Belgrade had warned people taking salaries from both governments to choose one employer, but hundreds are still getting double payments.
By Linda Karadaku and Ivana Jovanovic in Pristina and Belgrade -- 26/10/12
More than 1,300 people, including political party members, are receiving salaries from both governments, according to a media report. [Reuters]
Six months after Serbian officials ordered Kosovo Serbs drawing salaries from both Pristina and Belgrade to choose one source and stop double dipping, the Serbian government is investigating a report that more than 1,300 people in northern Kosovo are still on both payrolls.
The news is a sore point for people in the region, where Kosovo suffers through the highest unemployment rate in the region – more than 40 percent – and Serbia is facing steep economic problems.
Belgrade launched its new investigation after a report by B92 TV, which reported that several Serb political parties were among more than 1,300 Serbs from Kosovo who are still receiving multiple salaries.
According to B92 TV programme Insajder (Insider), some Kosovo Serb government employees have been "practically receiving three salaries for years." They are paid from Belgrade's budget, and receive an additional 50 percent of their salary from Serbia as an allowance for working in Kosovo. Many also take salaries from Kosovo's government, the programme alleges.
Serbian state news agency Tanjug reported that the Serbian government asked for measures to be taken on the issue based on the laws that "regulate working relations, rights and duties."
Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said that the action is "a kind of fight for a fair relation in which Serbia's taxpayers will know who receives money" in northern Kosovo and other parts of the country.
"It is not only that we are starting to resolve this problem, but you will also see that the issue will be tackled from the aspects of corruption and lawlessness, and the results will come faster than expected," Vucic said, according to Tanjug.
The report sparked frustration in Serbia.
"We need help for some elementary things and they get double salaries from the same government that can't manage social help for the people who do not have what to eat," Bojan Bojovic, 28, a designer from Belgrade told SETimes. "… I hope that Serbian officials are going to stop this and get some money for poor people."
"Taken the economic situation in Serbia, the growing budget deficit and necessity to cut public spending in order to achieve budget sanity, the entire Serbian government`s Kosovo expenditure should be reviewed. Hundreds of millions [of dollars] are spent annually in Kosovo, for mere maintenance of the illusion that Kosovo has been a part of Serbia," Dušan Gamser, economic adviser at the Centre For Euro-Atlantic Studies in Belgrade, told SETimes.
In April, Serbian officials asked the workers to give up salaries from Kosovo institutions, or they will be fired and lose their Serbian salaries. The warning came from then-Serb minister for Kosovo Goran Bogdanovic.
The B92 series also reported on corrupt business practices in northern Kosovo, prompting a group of 19 businessmen to complain that the report was politically motivated. In a letter, the group asked the TV station "to stop accusing unselectively and without evidence all businessmen and entire industries from northern Kosovo of smuggling, tax evasion, money laundering and other crimes."
"It is as if [Kosovo Prime Minister] Hashim Thaci and other Albanian separatists and their sponsors from abroad have ordered the airing of the programme on B92 TV with a goal to criminalise northern Kosovo Serbs and abolish their remaining human rights and freedoms,” the letter stated.
Veran Matic, the chief executive officer of B92, told SETimes that the report was "professionally, thoroughly, responsibly and long-time prepared."
"B92 lawyers are checking each of its segments during the preparation, which is the standard we use constantly," Matic said. "Therefore, when we received the request of 'the 19' we, even, didn’t think about it. The show is going on and on. Reactions are expected," Matic said.
Bojan Jakovljevic, director of the company PP Kamilja and president of the Association of Private Entrepreneurs in Leposavic, did not sign the petition, but told SETimes the B92 report included assertions that were "untrue."
"It is either total lack of knowledge of the topic or a tendency to convince the public in order to have northern Kosovo integrated in the so-called Republic of Kosovo. I would say it is more about the second," Jakovljevic said.