USAID’s Property Rights Program (PRP) is a four-year activity that aims to address the property rights challenges and to develop a plan for the stabilization of the property rights regime in Kosovo. The program will work in partnership with the Government of Kosovo (GOK), selected municipalities and other relevant local and international stakeholders. USAID has allocated $8.5 million for the implementation of the Property Rights Program.
This Quarter was very productive for PRP: it saw important developments in major initiatives in progress – the National Strategy on Property Rights; case flow management reform in Kosovo courts; and the media campaign on women’s property rights. In addition, in this Quarter PRP commenced grassroots activities on women’s property rights to complement its media campaign and launched a pilot program of activities in Viti/Vitina municipality designed to help municipal administrations improve their practices and procedures related to property rights and enable their citizens to exercise their property rights more easily and efficiently.
Objective 1: Better Coordination and Policy Priorities
WORK ON NATIONAL STRATEGY ON PROPERTY RIGHTS ADVANCING ON SCHEDULE. During this Quarter, PRP continued to move forward on schedule the development of the National Strategy on Property Rights: the Thematic Working Groups completed their work and the five Concept Notes, which will constitute the substantive basis of the National Strategy, were given final review by the Core Technical Group. PRP has finalized them. In addition, PRP prepared a first draft of the narrative core of the National Strategy – the “Zero” Draft – which provides strategic direction to the National Strategy and lays out its policy priorities. By the end of this Quarter, PRP had begun work to develop a first full draft of the National Strategy.
PRAISE FOR PRP’S EMPHASIS ON INCLUSION AND COORDINATION. PRP continued to cooperate closely and constructively with the EU-funded Civil Code and Property Rights Project (CCPR). The two projects met together each month this Quarter with the MoJ to exchange current information. PRP provided the draft Concept Notes to CCPR for comment, and CCPR has provided its Progress Reports to PRP to ensure that the positions and approaches taken in the National Strategy will be in harmony with CCPR’s vision of the Civil Code. In addition, PRP attended all meetings of CCPR’s Steering Committee.
The team of independent evaluators to assess CCPR praised the level of coordination and cooperation between the two projects as a model to be emulated by other EU projects, and also gave high praise to the inclusive approach taken in developing the National Strategy and urged that the follow-on EU project to develop the Civil Code take a similar approach. Furthermore, at the visibility event held in connection with the close-out of CCPR in June, First Deputy Prime Minister/Minister of Justice Kuçi praised USAID and PRP for its constructive cooperation with the MoJ and CCPR.
SUPPORT TO MOJ ON LEGISLATIVE INITIATIVE ON INHERITANCE. During this Quarter, PRP continued to work closely with the MoJ on significant legislative initiatives. Drawing on PRP’s comprehensive analysis of notary powers and practices in selected EU member states, which PRP provided to the MoJ in the previous quarter to inform the MoJ’s policy decisions as it finalizes the draft Law on Notary, at the MoJ’s request PRP has drafted revisions to a package of laws to create procedural safeguards to help address challenges women often face in connection
with inheritance – being omitted as heirs on the Act of Death; and being expected, and sometimes forced, to renounce their inheritance in favor of male heirs. The revisions are also designed to clarify the legal authority of the courts and notaries, respectively, with respect to non-contested inheritance proceedings. This package of revisions will be translated into Albanian and provided to the MoJ in the first weeks of the next quarter. PRP is also supporting the MoJ on drafting the Concept Document for the Law on Construction Land.
Objective 2: Improved Court Procedures Related to Property Claims
INSTRUMENT DEVELOPED FOR GATHERING CASEFLOW DATA. During this Quarter, PRP worked closely with the IT Department of the KJC to review together the Kosovo Judicial Council (KJC) Case Registration System (the Database) and identify the specific modifications that would be needed in order for PRP to use the Database in PRP’s initiative to analyze the caseflow management of property and other civil cases in the four Courts of Merit (CoMs). (The analysis of the caseflow of pending civil cases was identified as the next necessary step for identifying and developing interventions in the courts’ caseflow management of property cases. See PRP’s Report, “Caseflow Management for Property Rights Cases in the Basic Courts,” which was submitted to USAID and the KJC in December 2015 and which describes the objectives of this work and the methodology for carrying it out.)
Although PRP’s initial review of the Database, which was conducted by local STTA, suggested that it would be feasible to modify the Database for this purpose (which initial conclusions were presented in PRP’s report, “A Review of the Feasibility of Modifying the KJC Case Registration System to Support Proposed Reforms in Caseflow Management;” PRP’s subsequent hands-on review indicated that it would not be practicable to undertake modification of the Database, because it would require an indeterminate, but likely considerable, expenditure of time and money to do so. Those findings, coupled with reports that the Case Management Information System, which was being developed for the Kosovo courts with Norwegian donor funding, would be introduced in an introductory trial form in September 2016, led both PRP and the KJC IT Department to decide not to proceed with the modification.
In view of this development, PRP thereupon designed and developed an Excel spreadsheet that has been tailored to support data-gathering on caseflow management in the four courts. In reaching this decision, PRP consulted with USAID CLE on its experience in using an Excel spreadsheet for tracking the enforcement of judgments, as was suggested by USAID.
It should be noted that, in view of its final determination not to modify the Database for its own purposes, PRP did not finalize its preliminary report on the Database to reflect USAID’s comments, since that report was premised on the view that PRP would modify and use the Database for PRP’s caseflow management initiative.
DATA-GATHERING IN COM’S COMMENCED BY PRP CASEFLOW MANAGEMENT STAFF. In this Quarter, PRP completed hiring procedures for three Court Record Management Specialists (CRMs) to work in the Basic Courts of Gjilan/Gnjilane, Ferizaj/Uroševac and Pejë/Peć to gather caseflow management data. The CRMs have been introduced to the judges of their respective courts and have been successfully integrated into those courts. PRP provided training to the CRMs on the Excel spreadsheet and the CRMs have commenced gathering data on pending civil cases.
MAKING JUDICIAL PRACTICE IN PROPERTY LAW MORE CONSISTENT, UNIFORM AND PREDICTABLE. During this Quarter PRP began compiling and analyzing decisions of the Court of Appeals involving property and civil law claims, to identify problematic legal issues facing the lower courts in adjudicating such matters and identify inconsistencies in their application of the law. Results of this analysis will be used to develop recommendations to help courts improve the adjudication of such claims and to make their practice more consistent and predictable.
ADDITIONAL TOPICS TO BE INCLUDED IN THE REPORT ON MINORITIES’ PROPERTY RIGHTS. In the previous quarter PRP submitted to USAID drafts of two additional and comprehensive analytical reports – “Informality in the Land Sector: The Issue of Delayed Inheritance in Kosovo” and “Issues Affecting the Ability of Members of Minority Communities in Kosovo to Exercise Their Property Rights.” The first of the two reports presents PRP’s analysis of and proposed solutions for the challenges posed by the fact that many land records are registered in the name of deceased persons. The second of the two reports presents findings and recommendations related to issues faced by displaced persons and members of minority communities in connection with their property rights.
After receiving comments from USAID on both reports, in this Quarter PRP revised them accordingly and submitted revised versions to USAID. USAID has approved the report on delayed inheritance. As for the report on minorities’ property rights, USAID has accepted the report but has requested that the report be expanded to include two additional topics – the challenges facing minorities in connection with actions taken by the Kosovo Privatization Agency and in taking part in judicial proceedings. PRP will complete this additional research and finalize the report during the next quarter.
Objective 3: Enhanced Women’s Rights to Use Property in Practice
MEDIA CAMPAIGN EXPANDED. This Quarter saw an expansion of PRP’s media campaign on women’s property rights. Additional public service announcements were released for dissemination through TV, radio and social media; and the media coverage given to the campaign was extended to include local TV and radio stations in both Albanian and Serb communities. Anecdotal accounts indicate that the campaign is generating discussion within Kosovo society.
NATIONAL GRASS-ROOTS CAMPAIGN COMMENCED. PRP has begun a number of activities designed to bring the campaign on women’s property rights to local communities using a variety of means and approaches. In this connection, PRP has also made preparations for a launch event for its national grassroots campaign, which will be held in Viti/Vitina on July 19 with the US Ambassador scheduled to attend.
SUPPORT FOR ABILITY OF SPOUSES TO REGISTER PROPERTY JOINTLY. PRP has provided a range of support for the development of the Administrative Instruction (AI) to allow spouses to register property jointly. Following on PRP’s previous support to the Agency for Gender Equality (AGE) in drafting the AI and consulting with other relevant government bodies, such as the Kosovo Cadastral Agency and the Ministry of Finance, during this Quarter PRP produced an animated video public service announcement, with Albanian and Serbian versions, that is being broadcast on Kosovo TV to inform the public that spouses can now register property jointly. The animated video was unveiled at the round-table on the AI that was sponsored by the AGE and chaired by the Prime Minister, with remarks by USAID Mission Director James Hope.
PRP’S OUTREACH TO JOURNALISTS PRODUCES MORE WELL-INFORMED COVERAGE OF PROPERTY RIGHTS ISSUES. PRP and the MoJ conducted a roundtable for journalists to give them a better understanding of the property rights issues confronting Kosovo today and of the measures being taken to address them in the National Strategy. The roundtable gave the journalists a heightened interest and deeper comprehension of the subject and of how these problems are creating difficulties for citizens in their daily lives. This was evidenced by an increase in coverage of property rights issues in the national media.
Objective 4: Improved Communication, Access to Information and Understanding of Property Rights
RESEARCH AND FIELD WORK COMMENCED IN MUNICIPALITY. During this Quarter PRP began to implement in Viti/Vitina PRP’s action plan of activities to promote reforms at the municipal level. These activities entail desk research and on-site interviews with officials and citizens to identify ways to improve the delivery to citizens of municipal services related to property rights. PRP developed the action plan in close cooperation with the Viti/Vitina municipal administration.
To bolster the close ties developed with Viti/Vitina and to draw the attention of the local community to PRP’s public outreach on women’s property rights, PRP also conducted a children’s art activity in Viti/Vitina that was followed by a press conference featuring the Viti/Vitina Mayor and USAID, as is planning to hold the launch event for its national grassroots campaign in Viti/Vitina in July 2016.