Authorities arrest officials suspected of corruption, draft new laws and destroy illegal structures.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 25/04/14
Kosovo authorities are destroying illegally built structures. [Laura Hasani/SETimes]
Kosovo is implementing measures to address widespread illegal construction that has endangered basic citizen needs and served as a means for money laundering, experts said.
Authorities this month arrested 10 municipal officials in Pristina, including the chief of the construction inspectorate, on suspicion of enabling illegal construction.
"The special prosecutor's office asked us for a number of files. We co-operated and a number of these files are being investigated," Pristina Mayor Shpend Ahmeti said.
Moreover, Kosovo's Environment and Spatial Planning Ministry drafted a reform package to legalise the structures.
"Now, the municipalities have a three-year deadline to legalise all structures on their territory, and end once and for all the saga of the unlimited freedom in construction," Kreshnik Berisha, an adviser to Environment and Spatial Planning Minister Dardan Gashi, told SETimes.
Legalisation will begin when the municipalities are ready, and the ministry will support them in the process, Berisha said.
Concurrently, the government began destroying the bigger illegal structures that cannot meet any legalisation criteria. In Prevalla, a tourist area in the Prizren municipality, authorities destroyed 200 structures. Albania has also started destroying illegal structures that it cannot legalise, given the enormous number of such buildings and houses.
Macedonia is three years into a programme to address 400,000 illegal buildings. The government is implementing a legal framework and new detailed urban plans, and has so far legalised 20 percent of the illegal structures.
In Kosovo, the illegal construction problem became severe because until recently there were no laws to regulate construction, Berisha said.
"There are tens of thousands of illegal structures. ... The big towns such as Pristina are affected the most."
Illegal construction is so widespread in Kosovo that entire neighbourhoods have been built without water pipelines or other necessities as well as green areas, said Petrit Zogaj, executive director of the Fol Movement.
"But there is another [aspect]. Those structures, to a certain extent, have served for money laundering as well," Zogaj told SETimes.
Other experts agreed, saying the government's comprehensive approach was necessary because the construction industry has become a means for fiscal evasion and informality.
"Individuals from these institutions, in some way, have a part of this illegal business, or of the corruptive connections with the construction business," Ibrahim Rexhepi, executive director of the Kosovo Centre for Strategic and Social Research in Pristina, told SETimes.
"While the government intervention should be welcomed, the people responsible for this urban and infrastructure chaos should be held responsible for not acting in time," Zogaj said.
The government must not lose momentum and needs to continue implementing the measures everywhere there is illegal construction, said Fisnik Bajrami, a researcher at the Riinvest Institute in Pristina.
"This practice can serve as a model for the other municipalities and the central government," Bajrami told SETimes.
Correspondent Miki Trajkovski in Skopje contributed to this report.
What should countries in the Balkans do to stop illegal construction? Share your opinion in the comments section.