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.
HIGHLIGHTS FOR YEAR ONE
Objective 1: Better Coordination and Policy Priorities
- Establishment of MOU with CCPR – USAID emphasized early on the importance that PRP coordinate and collaborate closely with the European Union (EU) funded Support to the Civil Code and Property Rights (CCPR) Project, to coordinate their efforts to assist the Government of Kosovo to develop its property rights reform strategy and improve the legal framework governing property. On December 12, 2014, the USAID/Kosovo Mission Director witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the PRP and the CCPR that establishes the basis for their collaboration. The MOU provides that PRP will lead donor and line ministry coordination to support development of strategy for reforming property rights and will contribute to CCPR legislative drafting by providing technical analysis of substantive property law and by developing secondary legislation to strengthen the property rights of women and members of minority communities. The MOU also recognizes PRP’s role to lead development of improved court procedures to improve efficiency of court processes and enforce property rights of all Kosovars, especially the rights of women and members of minority communities.
- GoK Authorizes MOU to Lead Development of National Strategy on Property Rights – The MOU with the CCPR originally envisioned that PRP would facilitate coordination between government entities and donor partners to assist the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to lead development of the National Strategy on Property Rights (Strategy). In response to a change in the CCPR’s scope, PRP and USAID agreed PRP would take the lead in providing substantive technical assistance to the MoJ to develop the Strategy. On May 20, 2015, after extensive advocacy by PRP, the Government of Kosovo (GoK) issued its decision authorizing the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to draft the Strategy and include it on the Government’s Annual Work Plan. The GoK decision also provided the MoJ with the authorization to form the Property Rights Sector Working Group (SWG). The SWG is chaired by the Ministry of Justice and is comprised of over 80 government and donor stakeholders. The SWG monitors the development of the Strategy, and will validate its contents and officially present the Strategy to the Government when ready.
- Establishment of Structures for the National Strategy: CTG and TWGs – With the GoK authorization in place, PRP assisted the MoJ to identify and secure membership of stakeholders to the Core Technical Group (CTG), which is responsible for leading the development of the Strategy. The CTG is comprised of representatives from key line ministries and the CCPR and PRP projects. The CTG has appointed Thematic Working Groups (TWGs) on an ad hoc basis to provide guidance for drafting specific components of the Strategy.
- Two-Day National Stakeholder Workshop on Property Rights – PRP worked closely with the MoJ’s Director of the Department of European Integration and Policy Coordination and a team of MoJ staff to plan and organize a two-day national stakeholder workshop to launch the development of the Strategy. The workshop, which was entitled “Kosovo’s National Strategy on Property Rights: Identifying Key Thematic Pillars Clustering a Wide Range of Property Rights Challenges,” was held on June 22-23, 2015. The workshop also served as the initial session of the SWG. The workshop successfully obtained stakeholder consensus on the topics and issues to be addressed in the Strategy. The Minister of Justice stated that his top priorities are the development of the National Strategy on Property Rights, along with a clear action plan for its implementation, and the development a new Civil Code. He expressed his gratitude to the participants, noting that the high rate of diverse participation set a high standard for an inclusive process over the coming months to develop the Strategy. The USAID Mission Director was also present at this event.
- Development of an Issues Document on Property Rights – In advance of the workshop, PRP and MoJ developed an Issues Document that was distributed to workshop participants. The document clustered the property rights challenges into five (5) Thematic Pillars. Under each Pillar, key challenges were summarized, implications discussed and strategic considerations listed to guide stakeholder discussion during the workshop. These pillars support three aspirational objectives: to strengthen the rule of law, promote economic development, and support Euro-Atlantic integration.
- Commenced Development of Concept Notes for National Strategy – PRP conducted a tender and awarded a sub-contract to Strategy & Development Consulting (S&D) to develop five analytical Concept Notes, aligned with the five technical clusters presented in the Issues Document, to inform the drafting of the National Strategy. The Concept Notes will present research and analysis and provide detailed recommendations on the specific actions that need to be taken to change property rights policy, law, and practice to achieve the National Strategy’s reform objectives.
Objective 2: Improved Court Procedures Related to Property Claims
- Selection of Four Courts of Merit – PRP facilitated a participatory process with the Kosovo Judicial Council (KJC) to select four Courts of Merit to work with the PRP to develop, pilot, and test court procedures to enable the courts to adjudicate property claims and disputes more efficiently and ensure that women’s rights to inherit property are fully enforced. In consultation with the KJC, the presiding judges of the seven basic courts, and the presiding judge of the court of appeals, the Basic Courts of Peja, Gjilan, and Ferizaj and the Branch Court in Sterpce were selected as the Courts of Merit.
- Development of a Court Strengthening Action Plan – In May 2015, PRP developed a Court Strengthening Action Plan to guide development of activities under Objective 2. The Action Plan was built on a strategy to reduce the number of property-related claims that are resolved under the Law on Contested Procedure. A number of procedural requirements have been identified in this law that creates case flow bottlenecks that contribute to case backlogs. Additionally, a significant number of all properties recorded in the cadastre are registered in the name of deceased persons and, therefore, do not convey clear title to land. Because inheritance proceedings are required to convey rights from the deceased to living heirs, the Action Plan also provides for a strategic approach to develop more streamlined inheritance procedures to address this inter-generational inheritance issue. To begin to implement the Action Plan, PRP engaged a Differentiated Case Management (DCM) expert to conduct a closed-case study of property related cases in the four PRP supported Courts of Merit to produce accurate, empirical data of the specific substantive and procedural caseflow issues that constrain efficient resolution of property claims in the courts.
- Comprehensive Analysis of Caseflow Management for Property Rights Cases in Basic Courts – PRP completed a comprehensive analysis of caseflow management for property cases in the four Courts of Merit and presented its findings to USAID in its Report entitled “Caseflow Management for Property Rights Cases in the Basic Courts.” PRP designed and applied the DCM methodology mentioned above to develop substantive and procedural data elements with which to disaggregate and analyze court procedures to process and resolve property cases in order to formulate recommendations to improve efficiency and court performance. PRP applied this analysis to a total of 1,276 property rights cases that were filed and disposed within a 30-month period (2013-2015). The Report served as the basis for further analysis that has produced an action plan to improve caseflow management in Kosovo courts.
- Judicial Training Needs Assessment – PRP commissioned an assessment of the Kosovo Judicial Institute’s (KJI) judicial training curricula on property rights. PRP and the KJI held a working session with a focus group of 8 judges to identify and discuss judges’ and lawyers’ professional needs with respect to substantive knowledge of property law and practical skills. The discussion also covered possible ways to meet those needs, e.g., through training, developing a bench guide and other strategies. The assessment confirmed that the legal framework governing property rights is contradictory and confusing for judges; and that the judges lack guidance on adjudicating property cases owing to a lack of a bench book providing guidance on best practices, a lack of published case law, and a lack of continuing professional training. The assessment also noted the need to change judges’ attitudes and behaviors with respect to gender-related matters. PRP is working closely with the KJI to agree and begin implementing the assessment’s recommendations, prioritizing the development of training modules on property rights, improving judges’ understanding of gender issues and the constraints women face in implementing their rights in practice, training on improved case management practices when developed, and the development of a bench book to provide guidance to judges on property rights cases.
Objective 3: Enhance Women’s Rights to Use Property in Practice
- Publication of Major Gender Assessment – On April 22, 2015, PRP presented to stakeholders the “Gender, Property, and Economic Opportunity in Kosovo” report produced by an expert consultant, Dr. Sandra Joireman. The report identified and discussed cultural attitudes and behaviors that result in women being pressured to renounce their rights to inherit property; administrative constraints that prevent women from exercising their rights in practice; and how the frustration of these rights negatively impacts economic development in Kosovo. In response to the report’s findings, the Minister of Justice created a legislative working group and publically stated his commitment to supporting development of legal safeguards to protect women from being pressured to renounce their rights to inherit property.
- Publication of a National Baseline Survey for Property Rights in Kosovo – On June 10, 2015, PRP organized an event to present empirical baseline data from the Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices (KAP) survey it conducted to facilitate discussion among relevant stakeholders about the public’s knowledge and cultural attitudes and behaviors surrounding women’s rights to inherit property. The meeting was attended by over 50 stakeholders, including representatives from local CSOs, government agencies, and donor projects. The meeting validated the findings of the KAP survey and helped inform PRP’s development of further activities to put in place legal safeguards that will afford women the opportunity to exercise their property rights on an informed and deliberate basis. Furthermore, the data were repurposed and presented as trigger messages that have been periodically posted on USAID/Kosovo’s website and social media to reach a wider audience with empirical data on citizens’ perceptions and the ability of women to exercise their property rights in practice.
- Establishment of the Gender Coordination Group – To improve coordination among government agencies and civil society organizations implementing activities that promote equality for women, PRP established the Gender Coordination Group (GCG). The first GCG meeting was held on June 2, 2015, that saw the development of its Mission Statement, Coordination Action Plan and Learning Agenda. The group has prioritized legislative changes needed to strengthen women’s ability to exercise their property rights. PRP also worked closely with the Agency for Gender Equality to develop administration instructions (AIs) creating financial incentives for joint registration of property.
- Support to Engagement for Equity Implementing Partner – Since February 2015, PRP has been providing capacity assessment and capacity building support to the USAID Engagement for Equity (E4E) implementing partner, Advocacy Training & Resource Center (ATRC), to assist ATRC to begin issuing and administering grants under the E4E mechanism. PRP provided training to ATRC on USAID grant-making procedures, systems, and planning processes throughout the entire grants cycle. Additionally, ATRC received assistance to develop RFA topics that were designed to support PRP’s program objectives related to public education, outreach, and advocacy activities to improve women’s access to property rights in practice. With PRP support, ATRC has successfully executed its first round of grant making, has set up its rapid response grant mechanism, and is preparing its second ground of grant-making. PRP is providing continued support to ATRC by recommending specific improvements to their current organizational policy manual and incorporating USAID-specific requirements in managing a Cooperative Agreement.
Objective 4: Improved Communication, Access to Information and Understanding of Property Rights
- Proposal for G2G Activity – PRP has designed a detailed proposal for government-to-government (G2G) support to select municipalities. The initiative is designed to address the problem that land records in Kosovo are often incomplete and outdated (as noted above in regards to inter-generational cases), which means that many citizens lack clear title to their land. This situation often impedes the smooth handling of inheritance matters and makes it difficult for courts to adjudicate land rights claims. These factors in turn seriously impair the development of a healthy private land market and the effective use of public land. PRP’s proposal builds upon and further develops the GIS applications developed by the EU-funded ‘Implementation and Enforcement of Rural Spatial Planning (IRuSP) project to link archived land records to parcel maps to provide information required by courts to adjudicate rights and municipal offices to improve their data sharing practices.
- Municipal Selection Process Completed – PRP designed and carried out a multi-phased and transparent selection process for identifying the municipalities most eligible to receive USAID Forward G2G assistance. The project used objective performance criteria, including the collection of performance data on Own Source Revenue; the number and type of regulations produced by the municipality to provide citizens with property-related services; the publication of audit reports and the publication of transactions involving municipal property assets as required by law. Through these and other criteria, including their participation in informational workshops held by PRP, the project evaluated proposals from the 11 top-scoring municipalities and provided its recommendations to USAID.