Board ask for 4.4 mill Euros, on contrary RTK risks collapsing
Visible improvements have been made in the programmatic content of Radio Television of Kosovo during this year, but at the same time, with the current allocated budget for 2023, which is 8.9 million euros, the Public Broadcaster cannot survive.
The RTK Board and management reported to the Committee for Public Administration, Local Government, Media, and Regional Development clarifying that with the lowest budget of the public media in the region, with outdated technology and no investment in it for almost ten years and with 1.6 million euros of inherited debts, RTK will not only find it difficult to bring quality to the program but seriously risks collapsing.
Besnik Boletini, chairman of the RTK Board, presenting the latest situation in the Public Broadcaster, and justifying the request for additional budget, brought to attention that the needs are not only for large investments but also for basic ones.
"Over 80% of the staff do not have technological equipment, including computers. With savings, we bought 40 computers. We need computers that have specific technological performances, but there is no budget for their purchase", said Boletini, listing other needs.
"Investments in servers are needed and the importance of investments in them is very great".
While talking about the financial aspect, he said that it is very disturbing that RTK has inherited 1.6 million euros in debt, and from time to time, bailiffs appear.
"If this money is taken from us next year, RTK is bankrupt", said Boletini, while recalling the efforts that are being made to find ways to pay the financial obligations under these conditions. "We have started to pay some debts like with Telekom, by giving them marketing space".
However, the chairman of the RTK Board recalled that with this current budget projection, it is impossible to pay other debts or make investments.
While presenting the internal reforms, he said that the first steps have been taken for such a necessary process.
"A Working Group has been created to draft reports that will be submitted to the Board. The EBU has joined to assist," he said. "We do not prejudge whether there will be layoffs or not, but the idea is that there should be a new organizational chart and adequate people at work."
According to him, a new momentum has been created for the development of RTK. "But with the current budget, it is very difficult to operate", recalled Boletini.
While recalling that on Thursday, together with the chairman of the Board, Besnik Boletini, he will be at the annual Assembly of the European Public Broadcasting Union (EBU), the General Director of RTK, Shkumbin Ahmetxhekaj stated that one of the points of the discussion there will be the obligation for a budget increase for the Public Broadcasters.
Ahmetxhekaj recalled that ensuring big sports competitions, but also quality programs, has high costs.
"Buying sports rights, movies, programs, series, is very expensive," he said. "With 8.9 million euros, this cannot be done."
For these and many other reasons, such as technological investments, Ahmetxhekaj said that it is very important to review the budget for RTK and to allocate as much as has been requested.
He recalled another fact. "Not all debtors are understanding like this year and maybe next year they will take us to the bailiff and if this happens, then with 8.9 million euros, RTK will go bankrupt", said RTK's General Director.
As he recalled that now RTK has 25% less staff than in 2021, and this is not because of his desire to fire people but because the Auditor General found that their contracts were illegal, Ahmetxhekaj stated that from the savings in salary, the value of which was around 700 thousand euros, a more normal working space has been created for journalists.
At the same time, he said that other technology investments have been made, including the regulation and strengthening of Radio Kosovo's signal. However, he admitted that with this budget, RTK has failed to fulfill one point of the Law.
"We have failed to have external programs because there is no budget. We have not been able to announce public tenders for external programs", he clarified, expressing the belief that this Commission will examine RTK's request for more budget.
"I hope you will consider our submitted requests. According to the Law on RTK, 0.7% of Kosovo's budget must be allocated to RTK until the funding issue is resolved".
Driton Hetemi, a member of the Board of RTK, presented to the Parliamentary Commission three alternatives for overcoming the difficult financial situation in RTK.
He said that RTK's needs are real and have been summarized in the draft budget. After recalling that according to the Law on RTK, Article 21 point 4, there was a transitional period until 2015, to find a solution for financing the Public Broadcaster and that this has not happened for many reasons, Hetemi specified that the next point of this the law, which do not exclude each other, is that this must continue "until funding is provided for RTK"
"We consider the year 2023 to be transitory so that the prepayment will start in 2024", said Hetemi.
Speaking about the three options, he said that RTK's real need for a budget is about 16 million euros. The second option is an additional budget of 4.4 million euros, which will be used, into 1.8 million euros in investments in technological equipment, then servers, signals, archives, etc.
"Of these, 1.22 million euros would be used for external productions, for the enrichment of the RTK program, as a prerequisite for the start of prepayment by citizens, because it would increase viewership, reliability, and quality," said Hetemi, a member of Board of RTK.
"With the current situation with a budget of 8.9 million euros, we can only pay the salaries and there are about 500 thousand euros left for expenses for water, electricity, etc."
Speaking about the lack of investment for a long time, Fatime Lumi-Qehaja, a member of the RTK Board, mentioned the servers as one of the technological pillars of the Public Broadcaster.
"Since 2013, no investments have been made. This is very vital because all the work of RTK over the years is at risk", said Lumi-Qehaja. "Then the investments in scenography are missing, we have discussions on the issue of property".
Lumi-Qehaja recalled that it is not possible to achieve the prepayment for RTK before citizens are offered a good program. "We are looking for more support for 2023, in preparation for prepayment for 2024".
RTK Board member said that during this year, RTK has done its best for improvements.
"In the program scheme, we have seen many investments for the quality of the program, to be produced by RTK itself. But with this budget it is impossible".
She even said that even with an increase of 4.4 million euros, it is very difficult to achieve higher program quality.
Meanwhile, Alban Fetahu, head of Common Services at RTK, after clarifying that he is in charge of the Legal Office and financial management at RTK, said that he is undertaking legal actions in defense of the Public Broadcaster.
"We are conducting an internal financial control of RTK, which deals specifically with controlling expenses in RTK", said Fetahu. "To transform RTK, support through the budget is necessary", he said.
Giving additional clarifications, the chairman of the RTK Board, Besnik Boletini, recalled that the termination of service contracts for 239 people, would not cover the costs of debts that need to be covered.
"Their removal has been a challenge because most of them have produced programs. But resettlement has been done and their places have been covered with internal staff", said Boletini, according to whom, it has been a great effort for RTK.
"But we managed pretty well because it was a big and fast change."
He reminded the members of the Parliamentary Committee that the first option is the real one, i.e. for RTK to have a budget of 0.7% of Kosovo's budget.
"But we have also created a second option with 4.4 million euros, without which we cannot function", he said.
"If there is no way for the first option to happen, with the second option at least RTK would work", he said while recalling that the Public Broadcaster has debts dating back to 2012. "With this budget, it is impossible to pay them off".
Driton Hetemi, giving additional clarifications before the Parliamentary Committee, said that the Board's request for a budget of 16 million euros was first submitted to the Committee for Budgets and Transfers of the Assembly of Kosovo.
"With the allocated budget of 8.9 million euros, RTK cannot even exist. And with the option plus 4.4 million euros, RTK would only survive", he said.
Explaining why RTK cannot be compared to private media, Hetemi said that the Public Broadcaster has four television channels, one entirely in the Serbian language, two radio stations, and a website.
And when he spoke about the income from marketing, he said that all the savings, as well as the income from marketing, cannot cover the difficult situation with a budget of 8.9 million euros.
While speaking briefly about the work done, the General Director of RTK Shkumbin Ahmetxhekaj, stated that after the termination of service contracts for 239 employees, the staff has been reorganized, but new programs have also been created.
"But we have not managed to have programs from abroad", he said. According to Ahmetxhekaj, if there were 239 people with service contracts, there would be no salaries even for those with regular contracts.
"In addition, we would be without the broadcast of the Kosovo national football team, without the rights to broadcast the World Championship in football, without the rights to materials from the war in Ukraine, etc."
Committee member, MP Mergim Lushtaku said that he agrees that with the current budget, RTK cannot be competitive in the media market.
But he asked for clarifications on how to get out of this situation, if journalists are being paid for overtime hours of work and if there is monitoring, and how effective they are.
"How can an Acting Editor-in-Chief monitor these overtime hours? I have information that some of the workers come in and out and walk home. And this is worrying for those who work", said Lushtaku.
MP Njazi Isaku stated that the demands of the Board and management of RTK are real and that they have made the change for planning according to where they want to take RTK.
"The financial truncation is unfair. I think that with this portion of 4.4 million euros, it should be continued as an immediate request", he said.
According to him, RTK has not been in the best form with the program. "This will surely improve year after year. Therefore, this request should be supported".
MP Isak Shabani, a member of the Parliamentary Committee, stated that the RTK Board's request derives from the RTK operation plan. He asked to know if there was any communication or debate with the Government or the Budget Committee because as he said, there is a big difference between the allocated budget and the request.
"Didn't you have support or why?", MP Shabani asked.
On the other hand, MP Besim Muzaqi stated that he understood the requests of the Board and management of RTK more as a general complaint than as a request for concrete projects.
He said that he would like a concrete project so that the management of the RTK Board has an idea of how to make RTK independent as soon as possible so that it does not remain a burden on the budget of Kosovo.
"If you had a specific project, or feasibility study, or similar, that would enable RTK to get out of this phase. But demands for budget increase did not convince me much", he said.
For his part, MP Fitim Haziri asked to know the planned budget for RTK's profit from marketing and how much was earned by RTK in 2022, including the target for 2024.
Addressing questions to the RTK Board and management, MP Arbreshë Kryeziu asked to know if, based on the budget planning for next year, it has been planned what methods will be used to have their revenues.
"Getting funds from RTK production, productions, marketing, or other ways to increase your budget, without the need for additional budget increase requests", she said.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee, Valon Ramadani, asked to know if it is foreseen that all the debt will be paid and how much of this debt RTK has is to public institutions, and how much to private ones.
Answering these questions, in turn, the chairman of the Board of RTK, Besnik Boletini stated that 0.7% of Kosovo's budget for RTK is 16 million euros.
He said that they have received a positive signal for the definition of the property, while all additional hours are paid, except for those on the weekend, which are used as compensation for rest days during the week for RTK employees.
Boletini stated that absenteeism is being eliminated and now there is a correct record of employees.
"The concern about entering and exiting without working is the second phase we are working on, so that all workers must send a report for six months, to show what they have done," he said.
According to Boletni, there will be a rigorous assessment of everyone's work and the RTK Board will engage in any verification method.
"Those who do not work, will not receive salaries in vain at RTK".
Boletini stated that the Board has sent detailed requests to the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Assembly, and the Ministry of Finance in detail for additional funds.
Regarding the prepayment, he said that there is a draft being worked on for the four proposals on how to make the prepayment, such as through electricity bills, salary tax, etc.
"The prepayment is for 2024, if we get stuck in 2023, it will be a problem to request the prepayment", said the chairman of the RTK Board, adding that the marketing income for 2022 was about 550 thousand euros.
"We have foreseen revenues from marketing and we have also foreseen other revenues from social networks. We are at the end of verifying the site because over the years it has been closed several times due to copyright, but we are close to verifying the RTK webpages".
RTK Board member, Driton Hetemi, clarified that all planned investments in RTK are mobile investments.
"Because we cannot plan investments in the facility because we do not know if it will be our final facility," he said. "Investments are in things that move like studios, lights, etc."
He said that the immediate budget predicts where the money will go. "Debt repayment of 1.6 million euros, then 1 million for external productions, and the others are the extension of the signal throughout the country, then technological investments, etc."
He recalled that with this year's savings, it was invested in technology to extend the signal of RTK1 and RTK2 also in the north of Kosovo, which was not the case before.
"Income from marketing will be better now because of the World Championship, compared to previous quarters."
The General Director, Shkumbin Ahmetxhekaj, said that he expects the Assembly of Kosovo to approve the budget for the RTK in the amount of 0.7% of the budget of Kosovo, and this is the reason why they are in front of the Committee.
"The Assembly is the founder of RTK. I hope that the MPs will take into account the situation of RTK", he said. "In the investment project, we have specified all the investments".
As for the work of employees at RTK, Ahmetxhekaj said that as of December 1, the performance evaluation for each employee will officially begin", adding that "there will be no vain evaluations, but they will be real ".
Speaking about the financial revenues, he said that he hopes that with better quality programs, it will be possible to earn more from monetization.
"We have predictions that as of next year, we will have 1 million euros in revenues from social networks. But if we have an even better-quality program, then the revenues should be higher as well".
For her part, the member of the RTK Board, Fatime Lumi-Qehaja, suggested that the meetings of the RTK Board and management with the Parliamentary Committee, be moved from every three months, as it is now, to twice a year.
It was said that such a request will be documented, although the chairman of the Committee for Public Administration, Local Government, Media, and Regional Development, stated that he does not see it as a problem to be reported every three months.