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FRI, 26 OCT 2001 00:30:13 GMT

Pensioners or Welfare Cases

AIM Pristina, October 3, 2001

The main issue in Kosovo is no longer how pensioners - many with 40 or more years of work experience behind them - who have not received their monthly allowances since 1999 live. The issue is how to win over the votes of this "army" of nearly 100 thousand persons. The UN administration in Kosovo wishes to help this particular category of people, but in the form of a social welfare policy. Its representatives have pointed out that they are unable to revive a fund which no longer exists or has been "emptied" by Belgrade. Neither numerous protests nor talks with UNMIK officials and local political parties have had any effect. The pensioners are still asking to be paid and demanding that it be done regularly.

Kosovo pensioners can expect their pensions starting with the middle of 2002. "We are at the preliminary stage of setting up a new pension scheme in Kosovo", says Deputy Co-Head of the Department Of Health and Social Welfare Sandra Hudd. UNMIK Chief Hans Hakkaerup, Ms. Hudd says, has asked for the plan to be completed as soon as possible so that he is presented with the outline in September or October at the latest. "If our proposal is accepted by Mr. Hakkaerup, we will start with the payments for all those over 65 years of age; a draft of a full-fledged pension system is also under consideration and should be enacted next year", says Ms. Hudd. Pensions will be paid out of the Consolidated Kosovo Budget, the portion specified for welfare purposes and amounting to DM 80 million. According to Ms. Hudd, the precise sum which is to be set aside for pensions is unknown as of yet. The Deputy Co-Head claims her department and the Central Fiscal Authority (a kind of a Ministry of Finance) have been working on the pension scheme since July.

The purpose of the reform of the pension system according to the solicitor with the Central Fiscal Authority Mrs. Lena Zezuli is that the entire corpus of the population over 65 years of age be covered by pensions and a mechanism created which will enable the young to "invest in their old age”. "In some countries, pensions do not rely upon the income tax revenue, but are paid out of the total income of all pensioners regardless of where, when and how they have earned their pensions", says Mrs. Zezuli.

According to the American expert hired by the Central Fiscal Authority David Snelbecker, there are around 130 thousand persons over the age of 65 in Kosovo. Some of them still receive their pensions from Serbia. "Our pension system will encompass all Kosovars advanced in years, those who have contributed to the previous pension fund and those whose pensions come from Serbia at the moment," says Mrs. Zezuli. She agrees it is unjust that the Serb pension fund pays out some pensioners and some not, but recommends they file their complaints with Belgrade.

According to Ms. Hudd and Mrs. Zezuli, both the previous Kosovo pension system in effect up to 1989 and the existing one in Belgrade are highly inefficient. "In both of these systems pensioners receive their allowances without contributing to them since the resources are set aside from the salaries of the working population. In such systems, there are no savings and no investments. “What is raised is immediately handed out", Mrs. Zezuli explains. In her opinion, pension plans such as these have numerous negative aspects which become graver as the population ages. “Their functioning depends on the age structure of the population, employment rate and, for the most part, on revenues from income taxes - and the situation only worsens if there is a rise in unemployment", she says. Mrs. Zezuli also points out that a rate of 20 to 25 percent of the population covered by pensions as was the case in Kosovo in 1998 is considered to be highly unsatisfactory according to European standards. "Such systems are in effect in Pakistan and third world countries, but are highly uncommon and considered to be unacceptable in European states", says Zezuli.

A separate pension plan devised for war invalids has by now been completed in the Department of Health and Social Welfare. "We have started accepting the applications of the war invalids and victims of war", says Deputy Co-Head of the Department Ms. Hudd.

“War invalids will be granted a monthly allowance, but not in the form of a pension”, she points out. "We still do not know how many applications to expect, nor do we have an idea of the social circumstances of the applicants, their qualifications or the way they are to be categorized, but we should decide on the amount granted them by the end of this month", says Ms. Hudd. Applicants will be expected to submit the required documents and undergo a medical examination, "although we have no reason to doubt their sincerity".

First payouts of the war invalids, as things stand now, are to be expected by the end of the year. Social welfare payments in effect for the last year and a half will also continue. An expert group financed by the World Bank ILG (International Labor Group) is presently working on the future health care system of Kosovo, but seems to still be at the initial stage of the process with a lot of work yet to be done, according to the officials of the Department of Health and Social Welfare.

On the other hand, there is no welfare plan for invalids and the disabled. "Not because we do not wish to build a system of social insurance, but because we need to be realistic in respect to what the Consolidated Kosovo Budget can offer", says Ms. Hudd.

The Kosovo Pensioners’ Association continues to be frequented by the leaders of local political parties. The head of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo Ramush Haradinaj and Hashim Thaci, PDP (Democratic Party of Kosovo) leader, for ones. They have both promised to resolve the issue of pensions. Some say their promises may well have a lot to do with the forthcoming November elections and are likely to be forgotten soon afterwards, as was the case a year ago. At least UNMIK has promised it would treat Kosovo pensioners on a par with any other jeopardized social category...

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