Fellows on our part-time PhD programme (GPAC2) work for governments and international organizations around the world. Their day jobs land them at the centre of events in geopolitical hotspots, meaning they are often better informed than even the best connected journalists. In this new series, we speak with fellows about hot topics and historic events. This time, five years after Kosovo’s independence, we asked PhD fellow Bernard Nikaj about his work in government and how the country is progressing.
1. You are currently advising the Kosovan Government. What exactly do you advise on?
I am currently the Chief of Cabinet and Senior Political Adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Trade and Industry. In practice this means that I am in charge of making sure that overall policy planning and implementation is coordinated across all economic sectors in the government and at the same time ensuring that the Ministry of Trade and Industry delivers its objectives as part of the overall government plan. Some of the specific areas we are directly in charge are: business climate reform, investment promotion, SME Development, Trade Policy, Quality Infrastructure and market surveillance. Since this is a political appointee position, I am also tasked with providing political advice in relation to both national and international actors and events.
Prior to this, I spent eight years advising governments in Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan and Albania, mainly on issues of public financial management, budgeting and public sector reform, with a specific focus on economic development portfolios.
2. February marked five years since Kosovo gained its independence. Since then, has the country gained much in other aspects as well? How have the people benefited from independence?
The Declaration of Independence for the people of Kosovo meant the realization of their 100-year old dream. All the wars, troubles and suffering were finally over. However, a new era of effort just started. Challenges of state building, ensuring the rule of law and economically developing the country are as big as anything else we have faced until now.
Now five years on people of Kosovo are witness of considerable improvement in their day to day life. Kosovo has been one of the few countries whose GDP has been growing by more than 5 per cent in the last years, despite the financial crisis. This has reflected in better roads (for the first time there is a highway in Kosovo), better public services (i.e. in 2001 the electrical power supply was so scarce that we had four hours with power and four without, today the majority of Kosovo has a 24-hour power supply) and higher salaries for teachers, doctors and public sector workers.
Finally, since the declaration of independence the people of Kosovo have turned the page and are focusing on development and economic growth and this is in turn reflecting on pressures on the Government to do more in this relation. There are some successes worth mentioning here as well. This year Kosovo has moved up by 28 places on the World Bank Doing Business Assessment (from 126 to 98) mainly on protecting investors and ease of starting a business.
3. How do you see the country moving forward now? Serbia is not too keen on accepting the independence, or is it?
Kosovo, as any other country of the region is on the path towards European Union. I believe that just last week there were two very important developments on this path. First, the EU brokered a deal on normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia that addresses the issues of north of Kosovo and the organization of governance in that part of Kosovo that has been evading institutions in Prishtina for years. Also at the same time, the European Commission recommended to Member States to start negotiating the Stabilization and Association Agreement with Kosovo, which is the first step towards membership.
Now, while both developments will depend on the implementation and work done by Kosovo people and institutions, they are signs that Kosovo is entering a period focusing on normalization, integration and development.
4. Your PhD research looks at the roll out of an e-governance project in the legal system in Kosovo. On paper the idea was perfect, but in practice there is room for improvement. With the case of the Kosovo judiciary, you could well combine work with your PhD. However, for your PhD you have obtained a scholarship for research funding and a visiting fellowship for the upcoming years. This sounds like GPAC2 for you translates into a full-time PhD finishing period? What do you plan to do over the next year?
Well, holding my position and doing whatever else is very challenging. Nevertheless, since my research deals with institution building and my case looks at the judiciary system of Kosovo, it was convenient for me to get access for my research. Thus, I managed to collect materials about the case from various actors and I managed to interview all the relevant persons quite easily.
However, getting enough time and concentration to write the papers proved more challenging. Due to this, I applied and secured some funding from the Dutch Government (NFP) and a visiting fellowship from the US Department of State (Fulbright Fellowship) to allow me to have time and concentrate fully on my PhD, especially in writing.
Thus, in the next year, I plan to spend about five months in the USA (either starting in September 2013 or January 2014) and about five months full time in Maastricht (spread throughout the year) to make sure that I get enough time to concentrate on writing my PhD. This also means that I will be slowly leaving my job in the government.