AMAN Coalition issues its thirteenth annual report on the Situation of Integrity and Anticorruption in 2020
Under the slogan “Relapse in transparency and participation compromises integrity”
Ramallah and Gaza – For the thirteenth consecutive year, in a press conference and social media broadcast, AMAN Coalition for Integrity and Accountability – AMAN issued its annual report on the developments of integrity and anticorruption in Palestine in 2020. The report documents positive developments, challenges and forms of corruption together with incrimination and prosecution of perpetrators. It also tracks official efforts to combat corruption in 2020 and analyzes the surrounding environment and its repercussions in these efforts. Moreover, the report evaluates management of public funds with a special focus on transparency in preparing, approving and implementing the public budget and all expenditure and revenues. An empirical approach with diversified tools to gather pertinent data is applied. The tools include public opinion polls, which monitor citizens’ perceptions and the findings of the Integrity Index.
The report aims to formulate specific recommendations to Palestinian decision makers and other stakeholders to help them adopt the necessary measure to promote the national integrity system and foster its immunity against corruption
Al-Husseini: Holding legislative and presidential elections will re-balance the Paletsinian political system
Abdelqader Al-Husseini, Head of AMAN Coalition’s Board, started his intervention by welcoming President Mahmoud Abbass’s presidential decree of 2021, which set a date for general elections. He explained that the elections will rebalance the Palestinian political system and terminate the Palestinian division in addition to consolidating efforts to support a comprehensive unified national strategy to confront the detrimental threats facing the Palestinian people and their national aspirations. They will also lead to the development of an anticorruption strategy with monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. Al-Husseini underlined the importance of holding the elections on the set dates throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, with special focus on Jerusalem despite the occupation’s hindrances. He explained that the occupation wants us to remain indefinitely in the bottleneck we have been living in since the elapse of the Interim Period because this situation is comfortable for this occupation.
Al-Husseini also commented on the Palestinian government’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic, which revealed the state institutions’ unpreparedness to manage the risks of disasters that have severely hit the health sector over the past year. The pandemic had also economic effects on most production and social sectors while coordination between official and civil society organizations is very poor.
The Head of the Board alluded to the disrupted separation of powers because of the prolonged split and de-democratization following the dissolution of the Legislative Council. As a result, the executive power has monopoly of authority and decision, which has dangerously escalated in the first quarter of 2021 following several decrees that aimed to restrict the space of action of civil society organizations and trade unions. He warned that this situation will deepen the governance integrity crisis.
After over 17 years the right on access to information is still shelved
Al-Husseini pointed out the challenges faced by the report team, including delays and refusal to share information by both governments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He reiterated that AMAN Coalition endeavors to get accurate data from credible sources and that it is willing to revise and correct its reports if governmental bodies release new data, mainly as relates to management of public funds. He stressed that this has been the key recommendation submitted by AMAN: to promulgate the Law on the Right to Access to Information and the National Archive Law.
Promulgation of a comprehensive and permanent anti-disaster system in Palestine
Al-Husseini underlined the necessity to promulgate a comprehensive and permanent anti-disaster system in Palestine to ensure response and proper management of disasters. The system needs to include plans and procedures to confront contingent situation and disasters with clear distribution of roles and follow-up mechanisms. The system needs to include promotion of public-private sector partnership and cooperation with local bodies to maximize protection of citizens while preserving security under such exceptional circumstances.
Furthermore, it is important to develop mechanisms and open channels of communication with civil society organizations to involve them in conceptualizing public decisions. A public spending austerity and rationalization plan is also needed, taking into account fair distribution of limited resources and burdens. Priority must be given to the health sector and social programs that serve the poor and marginalized communities. Moreover, periodic reports on public funds must be published and made accessible to the public.
2020: Governmental decisions and procedures to support reform
The report presented the positive developments in 2020, including improved public service transparency and communication with citizens on the financial status and public servants’ salaries. Furthermore, the Complaints Directorate at the Council of Ministers published its annual report on complaints against governmental bodies in 2019. Important decisions were made, including: approval of the organizational structure of governmental departments 2020; participation of public servants in institutions’ boards; Council of Minister’s resolution to form a permanent technical committee to lease and grant investment rights in state land; Resolution by the Council of Ministers to from the committee responsible for the drafting of the law on Franchise and Prevention of Monopoly; and cabinet decision to form a governance committee of non-ministerial governmental institutions in the sessions of the Council of Ministers.
In 2020, the Code of public ethics and behavior continued to be distributed to Palestinian security agents together with the guide on disclosure, conflict of interest and gifts system. The Single Public Procurement Portal enabled (shiraa.gov.ps) steady enforcement of the Public Procurement Law
Broader use of social media as a social accountability tool
As regards civil society organizations, media and the private sector in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, they have shown substantive commitment to internal control and accountability mechanisms in 2020. The role of the media and civil society in accountability for the management of public funds and affairs expanded via social media platforms. Companies remained compliant with disclosure of their major data in published financial reports
Deteriorated governance integrity
Governance integrity deteriorated in 2020 because of depleted separation of powers and monopoly of decision in the hands of influential individuals. Furthermore, community centers of powers emerged to replace constitutional and official institutions. The rule of law and public culture weakened while general elections have been hindered and appointments and promotions to senior and diplomatic positions continued without any observation of the principles of equal opportunity, transparency and integrity. Decree Laws have been promulgated to hegemonize government and acquire special gains and privileges. There hasn’t been any disclosure of the resources and assets of politicians vulnerable to corruption while state resources management policies remained weak in the absence of any law that promotes competition and bans monopolies.
Problematic distribution of humanitarian assistance during the pandemic in the West Bank and Gaza Strip
At policy level, the integrity and anticorruption system in the West Bank has been undermined as Dr. Mohammad Ishtayyah’s government continued to publish titles of its resolutions without any further details. No official system has been activated to confront disasters in Palestine while distribution of humanitarian assistance – especially during the pandemic – has been conducted by multiple accredited bodies.
In the other side of the country, obstructions to local elections continued in the Gaza Strip with appointment of local councils. The COVID-19 situation revealed lack of any accurate and approved databases to help decision-makers make quick response and optimal use of the resources in the Gaza Strip. Integrity and anticorruption have not been included in the plans approved by the government follow-up committee, which also lacked any reference to the humanitarian assistance distribution manual in emergencies, and its code of conduct of staff and beneficiaries’ eligibility criteria. Furthermore, there has been week participation of stakeholders, like citizens, experts and civil society organizations, in the preparation of plans related to the distribution and management of humanitarian assistance.
Poor transparency in management of public funds deepens the gap between taxpayers and officials in the West Bank and Gaza Strip
As relates to management of public funds, the relevant strategy has not been enforced as planned. An emergency budget has been announced and its law was published in the Official Gazette but without any further details. Therefore, it is not possible to analyze the economic and financial demise to identify spending ceilings and priorities. Anti-money laundering fighting efforts in Palestine remain unclear as the National Anti-Money Laundering Committee has be concealing its activities and has not published any reports or significant data or statistics on the spread of this crime and its proceeds. The government abstained from disclosing and publishing East Mediterranean Gaz Forum documents while public budget transparency continued to relapse as the Ministry of Finance has not published its balance sheet within the legally prescribed delays.
In the Gaza Strip, AMAN Coalition was unable to monitor any budget-related financial data, especially projected revenues managed by the de facto authority although it has submitted requests to officials. Furthermore, public procurement continued on the basis of the un-updated public bids and procurement laws, which lack the integrity promotion standards and rules in public procurement.
Weak financial audits of tax clearance money continue to enable the occupation usurp Palestinian funds without any accountability or control
The report revealed that the public treasure is losing over half a billion Dollars annually because of lack of any clear policies to stop the financial leakages, and PA’s weak capacities in controlling tax evasion and customs smuggling not to mention poor financial audits with the Israeli side. Consequently, brokers, including Israeli officials and officers in the civil administration, usurped Palestinian public funds exploiting the lack of transparency related to PA’s financial rights or the actual deductions for electricity, water and sanitation bills.
COVID unveiled government’s inability to develop the health sector while allocations to this sector have been depleted
At the legislative level, the government has not fulfilled its commitments to develop a comprehensive and just obligatory insurance system. As a result, most of the allocations to the health sector have been depleted to pay bills and cover the deficit in the health insurance fund at the expense of development of governmental health institutions and hospitals. This situation weakened the health sector’s ability to confront COVID-19.
Government’s unfulfilled promises deepen its crisis with citizens
The report also showed that government’s continued unfulfilled promises and the non-promulgation of the law on access to information and the law on national archive as well as any information classification system to monitor access to information and public documents have widened the lack of trust and gap between citizens and government officials.
Weak oversight of local authorities and civil society organizations
As regards integrity in local authorities and civil society organizations, most local councils do not perform their oversight role of the Council’s head and staff and they lack any standard complaints system. As for civil society organizations, labor unions and syndicates, there is weak publication of their budgets, resolutions, bodies, plans and organizational structure.
12 years elapsed but the Palestinian telecommunication sector regulatory authority has not been formed yet!
On accountability, management of governmental complaints remained traditional with only annual statistical reports while most organizations do not follow up on the complaints or inquiries received via social media pages. Furthermore, the Palestinian telecommunication sector regulatory authority has not yet been formed although the law establishing this authority has been promulgated in 2009. This undermines accountability of telecommunication companies and compromises fair competition among service providers.
69% of citizens believe there is corruption in the judiciary in the West Bank and Gaza Strip
Regarding the independence of the judiciary, the debate continued on the integrity of the judiciary as the judicial reform plan’s developments remain ambiguous and incomplete. Some influential individuals continue to interfere in the activities of the judiciary while CSOs believe that the formation of an interim judicial council by the executive power undermines the independence of the judiciary. Furthermore, a public poll organized by AMAN in 2020 showed that 69% of citizens believe there is corruption in the judiciary.
Most spread forms of corruption and service ranks most suspected in 2020
Corruption crimes included nepotism and favoritism, in addition to illicit gain and ill performance of public service, counterfeiting, bribery, issue of authority, abused of trust, prejudice to public funds, job exploitation and embezzlement, non-disclosure of conflict of interest and money-laundering.
Complaints and reports submitted to the Anti-Corruption Commission amounted to 1115 while backlogged complaints and reports from 2019 reached 545.
Regarding employment ranks most accused of corruptions, complaints and reports relating to senior ranks reached 137 including 34 against top ranks, 93 against senior ranks including judges and prosecutors, 10 against ministers or acting ministers noting that there are repetitive complaints and reports against the same person.
Further monopoly of the centers of power and decision making and hijacking of state institutions
In his comment, Mr. Issam Haj Hussein, AMAN’s Executive Director, explained that the report answered a specific question: Do governing authorities’ practices in the West Bank and Gaza Strip serve public interest or not? The answer is not. In 2020, and the first quarter of 2021, serious monopoly of centers of power and decision making and hijacking of state institutions have been noted.
He mentioned that in the West Bank, the objective was to make many decisions to serve influential individuals and those loyal to the ruling regime. Appointment to senior positions lacks any transparency or integrity while laws and amendments to laws have been sneakily passed to serve individual interests.
In the Gaza Stirp, what matters is the party’s interest and consolidation of the Movement. Local elections have not been held while local councils’ heads and members have been appointed. There is severely weak transparency in the management of public funds and citizens’ and CSOs’ access to financial data. Reports by the State Audits Bureau are not published while employees on short term contracts have been appointed full-time. There are other practices jointly with the PLC in Gaza and other benefiting parties.
Possible postponement of elections
Haj Hussein explained that one of the main reasons behind the decision to hold elections was an agreement between the two ruling parties to protect their interests and gains on the ground. He added we may suddenly find that the elections will be postponed to preserve their interests under the pretense of not succumbing to the occupation’s barbarian will. The factions convening in Cairo promised to propose constructive solutions to confront the occupation’s prohibition of participation of Jerusalemites in the elections as voters and candidates. Thus, Palestinian citizens should expect solutions to these problems rather than a possible postponement or abolition of these elections.
AMAN believes that holding the elections will be an important step to regain confidence and legitimacy and to address the flaws in the governance integrity and political system as a whole. However, this step has not been accompanied with other steps to annul some decrees or amendments of untransparent appointment of senior officials or politicization of resolutions and procedures to serve individual or partisan interest. Some of these decrees also politicize the security forces, which have intervened in these decisions and decrees. Elections, following these decrees, will only perdure the current painful situation and consolidate the gains and privileges of these parties.
Promulgation and amendment of laws in camera
On the other hand, Haj Hussein underscored serious issues in 2020 and the first quarter of 2021 including weak transparency and participation, conflict of interest in decision-making, promulgation and amendment of laws in camera without any civil society participation under full control of the judiciary and absence of the PLC, weak oversight institutions. It should be noted that legal advisors should be the custodians of the law and not vice versa. The laws must serve public interest and not be tailored to serve individual interest or strengthen the civil power’s hegemony over state institutions.
An evidence to this is the amendments to the laws on the judiciary, charitable associations law, postponement of syndic elections, etc.
Based on the findings of the report, AMAN Coalition advised the government to adopt the recommendations, mainly by ratifying a permanent comprehensive disaster management system to ensure response to all phases, including collection and distribution of assistance. Additionally, the government needs to restructure its non-ministerial institutions and issue a Palestinian law to downsize government institutions and rationalize public spending while preventing overlapping public institutions.
AMAN submitted its recommendations to the government and called on it to develop its policies and initiate communication mechanism and channels with the civil society to involve its representatives in the making of public decisions. Recommendations included the adoption of a national cross-sectoral anticorruption strategy by the Council of Minister, which shall follow up its implementation. The report also focused on public spending rationalization and austerity plans with fair distribution of limited resources and burdens, while prioritizing the health sector and social programs that serve the poor and marginalized groups. It is also important to apply an audit mechanism to the electricity, water and medical transfers bills from the Israeli side. Policies are need for the classification of administrative files to keep confidential information and publish accessible information. Furthermore, appointments in the public sector must respond to necessities and to the principle of equal opportunities. An oversight committee needs to be established to monitor integrity in public posts.
At the legislative level, AMAN Coalition invited the government to issue the following legislations: the law on access to information, the law on national archives, the law on franchise and prevention of monopolies, regulation on participation of public servants in the boards of public institutions and companies in which the government is a shareholder and in civil society organizations; Law on popular unions and professional unions; regulation on sensitive security purchases; grating the Anti-Corruption Commission discretion power and the right to provide due protection to whistleblowers, who may face threat or retaliation even when they don’t file an official application with ACC. It is also necessary to issue a law to restructure public institutions in Palestine.
Regarding procedures, AMAN Coalition called on the government to disclose original documents of the East-Mediterranean Gaz Forum and Palestinian rights and obligations in this regard. It also invited the government to enforce a regulation on conflict of interest in the formation and announcement of committees in ministries and public institutions, and to publish full text of government resolutions on the official website of the Council of Minister together with legal, regulatory and financial documents and public contracts. It further advised the government to finalize the digital archiving of ministries and government institutions and called on the Ministry of Education to accelerate development of online and remote learning. Furthermore, a standard complaints system needs to be developed to ensure serious monitoring and remedy of citizens’ complaints rather than mere statistical reports.
In the recommendations to the Ministry of Finance, AMAN called on MoF to apply integrity, transparency and accountability principles in the management of public funds, as promised in its strategy for the years 2017-2022. AMAN also called for the finalization and publication of the balance sheets for the years 2016-2019 with disclosure of full and detailed data on public debt. It further underlined the necessity to address financial leakage to recover losses endured due to the economic and financial relations with the Israeli side. Furthermore, it is important to repay the Government’s debt to the Public Pension Authority and finalize all financial settlements. Further measures must be introduced to avoid any prejudice to the entitlements of retirees. MoF must commit to repay monthly subscriptions and contributions regularly and abstain from controlling of the Fund’s assets and investments. The Palestinian taxation system bust be reviewed to ensure tax and social justice for all citizens.
AMAN Coalition called on the de facto authority in the Gaza Strip to publish financial data on management of public funds and halt its policy of appointment of local councils to allow for organization of elections to enable citizens choose their representatives to local councils.
The report also invited the National Anti-Money Laundering Committee to fulfill its obligations and monitor the financial follow up unit and publish reports to citizens. It also called for preventing the lack of cooperation of the financial follow-up unit and its director with CSOs.
AMAN Coalition endorsed the recommendations of the Civil Coalition for the Reform and Protection of the Judiciary relating to respecting the procedures of appointment of the President of the High Judicial Council and other judicial posts. It is also necessary to separate the function of presidency of HJC as an administrative position and President of the Higher Court as a judicial position. Community membership to HJC must be allowed while integrity needs to be applied to its activities and formation of units and committees.
It should be noted that the Annual Report on the Situation of Integrity and Anticorruption enjoys the trust of citizens and decision-makers. Many citizens confirm the credibility of the information in the report and praise AMAN’s acute commitment to presenting accurate information from reliable sources. The report is also widely used internationally and is considered a reliable source on the situation of integrity and anticorruption in Palestine.
To download the report: https://www.aman-palestine.org/reports-and-studies/15289.html