At a hearing held by the Civil Society Team for Enhancing Public Budget Transparency with the Ministry of Social Development,
Ministry’s allocations are just 5 percent of the public budget
Ramallah – The Civil Society Team for Enhancing Public Budget Transparency held a hearing with the Ministry of Social Development (MoSD) on the 2021 public budget. The session was set to have a detailed overview of the social sector budget, current context of social services, 2021 targets, and ways to overcome challenges to these targets. The hearing brought together economists as well as representatives of the MoSD and partner service providers.
MoSD allocations are just 5 percent of the public budget
Contrary to circulated news, the hearing revealed that allocations to the MoSD did not exceed 5 percent of the public budget. According to data posted on the Ministry of Finance’s social media site, 13 percent, or US$ 620 million, of the public budget was appropriated to social sector spending. Mr. Dawoud al-Dik, MoSD Undersecretary, made clear that the currently circulated 13 percent allocation comprised the total of interventions for social protection (families of martyrs, wounded persons, and political prisoners) and for the MoSD.
At the hearing, Al-Dik asserted that, apart from the social protection sector, the MoSD budget allocation amounted to some NIS 819 million in 2021. This was 2.2 percent less than the estimated budget appropriation in 2020. Then, the MoSD budget line item was estimated at NIS 837. Meanwhile, actual expenditure totalled NIS 674 million, or 80 percent, of the estimated spending.
Al-Dik explained that the MoSD budget line item, including salaries and wages as well as operating, development, and capital expenses, collectively accounted for 8 percent of the budget. By contrast, subsidies (transfer expenses) were as much as 92 percent. This included cash transfers in the amount of NIS 618 million for the elderly, children, women victims of violence, and services delivered by the MoSD.
Poor households will not be compensated for the fourth instalment of benefits
Al-Dik expressed regret that the MoSD had not transferred three out of four instalments of benefits to poor households in 2018, 2019, and 2020. He announced that poor households would not be indemnified for 75 percent of the allocations they had been deprived of over the past three years (that is, households were denied 25 percent of benefits on an annual basis). However, according to the legal basis for budget approval, four instalments should be paid within fixed and clear timelines (March, June, September, and December) to help poor households adapt to their living conditions. Al-Dik expressed the hope that payments be paid as they had been in the past and on exacts dates in 2021.
Placed on the MoSD agenda, NIS 214 million per annum for personnel discharged in 2005
Al-Dik indicated that some NIS 214, with an average of NIS 1,500 a month, is paid to 11,850 personnel discharged in 2005. This is one of the problems facing the MoSD. Al-Dik also elaborated on another set of challenges, including health insurance and health services as part of a protection system for the poor.
Unified Portal for Social Assistance is a reference point to provide assistance
The Civil Society Team for Enhancing Public Budget Transparency stressed that the Unified Portal for Social Assistance should be used as a reference point. The Team expressed disapproval of the fact that some formal and informal bodies provide assistance outside the framework of the Portal, resulting in duplication of assistance. This means that, while some receive assistance from more than one agency, other vulnerable households are left without any aid. Al-Dik commented that the Portal was effective, albeit irregularly. It continues to be under development. Currently, the Ministry is in the process of creating a so-called “Social Register”, a national data bank that is technically based on the Portal.
Lack of an integrated disaster management system in Palestine undermines effective responsiveness to during emergencies
On government assistance to people affected by COVID-19, Al-Dik highlighted that the state has not earmarked an emergency budget during the pandemic. The response plan was initiated by partner institutions and civil society organisations. Regarding the Wakfet Izz Fund, Al-Dik showed that the MoSD played a coordinating role. The Ministry managed to accommodate and provide cash assistance to 30,000 new poor households. He indicated that the MoSD did not receive any complaints on beneficiaries who had not been entitled to this assistance.
In his comment, Dr. Azmi Shuaibi, Consultant to AMAN’s Board of Directors for Anti-Corruption Affairs, stated that an integrated disaster management system was not in place, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit the State of Palestine. Shuaibi also cautioned against exploiting inaction of the Palestinian Legislative Council by the government. Budget enactment is referred to the President. Rather than being guided by informed examination and criteria, the budgeting process would be subject to the whims of executive officials.