With independence looming, the Serbian government predicted that a significant portion of Serbian KPS officers will remove their KPS uniforms and put on Serbian police uniforms. I’m not a fortune teller, but I’d like to think that this is not going to happen.
KPS (Kosovo Police Service) officers are Kosovo’s police. They are specially trained. They work alongside, and in conjunction with, UNMIK Police. Many of them are equal in talent to their UNMIK police counterparts. As independence nears, more and more responsibility has been shifted from UNMIK police to KPS. Eventually, UNMIK/EU police will leave and KPS officers will remain, responsible for all criminal and policing activities.
And that brings up a larger question: has UNMIK empowered KPS as an institution to police and investigate crime efficiently, fairly, and without corruption? I think the answer to that is not so clear cut.
A few facts to consider. The average monthly income in Kosovo is about 200 or so Euros. The average monthly income of a KPS Officer is about the same — 200 or so Euros. What’s the problem with that, you may ask? In an attempt to create a professional police force, it is beyond question that UNMIK has invested heavily in training KPS officers and providing KPS with the equipment and resources to investigate crimes. But in doing so, one thing has remained the same: KPS officers earn an extremely low salary.
And that is one of the main weak links in taking KPS to the next level. In a region where there is a significant organized crime presence, how does KPS as an institution expect to effectively combat this when the salaries of officers are extremely low? How does KPS expect to retain a significant percentage of its officers, which is essential to creating a professional and experienced police force?
To be sure, the average pay in Kosovo is 200 Euros, so everything is relative, right? Wrong. When the monthly income is that low, you are past arguments of “relativity” and into the realm of whether people are attaining a basic standard of living.
Let me make this clear though. KPS officers do their job well and, as most reports indicate, the majority of them are not corrupt (as with any police force, there are always a few bad apples). But what will happen when UNMIK or the EU leaves? How can we prevent KPS officers from being lured into corruption when their pay is so low? How can we keep KPS officers in the force so that they are not lured into private sector jobs? KPS officers know the reality. After all, their UNMIK counterparts make between 4,000-8,000 dollars a month, for essentially doing the same job they are.
In the end, there are obviously broader issues at play. Kosovo is one of the poorest regions in the Balkans. But as I have mentioned in previous posts, the toughest hurdle that Kosovo will face is not declaring independence, but maintaining a robust economy, establishing good governance, and providing an adequate standard of living for all its citizens.
If anything will cause instability, it is these things. You can put in all the fancy restaurants and stores on the planet in Kosovo, but if the majority of the citizens cannot afford it, then what has UNMIK and international investors created? What kind of country is that?