With just two days left before the local elections, concern has been raised about mysterious visits to the vote counting centre by workmen claiming to work for EULEX, and questions are being asked about three tenders, crucial to the election process.
Mystery workmen, claiming to be employees of EULEX and Kosovo institutions, have twice attempted to enter the central vote counting station, raising fears of an attempt to manipulate Sunday’s local elections.
With just two days left before Kosovo’s first poll since independence, questions are also being raised about three crucial contracts for the transport of sensitive election material, the transport of Central Election Commission staff and the printing of ballots.
According to high-ranking sources, the workmen told security staff on Tuesday and Thursday that they had been asked to install a back-up internet system at the sensitive Fushe Kosove counting location.
One source told Prishtina Insight that there were concerns the men may have been trying to hack into the centre’s internal server in an attempt to monitor communications or even manipulate the vote.
On both occasions, the men were asked to hand over identification but refused.
On Tuesday, two men claiming to work for EULEX were turned away. On Thursday, six men, including four purporting to be EULEX employees and two from Kosovo ministries, again tried to enter.
The source told Prishtina Insight that some of the men arrived in an official EULEX car and showed IDs from the rule-of-law mission. When they were asked to hand over the documents so security could log the details, they refused and left.
EULEX said it had not asked its staff to carry out any IT work at the centre, and stressed that the mission was not involved in the election process.
Spokeswoman Karin Limdal said that an investigation had begun into the affair.
Concerns were also raised on Thursday about the award of three tenders, key to the election process.
The contract for transporting sensitive election material – including votes and ballot boxes – was awarded to Prishtina-based G&H, a company which is registered at Kosovo’s official business register as operating in the fields of beauty treatment and electrical repairs. The company is also registered in the name of 19-year-old student Granit Cakiqi. The firm told Prishtina Insight that despite the official list of their activities, the company had been successful in winning transporting contracts, including the votes for the 2007 election.
The transport of staff from Prishtina to the counting centre was awarded to the firm Vëllezërit Thaqi, based in Drenas. The owner, Elmi Thaci, is currently a standing candidate for the municipal assembly in Gllogovc/Glogovac for the governing Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK. Thaci confirmed he was a ‘PDK activist’ and local candidate for the party, but stressed he was not related to the Prime Minster, Hashim Thaci, and had won the tender fairly. He added: “I have all the documentation that proves that we were 100 per cent proper with the tender.”
Prishtina Insight has also discovered that one of the firms awarded the contract for printing the ballots, Partner Trade, Prizren, was not registered as a company when the tender was decided. According to official documents, the contract for printing was handed to Partner Trade and their co-bidders Cetis DD, of Slovenia, on 3 August, while the Prizren-based company was not registered as a business until 19 August.
It has also emerged that the owner of Partner Trade, Ilir Hoxha, is also a procurement officer for the public waste company EKOREGJIONI.
Hoxha said the contract for the printing of ballots was signed in September, after Partner Trade was created, and added that Cetis DD, not Partner Trade, was the lead member in the deal. He said that companies importing into Kosovo needed to register a local partner, according to procurement law. “We are only in charge of administrative work,” he said.
The opposition political party ORA held a press conference on Thursday to air its concerns about the contracts. A statement issued by the party afterwards reads:
“These are the first elections in the state of Kosovo and the conduct of these elections will have a major impact on the process that Kosovo is engaged in.
ORA said that concerns about these contracts and previous problems made the party fear for the “great possibility of misuse of the free vote of the citizens”.
The party added: “We appeal to citizens to come out in greater numbers than in the first elections in our state, because each ballot which is empty is a great opportunity for abuse.”
Opposition party the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, and government coalition partner Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, also held press conferences calling for authorities to tackle the threat of fraud in Sunday’s election.
The LDK also expressed concern about the tenders. In a statement it said: “We are greatly concerned over information uncovered this week regarding companies contracted by the Government of Kosovo and the CEC to carry out this election process. We have contacted the CEC and several foreign embassies but our concerns have largely been ignored. As such, we believe it is important to make this information public.
“We call upon the Prime Minister and the CEC to address our concerns by the end of the day tomorrow. It is imperative that these elections are run properly and within the law.”
Prishtina Insight contacted the Central Election Commission for a comment on attempts to enter the central counting centre and concerns about the tender, but did not receive a response.