2016 Activities

The Coalition for Integrity and Accountability-AMAN 12th Annual Conference: Integrity and Combating Corruption 2015-Report

The Coalition for Integrity and Accountability-AMAN 12th Annual Conference: Integrity and Combating Corruption 2015-Report

Under the title “Integrity Demands Justice in the Distribution of Resources and Burdens” AMAN launched its 12th annual report on “Integrity and Combating Corruption 2015”, on Tuesday, April 26, 2016. The event was attended by the Head of the Palestinian High Judicial Council, Head of the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Attorney General, and members from the Palestinian Liberation Executive Committee and Fateh Central Committee, in addition to a number of anti-corruption activists, heads of public and civil society institutions, and a large number of journalists and other representatives from various media institutions.
Report findings indicated a slight progress in terms of integrity and combating corruption in some institutions of the Palestinian National Integrity System. This progress was attributed to anti-corruption efforts, which turn enhanced citizens’ trust in procedures and measures taken in this regard; notably those related to raising public awareness on corruption, its forms, underlying reasons, and methods of combating it. Some of these areas of improvement were noted in: applying the Palestinian complaint system, activating websites, as well as automating procedures and transactions in some ministries and other public institutions, hence paving the way for e-government and reducing opportunities for corruption. In addition, the Anti-Corruption Commission showed tangible progress by approving a National Strategy for Combating Corruption for 2015-2018.
However, the general trend revealed by studies conducted by AMAN, as well as opinion polls carried out by local and international institutions did not reveal a serious development in promoting integrity and combating corruption in Palestine. I addition, there was a clear decline concerning freedoms of assembly and association in 2015.
In his opening statement, Mr. Abd-Elqader Al-Husseini said that, in 2015, at the internal level Palestinians were very active in their persistence to overcome problems hindering their lives. This was apparent whether by holding national dialogue sessions, which aimed at achieving reconciliation hence ending the internal division or by the broad popular efforts calling for an end to the Israeli occupation through exposing their oppressive practices. Moreover, 2015 also witnessed an active civil movement calling for social justice, where Husseini pointed to the Palestinian suffering caused by Israeli occupation practices, epitomized by settlement expansion and daily abuse and oppression of the Palestinian people.
However, in order to overcome the above-mentioned obstacles and achieve self-determination, Al-Husseini said that Palestinians, people and leadership, know that earning credibility is basic. This has to be illustrated through a democratic system symbolized by a clear separation between the three authorities, executive, legislative, and judicial. In addition, credibility is earned through good performance and good governance in all Palestinian institutions, strong monitoring and control institutions, practicing all accountability methods, granting opportunities for elections, and zero intolerance for violating laws. Etc. Equally important are relationships, cooperation and coordination between the various institutions, especially government institutions and officials and citizens.  It is also important for Palestinian parties to learn to criticize oneself before criticizing the other, in order to achieve a healthy society all around.    
Al-Husseini concluded his statement by saying we must keep searching for creative ways to ensure that the people’s voice is heard and remains influential in the decision-making arena in light of the dysfunction of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Combating Corruption…efforts to join forces and the purpose is one

Mr. Rafiq Natsheh, Head of the Anti-Corruption Commission emphasized the importance of the conference and the need to abide by its recommendations as well as to take its results seriously.  He said that it is necessary to do so if we are to illuminate corruption among our people who do not deserve to have such evil amongst them. He added that establishing the foundations of independence and freedom is not feasible except through sincere and clear cooperation between all Palestinian institutions, formal and civil.
In his statement, Mr. Natsheh emphasized the importance of ensuring the independence of the Anti-Corruption Commission; adding that the Commission recently suffered attempts of what he described as “destructive”.  He said it is critical that this institution remain independent, hence maintain the distinctive status it was granted upon its establishment in order to do its job objectively and professionally. Mr. Natsheh concluded his statement by calling for joint actions and efforts of all competence to achieve the objective set by the Commission in it its strategy; a Palestinian society free of corruption, which stems from the Commission’s belief in the merit of the Palestinian People and their eligibility to achieve this goal.
For his part, Mr. Hans Jacob Friedland, Head of the Norwegian Representative Office to the Palestinian National Authority, expressed his admiration for AMAN’s work and efforts during the recent period. He pointed out that these efforts constitute an attempt to fill the void brought about by the absence of the Palestinian Legislative Council for years.
In relation to government policies, Mr. Friedland said that the National Authority has various mechanisms that are designed to detect, prevent, and tackle corruption. In addition, he said that it is important to have control over the regulatory efforts by the Public Comptroller/auditor and the Anti-Corruption Commission in the absence of the Legislative Council.  
Mr. Friedland pointed out that AMAN could have encountered many difficulties relating to the continuation of funding had not been for Palestinian civil society filling the gap in a vital and professional way; a gap that will not disappear without having an effective legislative council, achieving an internal national reconciliation, and holding free elections. He finalized his statement by stressing that the governments of Norway, Netherlands, and Luxemburg are committed to stand by these efforts in order to achieve a common goal of developing good governance and establishing a free and transparent Palestinian State.

Challenges in public procurement

Despite efforts by the General Personnel Council in preparing and adopting terms of references for the average public employee, terms of references for the higher category (High-ranking positions) in the public sector were not finalized as of the end of 2015. This is in addition to the continued absence of written and adopted procedures concerning appointments, and promotions of many heads of non-ministerial institutions. Also absent are measures for defining salaries and financial rights and privileges.  Furthermore, fraudulent behavior continued to be practiced by some officials through “experts” contracts, hence putting the interest of the individual above public’s interest and public fund.  According to data issued by the General Personnel Council, the number of new and renewed contracts reached a 1,610 contract in 2015, and costing 65 million Shekels a year, noting that these salaries are included under the salary and wage item in the public budget.

Setback in transparency of information relating to the 2015 public budget and its approval

Decline in transparency of the public budget persisted in 2015. In addition, the Ministry of Finance did not prepare nor publish the Citizens’ Budget.  According to criteria set by the International Budget Partnership IBP, basic documents that must be published by the government, and were not in the Palestinian case are:  the public budget statement; public budget proposal, citizen’s budget, and the approved budget.  This of course has a huge negative impact on transparency of the public budget in Palestine in comparison with other countries in the world, even those who have a low level of transparency.

Tenders and public procurement … Who is responsible for hindering activation of The Public Procurement Law?

In 2015, struggle over power was very apparent between the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Public Works. In addition, the slowdown in the administrative and financial preparation was an additional hindrance in the activation of the Public Procurement Law, hence retaining the “exceptions” policy and expanding direct purchase decisions, which paved the way for opportunities for career gains.

Gaps in compliance of the legal environment in Palestine with the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC)

Despite the fact that Palestine signed the UNCAC in 2014, lack of transparency remains to be prevalent. For example, the covenant was not published, not even n the Palestinian Chronicle. This reflects lack of seriousness in applying its provisions, hence leaving the door open for impunity for the corrupt. In addition to that, many issues emerged in the legal sphere that are contrary to the signed agreement such as: the issuing of the Law by Decree for approval of the public budget without any community consultations, hence weakening transparency in the management of public funds; lack of adopting the right to access to information legislation; issuing of a number of legislations which affected negatively the National Integrity System; many members of parliament assuming positions as heads of companies in the private sector or as ambassadors within the framework of executive authorities. This is a flagrant violation of the Rights and Duties of Members of Parliament Law, and the internal by-laws of the PLC; noting that both of these documents include provisions that prohibit a member of parliament from assuming any executive position, with the exception of the minister.

Dispersion in the authority of the consumable fuel sector continued, which weakened the control and accountability process in this sector

Management of the petroleum and gas sector continued to be unregulated during 2015. In this regard, the General Petroleum Commission, until today, is managing the trade of consumable fuels (gasoline, diesel, gas, kerosene, and oils) without a regulating law. This is in addition to results of Palestinian opinion polls concerning corruption and methods of combating it that continue to reflect negative perceptions. Moreover, opinion polls’ results reveal that the prevalence of corruption poses one of the most important problems that need to be addressed along with unemployment, poverty, Israeli occupation and colonies on Palestinian land.

Most prominent forms of corruption in 2015

The types or forms of corruption which emerged in 2015 varied.  they ranged from assuming high-ranking positions based on personal relationships rather than qualifications and professionalism to economic crimes concerning spoiled food and medicine. The latter was to noted to have increased continuously due to inefficiency in filing, as well as lack of effectiveness of penalties. In addition, there was an increase in wasta, favoritism, bribery, and nepotism crimes to obtain travel and check points-crossing permits or for treatment abroad due to the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip and limited opportunities. Other forms of crimes included abuse of fiduciary trust and exploitation of public position, and embezzlement. The abovementioned were the issues most addressed by Persecution in 2015, where it referred 39 cases to the Anti-Corruption Prosecution, 36 (92%) of which were related to the public sector and local government units, and 3 (4%) cases were related to civil society .  
AMAN, through its report, called on the Palestinian government and other related parties to adopt a national and comprehensive anti-corruption strategic plan to enhance integrity and combat corruption in Palestine.  AMAN suggested that the plan be built on participatory principles, agreed upon and adopted nationally.  It also included in its suggestion that the plan should include a follow-up and evaluation mechanism, in order to measure the extent of commitment to the implementation of the plan. AMAN also called on the President to activate the legislative council so that it can carry its monitoring and control role, in addition to accelerating renewal of the legitimacy of Palestinian institutions by holding legislative and presidential elections. The report also provided several recommendations, most important of which are:

  • Regulate the energy, communications, and concessions grants’ sectors so as to enhance governance in management of these sectors. This would leave adoption of policies and establishment of technical regulating bodies to the State. Also it is important to allow the private sector to compete in the area of distribution and to safeguard the rights of the state to protect natural resources where benefits will be returned to the Palestinian people.
  • Establish a united framework for government public companies; define their references, oblige them to abide by the principles of transparency and provisions of the corporate governance document. This can be achieved by preparing a draft law specifically for these companies, which will determine the general principles for government involvement in economic development and management of basic service sectors; to put in place a united administrative and financial system to be followed by these companies.
  • Complete legislations for governing the work of private financial funds and strengthen accountability mechanisms; ensuring the acceleration of issuing a special law to govern the work of the Palestinian Investment Fund and other financial funds with the aim of uniting their legal reference.   
  • Activate government policies in combating spoiled food and medicine crimes such as establishing a body, knowledgeable in the field of food and medicine, to be under the responsibility of the Health Minister. Also to ensure training of employees and staff of the mentioned body in order for them to carry out their task efficiently and professionally. In addition, to ensure independence and effectiveness of the Anti-economic Crimes Prosecution, as well as develop executive rules for the Consumer Protection Law to tighten pre-deterrence for those involved, such as withdrawal of their licenses and to include their names on black lists.  
  • Rationalize public expenditures by limiting senior posts and defining salary ceilings for these positions; reducing excessive salaries and privileges of the upper groups (high-ranking officials); prohibiting double employment for public employees in order to provide job opportunities for new graduates, and finally to contain the number of employees who are not within the administrative government structure by settling their cases in accordance with the law.
  • Addressing the issue of net lending by adopting a strict and transparent policy concerning reduction of the net lending item; and to limit bleeding the Palestinian Authority’s budget through this item; along with demanding that the Ministry of Finance stop dealing with the Israeli side through this mechanism called “net lending”. In addition to abiding by the legal and institutional frameworks regulating the electricity sector; to reach an understanding between parties related to the electricity issue in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip ensuring the continuous flow of electricity to the Gaza Strip; and to reduce financial burdens beard by the public budget. 
  • Review the public expenditure structure with the aim of rationalizing expenses of the security sector, President’s office, and embassies abroad; this has to be coupled with ensuring that the security service officers  in charge of spending abide by provisions of the Public Procurement Tenders and Supplies Law in regard to purchasing food and capital goods.  In addition a periodic inventory of capital assets and the adherence to using forms and documents approved by the Ministry of Finance for the purpose of monitoring and follow-up is a must. 
  • Regulate the civil service sector through the issuance of a special system by the Council of Ministers that determines grades, salaries, and bonuses for heads of non-ministerial public institutions; include in the legal framework of the local government units stipulations that define levels of salaries and wages, as well as the general average, same as the civil and military service sectors, judges, and diplomatic corps. Beginning with putting an end to the phenomenon of employees who earn salaries from the PA treasury, and ending with putting a stop to recruiting staff on temporary contracts and or as consultants and experts through the exception policies followed.
  • Enhance the integrity and transparency of recruitment in high-ranking posts by forming a national committee to be in-charge of overseeing the recruitment process for these posts. Also prepare a term of dereference that defines conditions and criteria for assuming these posts including appointment procedures. Also commit to the principle of fair competition and equal opportunity stipulated in the Palestinian Basic Law concerning this issue.
  • Call on the Council of Ministers to promote transparency of the public budget by publishing the budget proposal before its approval in order to provide an opportunity for civil society and experts to review and give their comments. This will serve to strengthen the relationship between the government and civil society. It also illustrates respect for the principle of the right to criticize and control over the management of public affairs.
  • The right to access to information can be achieved by issuing the law in this regard. To also accelerate implementation of the open e-government program.
  • A Comprehensive and fair health insurance; stop waste of public funds for medical referrals, an insurance plan that would guarantee the improvement of the quality of local health services; to adopt systems that are based on standards and criteria to be as reference for the competent departments in selecting cases for these referrals. Ensure that the same is applied in the West Bank and Gaza.
  • Applying the Public Procurement Law (tenders and public procurement) to be in-line with government promises in that regard aiming at stopping any dispute over powers between the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Public Works on this issue, and limit the practice of exceptions relating to public procurement through direct purchase. 
  • Transparency in tenders of reconstruction in the Gaza Strip through the publishing of periodic reports by related parties on reconstruction, and to publish related budgets as well, in addition to developing clear instructions to prevent conflict of interest in the management of the reconstruction process. To also be open to community accountability and control; intensify community meetings related to information provision on tenders and procurement of reconstruction.
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