Between a rock and a hard place: Kosovo's challenges in dealing with the COVID-19 Pandemic

Published by:

Kosovar Centre for Security Studies (KCSS)

Title:

Between a rock and a hard place: Kosovo's challenges in dealing with the COVID-19 Pandemic

Authors:

Teuta Avdimetaj

Co-Author:

Shpat Balaj and Plator Avdiu

Date:

December 2020

This study provides a critical overview of Kosovo’s national framework in emergency response and crisis management, including the legal and strategic framework in dealing with emergencies as well as the roles of key institutions involved in emergency planning and response. In doing so, it seeks to elucidate factors that can influence the efficacy of the institutional response to crises due to potential gaps in the legislative framework, ambiguity over roles and responsibilities, coordination issues among the relevant institutions, insufficient allocation of funds, limited training and staff capacities among others.

The study does not delve into specific shortcomings in laws, institutional setup or policy process, but instead points to major inconsistencies in the legal, strategic, and policy framework of Kosovo. The first part of this study lays out the main laws and strategic documents that guide policy-making during emergency-related situations in Kosovo. The second part zeroes in on Kosovo’s response during the COVID-19 pandemic by focusing on the onset’s impact on various dimensions of the lives of the citizens, including political ramifications, security implications and socio-economic uncertainties.

The COVID-19 pandemic presents the first large-scale crisis that Kosovo’s fledging institutions have faced. Although the COVID-19 is still an ongoing development in Kosovo and beyond, and the lessons learned from the critical response will be plenty, nevertheless a number of key findings stand out already at this stage. It is the aim of this study to highlight those early findings after 10 month-long efforts to control the pandemic. In sum, this study demonstrates that most of the measures taken by Kosovo Government have had a limited success in bringing COVID-19 under control due to lack of prior planning in emergency response, further exacerbated by an ongoing political crisis.

Hence. Kosovo’s scorecard is a mixed bag of early successes, avoidable failures and numerous flaws, often leaving citizens confused and to their own devices. At the time of concluding this report, a Constitutional Court ruling brought down Hoti’s government, paving the way to new elections by mid-February. At the height of the second wave of the pandemic, Kosovo is governed by an acting President and a caretaker government with a pending election process that is likely to further distract Kosovo authorities from an effective and focused response to the ongoing pandemic as well as to delay country’s vaccine purchase and distribution plan.

KEY FINDINGS

In the backdrop of competing priorities in the post-conflict reconstruction process and post-independence state building efforts, less attention has been paid to emergency preparedness and crisis management, as a sector that requires foresight and strategic planning. Few measures have been put in place to try to thwart or adequately address such crises through a mix of legislative, policy, and operational tools. The issue is compounded by an alarming dearth of studies regarding emergency preparedness and crisis management in Kosovo, creating a knowledge gap among policy makers and the public alike.

Kosovo faces a number of risks that could cause large-scale emergency that may threaten the safety and security of its citizens and test the institutional capacities to prevent, prepare for, respond, and recover from crises. These threats can disproportionally affect more disadvantaged communities and are exacerbated by existing vulnerabilities such as fragile economy, limited public health capacities and illegal construction in hazard zones.

Although the Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo contains several provisions related to emergencies, it is not sufficient to prevent legal ambiguity in practice, especially in terms ofdefining circumstances that justify or require the declaration of a nation-wide emergency or institutional roles in its response.

Regular risk assessments grounded on solid evidence are imperative to inform policymaking and raise public awareness on emergency situations, including through the use of early warning systems. Existing risk assessments are either outdated or are not comprehensive enough to cover the range or risks and threats facing Kosovo due to poor policy planning and prioritization, lack or resources and capacities, and lack of a functional institutional structure to coordinate and carry risk assessments periodically.

There are gaps in Kosovo’s legislation especially in clarifying key stakeholders’ roles and responsibilities in times of crisis, covering a broader range of emergency situations, strengthening provisions on human rights and civil liberties during a State of Emergency, promoting a more participatory approach to policy planning and response to disasters, and in placing greater focus on preparedness and post-emergency resilience. Further, laws are marred by poor implementation.

Most strategic documents related to emergency preparedness and crisis management are either expired or outdated. Although there have been changes in legislation, since 2010, the National Security Strategy, the IEMS and the NRP have not been updated, andwithin these ten years there has not been any new - legally binding - strategic document on addressing emergency-related situations.

There is overlap and/or ambiguity in roles and responsibilities of stakeholders involved and there is no clear process in place that can be sustained in times of crisis;

• Kosovo lacks a preventive approach and has limited capacities for preparedness and response; Existing plans to reduce risk from emergency situations , albeit limited in scope, are not fully implemented and as a result key entities involved in the response are not informed and adequately trained to respond to emergencies. There is also a need for a comprehensive assessment of operational capacities and gaps in preparedness and response.

Kosovo’s lack of membership in international bodies hampers efforts for a more effective approach to emergency situations by creating a knowledge gap, making access to funds more difficult, and preventing international cooperation to disaster prevention and response.

There is no community-based risk reduction and emergency preparedness, which involves various actors in the society through a participatory and inclusive approach.

Kosovo’s approach to dealing with COVID-19 was challenged by the lack of a preventive and preparatory approach to emergency situations, lack of a clear legal basis for government  decisions, limited resources and staff capacities, shifting public trust in the institutions, allegations of mismanagement and discrimination, and lack of a clear, transparent, consistent communication strategy with the public

The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant political, rule of law, security, and socioeconomic implications. It has exacerbated political instability and deepened socioeconomic issues, including deprivation among the most disadvantaged communities such as women and minorities. It has exposed vulnerabilities in the security sector, especially in the cyberspace – leading to an increase in cyberattacks. COVID-19 has impacted rule of law, but it was mostly used as an excuse for lack of results in dealing with cases of corruption and organized crime, which are linked to systematic inefficiencies and impunity.

There is a lack of publicly available record on the policy processes in Kosovo institutions during situations of emergency and relief response, including the state response towards the COVID-19 pandemic.

Low level of trust in the institutions undermined an effective and efficient response to the pandemic, affecting the degree to which the public – which was often at the receiving end of mixed messages issued by Kosovo’s top officials - embraced the measures introduced by the authorities.

Kosovo’s lack of membership in international bodies hampers efforts for a more effective approach to emergency situations by creating a knowledge gap, making access to funds more difficult, and preventing international cooperation to disaster prevention and response.

A continuation of the political crisis puts an effective and focused response to the pandemic in jeopardy

This publication has been produced with the support of The Balkan Trust for Democracy in the framework of the project “COVID-19: Emergency preparedness and crisis management in Kosovo”. Opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent those of the Balkan Trust for Democracy, the German Marshal Fund of the United States, or its partners.