AMAN Coalition: Call for an inclusive national dialogue to adopt a national policy reform action plan that reflects a genuine will for change
Ramallah/Gaza – The Coalition for Integrity and Accountability (AMAN) held its annual conference 2021 under the theme “The Palestinian experience in government integrity and political anticorruption”. Participants discussed the current challenges facing government integrity under continuing ‘depletion’ of the separation of powers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Executive hegemony has been reinforced in the past decade due to the internal split, which weakened citizens’ trust in the ruling power and hindered anticorruption efforts. Additionally, the executive power hegemony of the legislative and judiciary branches has grown without any checks and balances in both regions.
An inclusive national dialogue is a must to exit the current government crisis
AMAN Coalition invited political officials from the top of the PNA hierarchy to hold an inclusive national dialogue to reach consensus on solutions to the current government crisis via a national action plan the halts the sliding toward violence or threat to civil peace. A solution is important to avoid suspension of daily life and shift to an authoritarian regime. National unity must be restored to confront the main threat, i.e., the Israeli occupation. Efforts must be deployed to build an environment in which citizens trust their political regime and where the public freedoms prescribed by the Basic Law are safeguarded. Endeavors must be launched to achieve core reform that reflects a real will to change based on the respect of the rule of law, and redemption of the legislative authority by setting a new date for legislative and presidential elections in a period that does not exceed six months. It is also necessary to revisit the decree laws issued by the end of 2020 to guarantee the independence and impartiality of the judicial power and reinforce transparency in governance. Furthermore, the role and philosophy of the security agencies must be reviewed with changes to the senior posts in the political system to ensure transparency and integrity and recruitment of competent persons while granting equal opportunities. It is further important to review the structure and discourse of the public media to set up an institution that expresses the aspirations and concerns of the different segments of the Palestinian society with their wide spectrum of political views in a manner that consolidates national unity. Public media must be a media for all citizens. All officials involved in the triggering of the recent crises must be held accountable. Investigation committees’ reports must be taken seriously, and the civil society organizations must be solicited to take part in the efforts to combat political corruption via the establishment of a broad coalition to achieve the change and integrity in governance.
Undemocratic and authoritarian Palestinian system
AMAN’s chair of the board, Mr. Abdelqader Al-Husseini delivered the opening speech and explained the reasons behind this topic. The Palestinian regime is authoritarian and hijacked in the hand of influential individuals. The area of action of the civil society organizations is narrowing while freedoms and rights deteriorate with the restrictions on the freedom of opinion and expression. The peak of these restrictions was the assassination of political activist Niazar Banat and the violation of the freedom of peaceful assembly with grave violations of the Basic Law and the Charter of Independence. Palestinian laws and international human rights conventions are breached while the executive branch constrained the judicial authority via the amendments it introduced to its governing law. The new amendments abolish the constitutional principles of separation of powers and respect of the rule of law, stressed in the Charter of Independence and the Basic Law. This situation undermined the three authorities especially following the paralysis and dissolution of the Legislative Council. Law-making is now the sole monopoly and custody of the executive authority. The result is an authoritarian, deep and undemocratic state with concentration of powers in the hands of the executive branch without any moral or legal accountability, transparency or integrity.
Integrity of governance to combat political corruption
AMAN’s Board Advisor on Anticorruption, Dr. Azmi Shuaibi, presented the signs and indicators of political corruption together with the governance integrity indicators at local, regional and international levels. He compared these indicators with the Palestinian situation showing that political corruption in governance management appeared because of abuse of powers by executive power, which issued legislation and policies to serve private rather than public interests.
He addressed the problems related to the difficulty of criminalizing political corruption because of the absence of legislation, as is the case in most countries in the region. He underlined the importance of immunity and preventive measures to consolidate integrity of governance as an optimal tool to combat political corruption. He referred to the pillars of integrity in government including fair access to power by appointments and elections, with integrity in the exercise of power in addition to inclusion and transparency to avoid conflict of interest and make decisions that serve the public interest.
Weak National Integrity Index in 2020
Senior researcher at AMAN Coalition, Mr. Jehad Harb, spoke of the integrity index in Palestine presenting an assessment of the integrity of the Palestinian system with its three sectors (public, private and civil). The ninth annual report on the National Integrity Index scored 486 of 1000, which is an indicator of the many flaws in the national immunity system of integrity, which compromises the ability to combat corruption and undermines citizens trust in the Authority. Indeed, the trust index dropped by 70 points compared to 2018.
The Index findings also revealed weak governance integrity tenets in all three areas: access to power, exercise of governance and official oversight. Regarding access to power, all indicators relevant to elections and appointments scored very low. Relating to decision-making, transparency indicators and prevention of conflict of interest scored low. As for the indicators on official oversight, they represented a major challenge because of the dissolution of the PLC without holding any elections.
Executive Authority’s hegemony of the PLC is a monopoly of power
AMAN Coalition’s legal counsel, Att. Bilal Al-Barghouthi, discussed in his presentation the executive branch’s hegemony of the role of the legislative council and how this affects the integrity of governance. The absence of the PLC weakened the official oversight institutions allowing the executive authority to monopolize the administration of public affairs and funds in a manner that serves a unilateral exercise of power. The executive authority undertook a legislative role following the 2007 political split, thus expanding the scope of the West-Bank-based PNA President’s legislative power in times of absolute necessity into unlimited legislative power. The decree laws amended laws enacted the the Palestinian Legislative Council relating to the electoral process or even abolishing elections, as was the case in 2021. They further modified the legislation applicable to official oversight agencies, by granting a monopolistic power to the President to appoint the heads of these agencies without the ratification of the PLC.
Lack of transparency and integrity in the appointment of senior officials
Research and Monitoring Officer, Sumoud Al-Barghouthi, presented a report on the mechanisms applicable to the appointment to senior posts in Palestine in recent years. She explained how some powerful individuals hegemonized the process to appoint officials based on personal or partisan affiliations without public advertisement of senior vacancies. The purpose is to control the decision-making centers in these agencies.
Financial allowances from public fund allocations to recruit more supporters
Al-Barghouthi addressed the occupancy of sensitive senior posts in Palestine. In some cases, privileges financed by the public treasury were granted to gain more supporters. In other cases, security vetting was used to recruit supporters and exclude opponents of the ruling regime. Segregation in public posts against a backdrop of political affiliation has become a widespread phenomenon post the political divide. This situation led to forced early retirement as politicized form of punishment of opponents. Some appointments were made to please certain persons close to the ones in power like the recent appointments at the Ministry of Health, Foreign Ministry and Public Prosecution.
Establishment of quality control committee to monitor the integrity of appointments
Al-Barghouthi recommended that the Council of Ministers establishes a committee to monitor the integrity of appointments (public sector governance quality assurance committee), comprising independent personalities/ organizations known for their integrity and (academic and legal) experience who do not have any interests with the public sector. The Committee will follow up on the appointment process and should be qualified to review the candidates’ applications to senior civil and security posts in the public sector. The Committee will also formulate the procedures applicable to the competition to these posts, advertisement of vacancies and examination of appointment-related complaints.
factionalism and clientelism at the detriment of citizenship: fertile environment for the growth of political corruption.
The second session examined the practice of power. The Commissioner General of the Independent Human Rights Commission (IHRC), Mr. Isam Arouri, presented a paper on the safeguard of public freedoms. He stated that the Palestinian people is subject to occupation and governed by two authorities that are more than a self-rule and less than a state: the PNA which controls parts of the West Bank and the de facto authority in the Gaza Strip. By favoring factionalism and clientelism to citizenship, political corruption finds a fertile soil to grow. Two political factions control senior posts in the two existing authority structures, including the high security ranks. Appointment to these posts is not based on free competition or equal opportunity. Party cells are formed to manage ministries and security agencies in total violation of the law since it becomes difficult to differentiate the official position from the ruling party. Furthermore, the prosecution office is annexed to the executive branch, turning the whole country into an [animal] farm-like scenario.
Furthermore, the constraints imposed by the executive power on some public freedoms, more specifically on the area of action of the civil society, media and social activists and their right to accountability and criticism together with the restrictions on peaceful assembly and organization and on the freedom of the media and opinion weakened the social accountability system of public performance.
Executive authority imposes a de facto situation on citizens via sudden decisions
AMAN Coalition’s Executive Manager, Issam Haj Hussein, tackled the exercise of power focusing on three key problems to integrity of governance, which reinforce political corruption: 1) weak officials’ compliance with the reporting of conflict of interest upon making decisions; 2) poor transparency in work procedures; and 3) weak participation and absence of equal opportunities in policymaking. Hussein explained that power is mostly exercised in secrecy without transparency. It is imposing a de facto situation on citizens, like the recent decree laws on the judiciary and the activity of the civil society organizations or to appointments or transfer to forced early retirement.
In his presentation, Hussein underlined the monopoly and strong influence of a strong number of powerful persons close to the decision-making circles with total ignorance of influential social parties, which could have contributed to decisions that serve the public interest and promote citizens’ trust in governance. In the absence of a legislator, and poor justice and rule of law, the executive power created an accountability free hegemonic decision-making circle.
District Office Director in the Gaza Strip, Wael Baalousheh, spoke of the exercise of power and the executive authority’s experience tackling the measures that must be applied to promote integrity of governance in the Gaza Strip. He stressed on the promotion of participation and transparency in decision-making through an open dialogue between citizens and officials with a public right to access information and participate in making decisions pertinent to the management of public affairs. He added that officials who do not comply by this practice must be held accountable. Furthermore, to prevent conflict of interest, he recommended to identify the senior posts vulnerable to powerful persons’ interference and influence, to abide by submission of financial disclosure by holders of senior posts and to call for the formation of a governance quality control committee to monitor appointments to senior positions.
Disclosures of public supplies contracts in the Gaza Strip
Monitoring and Research Coordinator in the Gaza Strip, Ms. Hidayah Shamoun, presented a report on the management of natural resources and wealth in the Gaza Strip. She showed that administration of public and natural resources lacked any unified legal framework. Government Work Follow-Up Committee manages public and natural resources in the Gaza Strip, while other resources are subject to the PNA or under Israeli occupation control. The report recommended a revisit of the agreements on the exploitation of natural resources and contracting public utilities suppliers for electricity and water on the Egyptian and Israeli side or contracting international excavation firms and present them to the PLC for discussion and ratification in the event that Palestinian legislative elections are held. She also stressed the importance of a clear policy to regulate acceptance of gifts and specific instructions to prevent conflict of interest for the staff of the institutions in charge of management of public and natural resources. These instructions must be formulated into binding regulations. In addition, Hidayah underlined the importance of enforcing the illicit gain law in the Gaza Strip and financial disclosure of senior officials including members of Government Work Follow-Up Committee. Staff of the Directorate General of Natural and Public Resources need to receive a training on the professional code of conduct issued by the General Personnel Council in the Gaza Strip and ensure they enforce this code properly.
It is also important to promote transparency in the management of public and natural resources and demand that the Palestinian government discloses its public supplies procurement contracts and the agreements related to the exploitation of natural resources and publish them in the Official Gazette.
Biased Public Media
In his paper, Mr. Muaz Karajah, analyzed the Palestinian public media, which does not enjoy any legal foundation to guarantee its independence and free access to resources to protect it against the hegemony of a single ruling power. The public media cannot – for this reason – act as a “state media” that expresses all segments, social forces and political streams. It grew into a biased media that does not provide room for other voices and opinions.
The public media is entirely biased toward the political system and its civil and security agencies. The opposition is not present at all in this media.
It grew into a ruling party media that adopts and defends the official narrative, which sabotages the very pillars of democracy, pluralism and citizens’ rights and freedoms.
The public media failed to play its oversight role and to ensure flow of information between the political regime and the public in full openness to enable citizens to learn what is happening in their official institutions.
Without reforming the Judiciary, reform cannot succeed
In the third session on official oversight of the ruling power, Dr. George Giacaman presented a paper on “Priority in combatting lack of integrity in governance”. He explained that it is not a coincidence that the executive authority seized the judicial power completely. It realizes the “danger” of an honest and independent judiciary. Therefore, any reform efforts, of all types by all parties concerned with the Palestinian context, although have been going on for years, have had limited outcome. The main reason behind their failure is the collapse of the judicial system and hegemony of the executive power. It is not possible to challenge a decision of the executive power, for example like the undue cancellation of legislative elections. Therefore, the priority is to consolidate efforts of every institution, union, community-based organization, and the entire society to reform the judiciary system and ensure it is entirely independent from the executive branch. Without this reform, no other reform may take place.
The Legislative Council and Public Oversight Agencies in Gaza Under the Effect of the Ruling Power
Ms. Marwa Abu Odeh, coordinator of social accountability in the Gaza Strip, presented a paper about the legislative council and public oversight agencies in building an integrate political system in the Gaza Stirp. She explained that the political division, non-holding of periodic elections for peaceful rotation of power has have compromised the performance of the legislative council. The legislative power and oversight responsibilities have become focused in the hands of a unicolor council that resembles the top-level government. The discussion of the draft public beget prior to its ratification is unclear; the periodic financial reports from competent authorities are not subject to any scrutiny and the same applies to the government’s overall financial performance because the final accounts are not audited by the State Audit and Administrative Control Bureau.
She also explained that the PLC does not use any accountability instruments or questioning sessions and contents with meetings with the Government Work Follow-Up Committee. It has used public accountability measures only twice since its election. Abu Odeh also referred to the role of the SAACB and IHRC in promoting integrity of the political system in the Gaza Strip.
Judiciary Reform is a Must to Restore Citizens’ Trust in the Entire Judicial System
In his paper on “The Role of the Judiciary in the Governance Integrity in the Gaza Strip”, Dr. Sami Ghneem address there key points relating to the role of the judiciary in preventing corruption and monitoring the integrity of governance, as well as criminalization and law enforcement. He also stressed on integrity, transparency and accountability as important values for the functioning of the judicial power.
He explained that the executive power exploited the absence of the PLC and issued laws that limit the rule of the judiciary in overseeing the executive power. These laws undermine the ability of the judiciary to hold the executive branch accountable by controlling the appointment, removal and transfer of justices. He reviewed the amendments introduced to the Judiciary Authority Law, with a special focus on administrative justice.
The researcher’s recommendations included inviting the judiciary to be more open to citizens by publishing periodic reports on their work, successes, failures, and barriers. He underscored the necessity to adopt a system to prevent conflict of interest and called on judges to adopt and improve the Prosecution’s complaint system and adopt a system to protect whistleblowers and witnesses and their families. The recommendations included publishing the court judgments in administrative cases, which abolished administrative decisions to encourage and reassure citizens about filing their cases and appeal against the decisions of the public authority.
In the final statement, Dr. Mamdou Al-Aker, underscored the need for a genuine national dialogue, which must turn into an ongoing workshop with participants from the entire Palestinian society, its political and social forces. This dialogue must be based on genuine partnership in decision-making and management of public affairs. Its outcome must be binding and produce an implementable action plan with a specific timeline.