AMAN celebrates 15th National Integrity Festival on the occasion of the International Anti-Corruption Day

AMAN celebrates 15th National Integrity Festival on the occasion of the International Anti-Corruption Day

2020 Integrity Awards won by women,

AMAN celebrates 15th National Integrity Festival on the occasion of the International Anti-Corruption Day

 

Ramallah and Gaza – The Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN) organised its 15th National Integrity Festival in the context of celebrating the International Anti-Corruption Day, which falls on 9 December of every year. The festival was held virtually on social media platforms and Zoom owing to the extraordinary circumstances created by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Palestine.

The 15th National Integrity Festival honoured the champions of integrity for 2020. Rather than abandoning their values, these champions lent a favourable hand to and actively engaged in fighting corruption and exposing corrupt individuals. Champions of integrity developed investigative reports that laid bare instances of corruption and produced focused research on the reality and fight against corruption.

Al Husseni: Approving the law on the right of access to information will enhance Palestinian public trust and engagement in the anti-corruption efforts

In his opening statement, Mr. Abed Al Qader Al Husseni, Chairman of AMAN Board of Directors, commended bold citizens, who have the courage to defend with all their might, and hold high, the banner of integrity. They have also supported AMAN in the war against corruption and corrupt individuals. According to Al Husseni, findings of the AMAN 2020 Citizens Annual Opinion Poll on the Reality of Corruption and Anti-Corruption Efforts in Palestine showed that the majority of respondents were of the view that reporting corruption was a public right and duty. This highlights that citizens were an integral part of the anti-corruption efforts, requiring greater government transparency, openness, and provision of access to public information. Al Husseni reiterated AMAN’s repeated calls for approval of the law on the right of access to information so that citizens can exercise their right to accountability and control over public administration and public financial management.

Al Husseni complimented both male and female journalists who developed investigative reports, uncovered acts of corruption, or contributed to increasing knowledge of integrity and fight against corruption. They did so against the odds of despair and frustration, which Palestinians have experienced this year at political, economic, and health levels. Besides the outbreak of COVID-19, Palestinians are under attack by the Israeli occupying authorities, who have also withheld Palestinian clearance revenues. Foreign support and aid have also declined in an attempt to trade off and compromise our political positions.

Nominations for the Integrity Award

To win the Integrity Award, AMAN received four applications from public sector staff, 17 investigative reports, and 10 research papers from across the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

One application from the public sector was excluded as the candidate’s file did not fully meet the Integrity Award conditions. The remaining three applications were evaluated by the Integrity Award Technical Committee and Jury. Following examination, it was decided to suspend the Integrity Award for the Public Sector in view to inadequate initiatives. Most submissions were at the core of the jobs of applicants. Fifteen out of 17 investigative reports competed for the Integrity Award for the Best Investigative Report. All applications complied with nomination terms and conditions. The Jury decided to present the award to two investigative reports: Unfair Compulsory Retirement by Linda Shweiki, and Laundering Settlement-Produced Dates by Sujoud Assi. One research paper won the Integrity Award for the Best Focused Research on the Fight against Corruption: A Proposed Framework for the Role of Good Governance in the Relationship between the McKinsey Model and Activation of the Values of Integrity, Transparency and Organisational Branding: A Field Study of Palestinian Municipalities by Khalil Abu Madhi and Aya Abu al-Nada.

Journalist Lina Shweiki: Winner of the Integrity Award for the Best Investigative Report

Titled Unfair Compulsory Retirement, Shweiki’s investigative report unveiled legal infractions and abuse of public office by some officials in the context of enforcement of the 2017 Law by Decree on Early Retirement. Accordingly, 168 civil servants and 204 military personnel were retired on pension. The report placed a special focus on staff with disabilities. These were forced to early retirement on grounds of physical unfitness despite the lack of medical or technical reports, which would prove otherwise. These were employed in line with the Labour Law, which provides that persons with disabilities should comprise at least 5 percent of the total workforce.

The reports demonstrated that the law enforcement process was involuntary and in conflict with the Law on Retirement. In addition to many administrative and legal irregularities, some decisions on retirement on pension were made following expiry of the legally prescribed period for enforcement of the Law by Decree on Early Retirement.

It is worth noting that AMAN followed up with case of a number of employees, who filed complaints to AMAN against their retirement on pension. AMAN provided support to and helped these employees institute cases to the High Court. The latter awarded relief to and reinstated some of these staff to their jobs.

Sujoud Assi: Winner of the Integrity Award for the Best Investigative Report

Titled Threats to Kill Dates Farmers by Smugglers of Settlement-Produced Dates, this investigative report by Assi detected suspicious involvement of Palestinian and Israeli companies, which attempted to export settlement-produced dates as if they were Palestinian grown. These used Palestinian certificates of origin, which stated the country and date of products. The report investigated how settlement-produced dates were packed and labelled by Palestinian factories ahead of the agricultural season in Palestine. It established a clear presumption that a number of capitalists were involved in offering bribes to some public servants in order to turn a blind eye to smuggling of settlement-produced dates. This act amounts to a national, moral, and political crime. It circumvents the campaign to boycott settlement products and exploits the quota offered by friendly countries to import Palestinian dates. This action further negatively reflects on the Palestinian dates production, which totalled 15,000 tonnes. It favours Israeli companies that sell low quality settlement-produced dates as if they were of Palestinian origin, damaging the reputation of Palestinian dates in global markets and incurring heavy losses on Palestinian growers.

It should be noted that AMAN was among the first whistleblowers, who reported on suspicions of corruption involving laundering of settlement-produced dates. AMAN called on relevant authorities to take expedited action and refer the case of the certificates of origin of settlement-produced dates to competent courts. AMAN demanded that all persons explicitly or implicitly implicated in this case be presented for trial before relevant judicial bodies, particularly the Corruption Crimes Court. Given its gravity, the case clearly involves suspicions of corruption, where capital has joined forces with public responsibility and office.

Researchers Khalil Abu Madhi and Aya Abu al-Nada: Winners of the Integrity Award for the Best Focused Research on the Fight against Corruption

Abu Madhi and Abu al-Nada won the 2020 Integrity Award for their research paper A Proposed Framework for the Role of Good Governance in the Relationship between the McKinsey Model and Activation of the Values of Integrity, Transparency and Organisational Branding: A Field Study of Palestinian Municipalities. Abu Madhi and Abu al-Nada were of the view that the failure to hold local elections throughout local government units (LGUs) in the Gaza Strip has obstructed the National Integrity System and disrupted the system of accountability. The authors cited the findings of the annual report of the State Audit and Administrative Control Bureau (SAACB). According to the SAACB report, some LGUs were affected by the weak capacity to achieve planned objectives. Others lacked the criteria of transparency, integrity, and equitable opportunities in employment, promotion, and increments.

The research paper recommended that LGUs apply valid procedures to selection, employment, and promotions. These processes should be merit-based and immune to any political or familial interference. Websites should be developed, taking account of indicators of transparency, disclosure, and dissemination of information. In addition to ensuring the right of access to information, public outreach strategies need to be developed. Operations will be rejuvenated through social media platforms, media outlets, and field communication. LGU staff will be encouraged to work jointly with oversight bodies to uncover cases of corruption and prevent financial, administrative and moral corruption.

In conclusion of the 15th National Integrity Festival, participants commended the bravery of whistleblowers and thanked the Integrity Award technical committees. The festival ended with the hope that an encounter would be held next year when COVID-19 will have passed. The pandemic has constrained our lives and deprived us of our loved ones. Participant expressed a renewed faith in new champions, who will hold high the banner of integrity, guard public finances, and establish the values of integrity in the public administration sector.