Kosovo vows to resolve electricity billing problem in northern Serbia
Pedestrians walk in the predominantly Serbian north of Mitrovica, Kosovo, April 7, 2020. Photo: EPA-EFE / VALDRIN XHEMAJ
Albin Kurti’s government in Kosovo has decided to cover an additional six months of electricity bills racked up by customers in predominantly Serbian northern Kosovo while pushing for a final resolution of a problem that has cost tens of millions euros to Kosovo taxpayers.
According to the plan, the state-owned transport company, KOSTT, will be forced to cover unpaid bills in the north for another six months.
Considering that the government could not allocate an additional 11 million euros requested by KOSTT to cover the electricity spent in the predominantly Serbian north, the parliamentary committee for the economy instead asked KOSTT to cover debts for another six months from own income.
Government spokesman Perparim Kryeziu told BIRN that covering debt in this way was only a temporary solution, as the government tried to establish a more sustainable billing system for northern Kosovo.
“This is the most efficient solution… to provide a six-month lead time until billing is normalized in northern municipalities,” Kryeziu told BIRN, without providing details of the potential billing system for the. North.
Serbs in the northern municipalities of Mitrovica, Leposavic, Zubin Potok and Zvecan in northern Kosovo have not paid their electricity bills in Kosovo since the end of the Kosovo war in 1999. After Kosovo declared its independence in 2008, this situation continued.
According to Radio Free Europe, the cost of energy spent in predominantly Serbian municipalities in the north is around 12 million euros per year.
From 1999 to 2017, citizens of other parts of Kosovo were charged 3.5% more to close the gap. At the end of 2017, the Court of Appeal ruled this practice illegal.
From December 2017 to the end of 2020, the estimated losses in the north amount to around 40 million euros, RFE reported.
KOSTT did not start operating independently of the Serbian operator, EMS, throughout Kosovo, until December 2020, eight months before becoming part of the European network of transmission system operators, ENTSO-E, in a block common energy with Albania.
However, the situation of unpaid invoices now jeopardizes the agreement with Albania and ENTSO-E.
“Over the years, Serbia has used our network as transit, but refused to pay fees that exceeded 50 million euros,” government spokesman Kryeziu told BIRN.
In 2015, Serbia and Kosovo reached a first agreement on energy as part of EU-led negotiations to normalize relations.
But this was blocked by Serbia because the agreement stipulated that two Serbian-controlled companies had to register with the Kosovo energy regulatory office.
With Serbia refusing to accept Kosovo’s sovereignty, it was agreed that KOSTT would be recognized for the entire territory of Kosovo and that the Serbian operator, EMS, would help the Kosovo operator to become a member of the European network.
It was also agreed that Serbia would establish the companies Drustvo Elektrosever and EPS Trgovina, which would operate in accordance with the laws of Kosovo.
But, according to officials in Belgrade, Kosovo has not registered the two companies. Serbian company Drustvo Elektrosever applied for a license from the Energy Regulatory Board, ERO, only on December 28, 2020. However, ERO told BIRN that the issuance of the license could not be carried out because the card does not was not functional.
While the Kosovo government remains uncertain how to proceed after the six-month deadline, Serbs in northern Kosovo are still unsure how and to whom they should pay their electricity bills.
Miodrag Milicevic, from the NGO Aktiv, based north of Mitrovica, says Serbs in northern Kosovo find themselves in a “gray area” when it comes to their electricity bills.
“Some are still in favor of maintaining this status, in part because they don’t know who to pay, no one has complete information on it, on how electricity is calculated or who will be responsible for payment. “Milicevic told BIRN.
“For example, in the north, the means of payment is always the [Serbian] dinar, but I am sure that in the future the payment will be in euros [the currency in Kosovo] – but how would it be regulated? he added.
Milicevic said residents of northern Kosovo were not yet sure which company would take care of the payment, and warned that any partial or one-sided solution could cause some to continue to refuse to pay for their electricity.