On paper at least, it looks like a great idea. The government sells a business, gets out from under the yoke of management, and money from the sale helps to fund the state budget.

But in Kosovo, critics say the legal process involved with privatisation is both complex and politically charged, which will have a long-term impact on the economy. They say some owners or employees can take advantage of specific loopholes while others get almost nothing. There is also an ethnic component, since individuals from various communities can say that discrimination — either ongoing or previous — affected their ability to benefit from privatisation.

Esat Berisha is one such example. “My father worked at Hidroteknika, [as did] I until December 1990, but then I was removed because Serbian authorities removed us. And after the war I hoped to get back to my job, but it never happened.”

After Hidroteknika was privatised in 2006, “I never got any compensation, and the worst is that the company does not exist anymore, because the new owner has changed the destiny of it,” Berisha told SETimes. In some cases, companies were bought more for the land than for any desire to keep operating them.

He is not alone: discriminatory legislation imposed by the Milosevic regime forced thousands in Kosovo to leave their jobs.

Beyond that, many companies that have been privatised have changed work locations, and very often employees, like Berisha, are shed from payrolls, prompting frequent protests in front of the Privatisation Agency.

Dardan Sejdiu, an economy expert from the Vetvendosje Movement, is a vocal critic. “A decade later, we see that the economy is terribly unstructured. Most manufacturing companies no longer exist or are used for storage of goods; efficiency as a concept seems were only words and unemployment is deepening. And ultimately the number of foreign investors has been symbolic, and the amount invested by them was symbolic,” Sejdiu told SETimes.

More than 600m euros that were transferred to banks abroad and unused by Kosovo’s government are the result of the privatisation of public and state-owned companies in recent years. Sejdiu says it’s too little, that some countries in the region have sold just one or a few companies for that amount.

Seb Bytyci, executive director of Balkan Policy Institute, agrees. “The main shortcomings are selling for lower prices, as the value [of the companies] decreased due to mismanagement, dysfunction of enterprises, and corruption charges,” he told SETimes. There is also the cost of opportunity lost: “In some cases, privatisation may have led to better services and efficiency.”

Sejdiu says that, in hindsight, the process “was hastily done … without a plan for economic development” and that privatisation has led to major problems for workers.

He cites companies in the eastern Ana Morava region, where there were formerly “closed to 17,000 workers in enterprises which are now privatized. Today these enterprises employ [less than] 1,700 of them — not even 10% of the workforce was maintained,” Sejdiu argued.

Bytyci says strong workers’ unions would have lead to better outcomes. “Here the main problem is lack of true unions. Workers were not able to negotiate a deal that provides an easier transition. So many workers are dismissed. As for those who continue to work, [there is no] guarantee for their safety at work. Ferronikeli is a flagrant case where a lack of political will to fix the issue of job security threatens workers’ lives,” he told SETimes.

In the recent months, several workers at the Feronikel company in central Kosovo have been injured, forcing Parliament Speaker Jakup Krasniqi to call for better and safer working conditions. Feronikel was privatised in 2007.


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