author: Stojanka Mitreska
Zoran Karadakovski, former army Scorpion claims to have been played in Lepeza, program of the Macedonian Ministry of Defense, supported by the Kingdom of Norway, and that he has not received the deserved security guarding license, although he attended lectures at the barracks in Stip, where one of the three centers of Macedonian – Norwegian project for retraining military personnel is located.
Karadakovski, before the end of his military career in the Army, says that like many of his colleagues was on training under the program “Lepeza” to get a security guarding license. For the document (license) issued by the Chamber of the Republic of Macedonia which Karadakovski now has, he claims he paid from his own pocket, instead, as it was explained, the cost to be covered by the Norwegian donation. The former army scorpion asks the heads in “Lepeza” to return the money for the license he himself has paid, and the Ministry of Defense to investigate why the procedure was not obeyed in the case of Karadakovski and it was not acted upon the example of other soldiers who were paid for training for security guarding licenses, for driving licenses, foreign languages…
“I got nothing from Lepeza. I attended lectures in barracks in Stip, they promised that I would stay and work in the Army, but everything was in vain. I want to have my money back at least for taking the exam. I paid 26.000 denars for the license”, said Karadakovski, former army scorpion and now employee of the security company “Nikob” in Skopje.
“Lepeza” is a program of the Ministry of Defense (MoD) to retrain military personnel, financially and professionally supported by the Kingdom of Norway. For eight years, with Norwegian assistance and support, since the time the defense sector was run by Laze Elenovski, MoD has been implementing transition of members of the Army of the Republic of Macedonia, who after the expiry of contracts were forced to leave the army, and to begin a new career as civilians. The training was conducted at three centers in Macedonia – Skopje, Stip and Kicevo.
Soldier Karadakovski claims he was on training at the time when “Lepeza” was presented to the public as a project with which Ministry of Defense shows full care for soldiers who at the age of 35 were forced to leave the service in the Army. Later changes were made to the Law on Military Service and the soldiers were allowed to remain in service until the age of 38, and since 2012 the age limit for professional military personnel has been 45. Karadakovski, after all achieved success in athletics discipline, after all brought cups from games where he participated as a representative of the Army, left office at the age of 35, a week before the amendments in the Law on Military Service were made, which prolonged the limit for soldiers to the age of 38. In the last few months before the expiry of the contract, the soldier repeatedly received assurances from the NCOs and as he says, false hopes of remaining at work, that his contract would be extended, that they would not forget what Karadakovski had done for ARM:
“I have a CBRN certificate, for which it was promised to me that I would get the rank of sergeant, but they lied. I competed in athletics (running) and represented the Army in many competitions, I have received diplomas, trophies, medals which remained in the barracks to testify what I have done for the Army”, said Karadakovski to whom NCOs failed to pay the license he is entitled because of his decision to return to civilian life through “Lepeza”.
However, this former soldier says he experienced the biggest disappointment, except in “Lepeza”, when he was unable to participate in a major sporting challenge abroad, for which he had been preparing very devoted:
“I was preparing to go to a marathon abroad of 21 km and 42 km representing the Army. But in the medical examinations they allegedly found I had a tumor, and then after a month I was dismissed with the excuse that I was 35. Later no medical examination confirmed the diagnosis they told me. And not only that, I had 15 days off and an annual leave and if they had wanted to give me at least a week of the days off I would have been returned to work, as after a week I had been dismissed they passed the amendments to the Law on Military Service to stay at work by the age of 38.
I was dismissed literally on the last day of the expiry of the contract. It had never happened to anyone, although three months before that we submitted a request for extension of the contract”, recalls Karadakovski and with bitterness talks about injustice in the workplace which he witnessed, since he had been doing office work for long, under the command of the Second battalion:
“Secret things were done. Colleagues who were discharged from Army and had no desks ranks, were returned overnight, were given ranks sergeants and were employed in the border police. The Ministry of Interior has a lot more fair relation towards employees, compared with ARM and therefore I would like to work in the police”, says Karadakovski who even after leaving the Army was forced to seek justice through litigation:
“I was neither paid for my days off, nor the holiday, so I had to sue them to get at least my annual leave paid. Because of the way they treated me, I would like to forget that period. But I cannot bear injustice”, adds Karadakovski hoping that perhaps “Lepeza” will correct the injustice done.
According to the Ministry of Defense, at the time professional soldier Zoran Karadakovski e submitted the request to be part of “Lepeza”, Royal Norwegian Embassy in the Republic of Macedonia was closed so the final text and cooperation agreement were adjusted in the second half of 2013, and the agreement was signed in January 2014 under the former defense Minister Talat Xhaferi.
This is the full answer of the Ministry of Defense:
“Employment of the former professional soldier Zoran Karadakovski was terminated on day 06.06.2007, and he submitted a request for inclusion in the Program LEPEZA on 17.09.2012, i.e. five years and three months after termination of service in the Army.
At the end of 2007 all former professional soldiers, including Zoran Karadakovski, were informed about opportunities for involvement in the program LEPEZA, and the program included 17 former professional soldiers. Since incorporation in the program is a right and personal commitment of each individual, Karadakovski then decided not to get involved in the program.
Zoran Karadakovski, after more than 5 years, i.e. on 17.09.2012 submitted a request for inclusion in the program. A Commission of the Ministry of Defense reviewed and approved his request for training, to obtain a security guarding license, in accordance with Article 46 of the Law on Amendments to the Law on Military Service of 24.02.2011.
Due to the closure of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in the Republic of Macedonia the final text and Cooperation Agreement with the Kingdom of Norway, which provided funding for the implementation of activities, were aligned in the second half of 2013, while the agreement was signed in January 2014.
With the amendments to the Law on Military Service from 06.02.2014, to former professional soldiers, whose employment was terminated for being over the age of 35 or 38 and who were unemployed on 31.12.2013, the Government of RM provides employment in state institutions. Since Zoran Karadakovski according to data from the Employment Agency of the Republic of Macedonia had no status of an unemployed person on 31.12.2013, there was no legal possibility for his employment in a state institution under the provisions of the said law. Since the essence of the program LEPEZA is providing help and support for employment in civilian structures, and in the meantime Karadakovski is already employed, there is no legal possibility for him to further use the program LEPEZA”.
“Lepeza” is a good story, but I am still going abroad
About “Lepeza”, in light of the experience of laid off engineers, professionals with experience in peacekeeping missions (especially in Afghanistan), soldiers who worked in logistics, communications, contradictory comments can be heard:
“Lepeza” taught me how to think about business, how to make money, not just wait for salary. For a long time, mentally I have been preparing myself for my future career, because I was aware that after the expiration of the contract I will have leave ARM, although I am still young and I can work. “Lepeza” was a nice experience, but now when we need to make concrete steps, it is slow and hard. I will start a private business, but I do not know where I will get given the situation in the country. I might go abroad for a better life”, said one of the Lepeza trainees.
“Plan your future, instead of trying to change the past”, with this motto, placed under the title of the manual on transition “Choose a second career”, intended for staff in transition, “Lepeza”, following the example of foreign experience, is trying to put military personnel in a new professional life. However, some of the soldiers, faced with bitter experiences themselves decide to choose their professional way.
Zoran Angelovski, former soldier in the Army VING says Lepeza is a money laundry – invented for NCOs and officers to get a job. Angelovski, as recalling, after being assured that “Lepeza” is bait for wasting time in the institution to which he had served more than 10 years, obtained a Bulgarian passport and decided to use his driving license in search of a better life beyond Macedonia. As a truck driver, Angelovski now lives and works in Düsseldorf with his family.
Professional soldiers we talked to, and who through the project have sealed their military career, agree on one thing – that “Lepeza” is a well prepared story that military personnel in preparation for civilian life is sent with a message that the state is not a stepmother, but a fatherland that cares for its troops and will not leave them on the street. They say that the project is necessary and useful, but have objections to its implementation.
The action “Army Weapons” sabotage to “Lepeza”
The project “Lepeza” is a planned and implemented element of the subsystem of defense called Human Resource Management. In the phase of transformation of the Army, as part of the human resources segment, it was judged that the age structure and the number of members of the armed forces do not correspond with the planned and necessary, according to NATO Partnership Goals. In order to help the military personnel for easy adjusting to civilian life, and taking the American model as basis, in 2005 “Lepeza” was proposed, and in 2006 the project began to be implemented, as part of the plan of the Ministry of Defense. It was imagined the financial structure of the project to be part of the budget of the Ministry of Defense, and part of donors (domestic and foreign). The opening of the center of “Lepeza” in Skopje took place on December 14, 2006, at noon in the barracks Goce Delchev in the municipality Aerodrom in front of the entire officer corps of General Staff and the key personnel from the Ministry of Defense.
“That day in the afternoon Ministry of Interior conducted a series of arrests of officers and civil servants in the action “Army weapons” that sabotaged the project “Lepeza”. Further existence of Lepeza in the new conditions with a decision by Laze Elenovski as Minister of Defense received a criminogenic role without a debate and discussion of the purpose of Lepeza, NSOs corps lost faith in the sincerity of the projects in which professional soldiers were included as part of program”, says Major Goran Sofeski, who is waiting for a call from “Lepeza” given that the beginning of his civilian career is just in a few months.
“I do not know why, but I still have no call from “Lepeza”. Normally, the staff in transition is contacted a few months before the retirement date”, wonders Sofeski.
Professional soldiers, as Sofeski says, are a resource for defense that is not subject to the normative part of “Lepeza” at that stage, because in their contracts regarding the employer’s obligations there is no item on MoD care after the contract expires.
“In the new situation especially after 2008, when it became clear that Macedonia will not be part of NATO, instead of abolishing “Lepeza” or reassessing its expediency, it was decided to become a part of the sector for human resources management as a department and the center in Stip and Kicevo to get one adviser. Duality in the clarity of the project even today creates realistic grounds of abuse of staff of MoD who has managerial position. So today in MoD classification the project “Lepeza” is no longer a project but a transition department which has transition centers, something that is outside of the defined and usual way of describing the elements of the defense system”, says Major Sofeski.
Schematic presentation of classification in the HR Department
To our question whether in the Cooperation Agreement it is provided in the process of return of the military personnel to civilian life to include professional soldiers, Ministry of Defense points out that on this basis, 225 former professional soldiers have used the benefits provided through the program LEPEZA (professional orientation for a second career, vocational training for civilian careers and help and support for employment).
“With the self-employment program (grant of 3,500 Euros), the employment program with a known employer, the employment training program of the Operational Plan for Employment of the Government of RM, implemented through the Employment Agency, a number of professional soldiers continued with a second career after termination of service in the Army”, it is said in the response by the Ministry of Defense.
Major Sofeski disputes that in the budget from 2009 to 2014 “Lepeza” is not mentioned in any manner despite the fact that it is a segment which in order to work should have its own account.
On the one hand “Lepeza” has no singularity in the system of the Ministry of Defense, on the other hand, it has its part in the Defense development plan (2011-2020) 188.8.131.52.5 .:
“In the next three years “Lepeza” will continue to develop and improve in order to provide more support to military personnel returning to civilian life”. (Source: Long-term defense development plan 2011-2020).
It is important to point out that the scope of “Lepeza” with the long-term plan gets expansion from the initial idea because under the Law on Office of the ARM (Official Gazette of RM No.77/12) military personnel include:
- Military personnel in terms of this Law, is:
а) active military personnel
– a military officer and NCO and
– a professional soldier;
- b) military personnel on training
– a soldier in voluntary military service,
– a person on professional training and development for officer or NCO and
-a cadet at the Military Academy and
- c) active reserve personnel
– a person from reserve Army set on duty in accordance with the Army formation act.
- Civilian personnel in terms of this Act, is:
– a civilian set to duty in accordance with the Army formation act.
“Or if we wanted to be malicious we would say that soldiers serving three months military service should be subject to the project “Lepeza” which is beyond any logic and common sense”, comments the Major before retirement.
What does MoD say?: Training for 421 persons, the budget “Top Secret”
A total of 421 persons (former members of ARM – officers, non-commissioned officers and professional soldiers who have met the legal requirements) have used the favorable conditions provided by the Ministry of Defense. As highlighted in the relevant ministry, this figure includes those in the previous period of operation of “Lepeza”. That means by the end of 2006, when the practical realization of the “Lepeza” starts, adopted in 2005 as part of the Strategy for human resources management in the Ministry of Defence.
Although it is not about information that would be under protection of “confidential” or a classified document, the Ministry of Defense did not respond to our question about the budget or how much money has been received so far as a donation from the Norwegian project “Lepeza”.
Otherwise, this program, as MoD informs, offers professional soldiers a wide range of possible training for civilian careers:
“A total of 225 soldiers attended vocational training for civilian careers. The greatest interest among professional soldiers was for training in the area of transport profession (professional drivers of transport vehicles and buses, getting a certificate in international transport), training for obtaining a security guarding licenses, trades training, IT training, foreign languages, and training for starting and running their own business. Former professional soldiers were able to use the offered training through the Employment Agency of RM, as well as measures for employment and self-employment”.
MoD emphasizes that professional soldiers have exceptional work and moral qualities, and a wide range of knowledge, skills and abilities that are transferable to civilian structures.
“We indicate that the main objective of the program “LEPEZA” is preparing and providing quality assistance and support of the people for the transition (officers, noncommissioned officers, professional soldiers and civilian personnel serving in the Army) who terminate service in the Army, to return to civilian life, providing a high level of general and specific knowledge, skills and qualifications, as well as assistance and support for employment in the civilian sector, i.e. starting a second career in the civilian structures”, they explain in MoD with details that from 2006 to 2009 the main objective of the program “Lepeza” was to support transformation of the Army and the process of reduction of military personnel. In that period, the program operated on the principles of program-project, which resulted in a number of projects and was funded by the Kingdom of Norway.
“A separate organizational structure of the Department of Human Resources of the Ministry of Defense has been established, comprising three transition centers (in Skopje, Stip and Kicevo). Through multiple types of training staff is qualified to perform the duties of the preparation process for the return to civilian life”, they say in MoD.
With the Law on Military Service of 2010, preparation to return to civilian life has become a permanent feature of human resources management at the Ministry of Defense and ARM. The Law on Military Service defines the set for return to civilian life, which includes: counseling to deal with the changes and the selection of a second career in the civilian structures, professional training for civilian careers and counseling and support for the use of the programs and projects of the Government of RM about employment or self-employment.
To our question about the certainty of the project or its eventual withdrawal, MoD says that the project continues to be “a great opportunity to prepare for return to civilian life of officers, NCOs and civilian personnel who terminate service in ARM due to structural reforms or loss of health and physical capability”.
(The story was is supported within the NED project “Raising Awareness about Corruption through Investigative Reporting”)