PRISTINA (Reuters) – Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti and cabinet ministers will accept a halving of their salaries in an attempt to demonstrate that the new government plans to tackle wage inequality.

Kurti’s predecessor, Ramush Haradinaj, doubled his salary two years ago from 1,500 euros ($1,637) to 2,950 euros, a move that drew strong criticism in a country where one third of the population is unemployed. His ministers also got big pay increases.

“I propose to undo the (previous) government decision and for salaries (of ministers) to return to where they were before,” Kurti said before the cabinet approved his decision.

Kurti had promised during last year’s election campaign to take a salary cut and push for greater wage equality if his leftist party Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) won. He reached a coalition agreement with a center-right party after lengthy talks and the new government took office on Feb. 3.

Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008 but is still not recognized by Belgrade, remains one of the poorest countries in Europe and is dogged by corruption and nepotism.

Kosovo’s statistics office said the average salary in the private sector was 401 euros in 2018, but 573 euros in the bloated public sector, where having political connections or enough money to bribe officials is required to land a job.

The International Monetary Fund has said the gap between private and public sector salaries is undermining Kosovo’s financial health and competitiveness.

Kosovo, a country of 1.8 million people, expects economic growth of around 4 percent this year but economists say this would not be enough to tackle unemployment and poverty.

Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Gareth Jones

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