is super-sized. It has 19 ministers, aided by about 30 deputy ministers, and a full six deputy prime ministers. All this makes Kosovo's the biggest government in the entire region -- a fact that has become a target of the opposition.
Petrit Zogaj, executive director of Kosovo's Fol Movement (Speak Up), told SETimes that Prime Minister Hashim Thaci has ignored campaign pledges to trim spending. "Thaci 1 and Thaci 2 governments came to power with promises to reduce the government expenses. This did not happen; the expenses were increased from year to year."
Shpend Ahmeti of the opposition Vetevendosje Movement said that government expenses for rented offices in 2010 alone totaled 6.5m euros, "equal to the pensions of 14,444 Kosovo citizens." The government also has more than 120 advisers, further inflating expenses.
Next door, Macedonia has 19 ministers as well, but fewer deputy ministers. Montenegro has 16 ministers and Albania has 15. In comparison, Estonia -- with a similarly sized population -- has 11 ministers, while Finland has 12.
According to Zogaj, the Kosovo government -- instead of spending on the administration and ministers – "should invest in public interest works which would help improve the life of the citizens."
In March, the government, under pressure from the IMF, announced it would trim about 20m euros from this year's budget.
"I think that governments in all of Europe try to avoid cutting down the budget expenses and focus on increasing budget income by rising taxes or by raising budget deficits. The Balkan countries introduce austerity measures and spending cuts only if they were forced to do so by international financial institutions, mainly the IMF," Marta Szpala, of Warsaw's Centre for Eastern Studies, told SETimes.
Szpala added that last year's elections in Croatia and the ones last month in Serbia played a key role: governments actively avoid additional austerity measures that could cause voters any additional burden.
Throughout the Balkans, the public sector remains the main employer. "So if we take into account that in all these countries unemployment is very high [from 13% in Albania to 43% in BiH], employment in the public sector is treated as some kind of social security measure. And it is hard to cut the employment in the overstaffed public administration in this situation," Szpala said.