Shpend Ahmeti, Mayor of Pristina, Kosovo
MAYORS OF THE MONTH
Mayor of Seoul, South Korea (04/2015)
Mayor of Rotterdam, Netherlands (03/2015)
Mayor of Houston, USA, (02/2015)
Mayor of Pristina, Kosovo (01/2015)
Mayor of Warsaw, Poland, (12/2014)
Governor of Tokyo, Japan, (11/2014)
Mayor of Wellington, New Zealand (10/2014)
Mayor of Sucre, Miranda, Venezuela (09/2014)
Mayor of Vienna, Austria (08/2014)
Mayor of Lampedusa, Italy (07/2014)
Mayor of Ghent, Belgium (06/2014)
Mayor of Montería, Colombia (05/2014)
Mayor of Liverpool, UK (04/2014)
Mayor of Pittsford Village, NY, USA (03/2014)
Mayor of Surabaya, Indonesia (02/2014)
Mayor of Santiago, Chile (01/2014)
Mayor of Soda, India (12/2013)
Mayor of Zaragoza, Spain (11/2013)
Mayor of Marseille, France (10/2013)
Mayor of Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany (09/2013)
Mayor of Detroit, USA (08/2013)
Mayor of Moore, USA (07/2013)
Mayor of Mexico City, Mexico (06/2013)
Mayor of Cape Town, South Africa (05/2013)
Mayor of Lima, Peru (04/2013)
Mayor of Salerno, Italy (03/2013)
Governor of Jakarta, Indonesia (02/2013)
Mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (01/2013)
Mayor of Izmir, Turkey (12/2012)
Mayor of San Antonio, USA (11/2012)
Mayor of Thessaloniki, Greece (10/2012)
Mayor of London, UK (09/2012)
Mayor of New York, USA (08/2012)
Mayor of Bilbao, Spain (07/2012)
Mayor of Bogotá, Columbia (06/2012)
Mayor of Perth, Australia (05/2012)
Mayor of Mazatlán, Mexico (04/2012)
Mayor of Tel Aviv, Israel (03/2012)
Mayor of Surrey, Canada (02/2012)
Mayor of Osaka, Japan (01/2012)
Mayor of Ljubljana, Slovenia (12/2011)
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Mayor of the Month for January 2015
Mayor of Pristina, Kosovo
By City Mayors writers
2 January 2015: Shpend Ahmeti’s election was a drastic change in leadership in Kosovo’s capital Pristina. Ahmeti unseated, not only the incumbent mayor, but also the country’s dominant political party, which had ruled Pristina for over 14 years, since the end of the war with Serbia in 1999 and through the subsequent UN protectorate and declaration of independence in 2008, until its defeat by Ahmeti in 2013. Ahmeti represents the Self-Determination Movement, a political party formed in 2005.
Ahmeti is perhaps the only sitting mayor of a national capital city to have moved directly from the classroom to the mayor’s office. The mayor, a Harvard-trained economist, was professor of public policy at the American University of Kosovo, or AUK, before assuming office as the elected mayor of Pristina in December 2013. AUK offers degrees from the Rochester Institute of Technology in the United States, and is Kosovo’s most prestigious university. The mission of AUK/RIT is to use education to build a modern Kosovo based on democracy and integrity, with an emphasis on fighting corruption and improving the lives of all citizens.
The challenges facing Kosovo are daunting as it transitions from war to peace, from socialism to democracy, and from communism to a market economy. Local governments share responsibility for managing the transformation with the national government, and mayors are increasingly relied on to be principal leaders of change.
Ahmeti’s electoral-campaign promise to administer municipal government in a transparent manner resonated with voters. Mayor Ahmeti is widely considered to be open and approachable. He also makes himself accountable. Ahmeti was the first mayoral candidate in post-war Kosovo to provide written campaign promises that citizens could use to measure his performance in office.
Mayors in Kosovo have considerable power - the executive branch is the dominant branch of government in all cities - but lack flexibility to raise significant public revenues or reorganize their workforces. These functions are controlled by the national government. Grants from the national government constitute as much as 95 per cent of local government revenues in most cities, and about 50 per cent in Pristina. These grants have strings attached, such as quotas on the hiring of municipal staff. Moreover, national transfer payments and the restrictions attached to their use are based largely on population estimates, which may or may not be accurate. For example, the most recent census counts 220,000 residents of Pristina; however, most observers believe the actual population is around 350,000 and growing. As a result, municipalities are frequently underfunded and understaffed compared to needs. Promises are thus easily overblown during campaigns and difficult to keep after elections, and mayoral candidates before Ahmeti have been reluctant to commit them to paper.
Ahmeti’s promises have been large, such his vow to confront illegal construction and the criminality and corruption that sustain it. Fulfilling promises is not without risks. Ahmeti survived an apparent assassination attempt in his first months in office, yet continues to oversee the demolition of incomplete and abandoned structures, built without permissions, that are potential safety hazards.
Notably, he has also strengthened his city’s procurement practices and admonished his European neighbours for turning a blind eye on the illegal trafficking of goods, a corrosive practice that affects Kosovo. On a more modest level, Ahmeti has ordered the removal of the tall fences that surround nearly all public buildings across Pristina to open up more space for pedestrians in the congested city. His administration is also installing concrete pegs and trees to prevent motor vehicles from parking on sidewalks, another small change that makes a big difference to the livability of the city.
While critics praise Ahmeti’s prioritization of pedestrians, they also note that he spends less overall on needed capital improvements than his predecessor. Ahmeti counters that his administration has enthusiastically embraced and implemented new national laws to reform construction permitting and improve spatial planning, and looks forward to drafting Pristina’s first post-war city-wide zoning ordinance.
In other words, Mayor Ahmeti is actively laying the groundwork for the sustainable future of Pristina. He understands that residents have big expectations for his administration’s second year in office. Residents want change that is intentional and meaningful, not haphazard and superficial, and Mayor Shpend Ahmeti appears determined to deliver it.
Pristina City Hall
On other pages
Local government in Kosovo: Elected mayors are the key
Kosovo became the most recent territory in Europe to claim the status of nation state when it declared independence in 2008. The credibility of any democratic nation depends on the strength of the institutions it builds, notably its capacity to meet citizens’ demands for service delivery and accountability. To this end, Kosovo has embarked on a process of enhancing the performance capacity of government by decentralizing power from the national level to the municipal level. Decentralization is considered a tool to deliver results shaped by local needs and market realities, engage citizens in decision making, and bridge ethnic divisions. And directly-elected mayors assume a primary role in helping ensure accountability, transparency and responsibility.
Mayors have become the hinge upon which local government pivots in Kosovo. According to Bakija of the Kosovo Democratic Institute, “with directly-elected mayors the chain of responsibilities are clear for executive decisions, and mayors have full accountability.”
All but two of the thirty-eight mayors in Kosovo have majorities or majority coalitions in their municipalities’ municipal assemblies. This had led to criticisms that municipal assemblies too often rubber stamp mayors, proposals, particularly the annual municipal budget. By law, a municipal assembly has one month to review the mayor’s proposed budget, consult the public, and approve or reject the budget. The compressed time frame and majority or coalition politics frequently discourage members of minority parties in the municipal assembly from participating in the budget process, effectively giving more power to mayors.
The power of mayors is increasingly sought to coordinate the agendas of donors. The United Nations, various Western governments, and numerous NGOs are active in Kosovo. These organizations pushed decentralization as a way of reducing the effects of socialist centralization. They are working with the national government and municipalities to build capacities and legitimize and entrench effective governance. Mayors are increasingly expected to take a leadership role in the often challenging task of ensuring that donors respond to citizens’ and municipalities’ needs rather than their own agendas. MORE