Executive Director, Ms. Ghada Zughayar, welcomed the attendees and participants at the conference which highlighted the results of AMAN’s research and activities that took place in-between its fifth and sixth conferences, applying the principle of transparency.
Ms. Zughayar also pointed out AMAN’s capability in leading the voice of anti-corruption and playing a core part in bringing this matter to the various official and public agendas that created a clear mobility and interactions at the Palestinian arena.
While opening the first session, Dr. Ashrawi, chairwoman of AMAN Coalition, emphasized on the importance of shedding light on the role of institutions in protecting citizens, preserving public funds, promoting systems of accountability and transparency in the society as a comprehensive system in the public and private institutions and raising awareness towards adhering these values.
She added that publishing this report is one of AMAN’s most important goals as it mirrors the Palestinian reality regarding monitoring the status of accountability and activating a national commitment towards combating corruption which is interrelated with having a genuine political will and ending the state of division. She expressed her regret for the absence of the Gaza Strip participation in the conference and called for the urge to restoring national unity.
In the same context, Mr. Jacques Toice, Head of the Netherlands Representative office to the Palestinian Authority, added that the PA has already adopted a national plan to combat corruption by organizing a national team for that matter.
Mr. Toice congratulated the PA for the success they have accomplished in combating corruption and the establishment of the State Audit and Financial Control Bureau since he considers that transparency and accountability are critical elements which enable the public sector to carry out its duties with accuracy.
2009 Annual Corruption Report of AMAN Coalition
The 2009 corruption report which was prepared by AMAN, indicated that the political will of senior officials to combat corruption is still weak.
Ms. Abeer Musleh, Head of the Research & Development Unit at AMAN, presented the most significant issues which the 2009 report included on the status of corruption in Palestine. In addition, she stated that the objective of this report is to assist decision makers in the Palestinian community to present the actions and means that lead to preserving public funds. She also indicated that the report was based on a description on the reality and forms of corruption, by monitoring the changes compared to 2008 and a local index that measures integrity, transparency and accountability in managing public affairs.
Ms. Musleh mentioned that there has been an improvement in the area of reform that is related to transparency in public revenues and expenditures in the West Bank. Also, commitment from some ministers to present financial disclosures in accordance with the law was noted, while, endeavors of some ministries were made to eliminate conflict of interest and misuse of a job position; the code of corporate governance was also endorsed so as to promote transparency in the work of the private sector and reduce conflicts of interest.
The number of corruption cases sent to the Civil Public Prosecution in 2009 was 139 cases compared to 81 cases in 2008
The political will to combat corruption is still weak, as responsible parties continued to reflected reluctance in bringing senior officials suspected in being involved in corruption cases to justice. Moreover, political parties and factions continue to disregard the importance of combating corruption, let alone the PLC’s paralysis and the non-renewal of its legitimacy which led to weakening oversight on the government’s work and not subjecting the General Budget to any formal accountability in terms of the constitutional system.
Ms. Musleh pointed out that the continued absence of an official independent anti-corruption institution is a negative factor in 2009, while public office is still a home for Wasta, favoritism and nepotism. Further, refraining from adopting measures and procedures that promote transparency and prevent conflicts of interest in public institutions, and the continued weakness in reporting on corruption cases because of hesitation and fear of incredibility are still taking place in public offices.
Also, she explained that the persistence of having Wasta, favoritism and nepotism in providing public services, appointment and promotion of some senior staff, are the most prevalent forms of corruption in 2009, followed by the personal use of resources and public property and exploitation of public office for personal gains.
Dr. Azmi Shuaibi, AMAN Commissioner for Combating Corruption, has illustrated that the report was based on official information obtained from records and interviews with interested parties to determine the effectiveness of institutions in combating corruption. Also, he referred to a significant change in the stance of public opinion on the most corrupted party, explaining the role of the political divide in blocking many of the achievements in this regard.
Shuaibi mentioned the need to amend the Law of Illicit Gain to become an Anti-Corruption and Illicit Gain Commission, and to be granted sufficient power and independence, including the ability to conduct direct investigations and bring suspects before the law.
In addition, he stressed on the importance of having the Code of Corporate Governance in Palestine, which was adopted by the National Committee for Governance, however, serious actions for applying the code and following up on adherence have not stared yet.
As well, he stressed on the need to renew the PLC legitimacy in order to activate its oversight role over the executive authority.
Public Prosecutor, Ahmed al-Mughni, assured that there is a political will to pursue and combat corruption, while the civil public prosecution is receiving support from the political leadership, where they started working on monitoring and combating corruption in 2006.
al-Mughni has also pointed out that despite the difficulties that encounter the work of the civil public prosecution, especially within the absence of a general structure and the lack of staff, which impedes its ability to perform its duties, a wide range of corrupt files were opened and attended to.
Al-Mughni illustrated some of the accomplished cases adopted by the prosecution, including issuing an arrest warrant to the Interpol against the former Director- General of the Palestinian police, Ghazi al-Jabali, the fugitive to Dubai, in addition to Samer Al Ramlawi, the former undersecretary of the Ministry of Interior, Mohammed Hajjeh, whom was sentenced as an absentia to prison for seven years, noting that the General petroleum corporation GPC and the land authority are the foremost bodies in having corruption files.
Almughani warned that the worst corruption files that we face and are trying to address concerns the Blue ID holders, whom can’t be prosecuted due to the signed agreements with the Israeli side.
Head of Illicit Gain Commission Promises to have Independent IGC
Rafeeq al-Natsheh, Head of the Illicit Gain Commission, spoke about the aim of IGC to combat corruption and graft. He also stressed on the importance of providing all that is civilized and progressive to the Palestinian people within the principles of integrity and transparency and indicated to the existence of a political will ever since IGC was established.
Al-Natsheh also stressed that IGC is an independent and transparent body that is committed to investigating corruption files and following up in them in coordination and cooperation with the Higher Judicial Council, the Civil Public Prosecution, the Ministry of Justice and all civil society organizations.
Al-Natsheh described the IGC work as a big responsibility that requires tremendous efforts from the staff in order to achieve its goals, promising that the work be independent without interference by any party.
On the other hand, Dr. Ghassan Khatib, director of the Government Information Center, affirmed the government’s program in addressing corruption and the realization of good governance adding that the government is considering this report and the issues it raised positively.
Al-Khatib pointed out that continuing to progress in the performance of the security agencies, discipline, respect for the law, the government's decision to run in local elections, the beginning of implementation of the Law of Illicit Gain, the rationalization of government spending, and the establishment of boards of sectoral-based policies were all important and fundamental factors in creating an environment to combat corruption and bring about positive mobility in society.
Adopt the registry of the Ministry of Justice of no criminal records as an official record for the issue of good conduct to work in a public position substituting for the intervention of security agencies.
Prime Minister Dr. Salam Fayyad, praised the work of AMAN Coalition and the civil society organizations in all fields, especially in the areas of management and enhancing the level of transparency and the principles of good governance.
During the second session which was devoted to discussing the government's budget of 2010, Dr. Fayyad reflected the major improvements on the budget preparation process for this year to enhance efforts in order to establish a distinct and more advanced financial system.
During his speech, Fayyad also emphasized on the efforts put forth by the Palestinian government to consolidate concepts of self-empowerment and self-reliance to meet its developmental and operational needs noting that the government has considered incorporating this in the 2010 budget.
Accountability on the government's budget for 2010
During an accountability session on the government's budget, PLC Member, Khalida Jarrar, said she wished the budget was put forward to the inactive Legislative Council for voting and approval.
She wondered about the means to liberalize and build the economy while the largest share of the General Budget is allocated to salaries and wages; also the ability to achieve sustainable development in the Palestinian Authority while it is subjected to regulations of donors like the World Bank.
On the other hand, PLC Member Sahar Qawasmi, raised questions about the mechanisms of economic independence from Israel in the absence of an indication to that in the General Budget as well as the fact that the Palestinian side is restricted by economic accords that oblige it to economic dependence on the Israeli economy such as the Paris Convention.
Alternatively, Dr. Mamdouh Aker, Commissioner of the Independent Commission for Human Rights, asserted the value of the Government's interest in supporting the Gaza Strip and placing it as a top priority as well as its quest to get rid of foreign aid.
Dr. Aker called on giving the Palestinian universities more support and further interest in the government's budget plan compared to the support provided to other sectors.
In turn, the economic expert, Dr. Nasr Abdel Karim, presented a number of questions about the government’s fiscal policy, which always refers to the current deficit and turns a blind eye on the total deficit, and why the government is not seeking to focus on increasing revenue rather than reducing costs.
Dr. Faisal Awartani, Director of the ALPHA Center for Research and Opinion Polls, explained that the General Budget has set aside 22% for the Ministry of the Interior, and 18% for the Ministry of Education while the health sector got 10% and women, youth and agriculture sectors got very small proportions; he wondered about the reason for the exaggerated interest in the security sector.
As for Lamees Hantouli, Member of the Civil Team for the Support of transparency in the General Budget, she referred to the fact that the General Budget did not reflect the Council of Ministers’ resolution to adopt a budget that responds to social type while Intissar Hamdan indicated the lack of attention to the education sector and its development as the increase for this sector did not exceed 1.5% during the past six years while the annual increase rate of numbers of new students in the schools reached 3.8%.
On the other hand, Dr. Allam Jarrar, member of PNGO Network, pointed out that the wage bill in the General Budget mounted to 55%, i.e., a total deficit of 45% without foreign aid, wondering about allocating the bulk of the budget to security which amounted to fifteen times more than the agricultural sector share.
Public Satisfaction Survey Results on Government Performance
Dr. Hussain Ahmed, Director of the Center for Opinion Polls and Survey Research at An-Najah National University, reviewed results of the opinion poll conducted by the Center on the degree of satisfaction on the performance of public institutions and the civil servants during the 26-28 March 2010.
The results of the poll showed that there was an average satisfaction by the Palestinian public with the amount of information and guidelines published by public institutions about the services they provide while they expressed dissatisfaction with the accuracy of the information published by public institutions on the cost of services provided.
During his review, Hussain added that the Palestinian public expressed their dissatisfaction with the justice, equality and transparency in the delivery of services to citizens, as well as with the accuracy of the dates set by public institutions for delivery of services required.
As for accountability, Hussein explained that the poll showed public dissatisfaction with the Palestinian public institutions in addressing and following up complaints from the public and equality in the follow-up and addressing of complaints by the public institutions in addition to dissatisfaction with the efficiency and professionalism of competent PNA institutions regarding investigating and addressing the issues of corruption.
With regard to public satisfaction with the performance of civil servants, the poll showed that corruption such as bribery, ‘Wasta’, and favoritism still exist which, in turn, affect justice and equality in service providing whereas civil servants are committed to working hours.
About 43.7% of respondents said there were people outside Palestine who receive a monthly salary from the PA budget and do not do any government work in Palestine or abroad while according to 59.5% of those surveyed, there are people inside Palestine receiving a monthly salary from the PA budget who are never in their workplace.
Based on AMAN’s perspective, Researcher Bilal Barghouthi reviewed an analysis of the results of the opinion poll where he noted that the poll showed an improvement in performance of public institutions regarding the provision of services to citizens although there are weaknesses in the level of justice, equality and transparency in appointments and promotions and that the siege on the Gaza Strip is still an obstacle facing the provision of some services by public institutions in Gaza.
Barghouthi added that the establishment of complaints centers in public institutions has improved handling and following up complaints from people, but there are weaknesses in the effective monitoring on the performance of civil servants and their role in preserving public funds; and that the Palestinian law is still deficient in criminalizing all forms of corruption and is lax on punishments.
On the best ways to combat corruption, Barghouthi explained that it requires a comprehensive monitoring system in addition to raising awareness among the public and involving them in combating corruption.
Rationalization of public salaries
In its closing session, the conference discussed the rationalization of the wage bill and the phenomenon of the ‘ghost’ employee where Jihad Hamdan, the former Head of the General Personnel Council, confirmed the phenomenon of ‘ghost’ employees is an old inheritance that has started with the early inception of the Palestinian Authority; he added that GPC is currently working on eliminating it through a control system.
Hamdan pointed out that the political conditions that we face have contributed to creating a range of forms of corruption considering that the issue of promotions and appointments has a kind of political discrimination by a decision of the Cabinet because of the divide that occurred in 2007.
On the other hand, Majid al-Hilou, Director General of Palestinian Retirement Commission, explained that the monitoring program is a holistic full program and that appointments and promotions are now being monitored in an effort to eliminate favoritism and ‘Wasta’.
At the conclusion of the session, the Minister of Planning and Administrative Development, Ali Jarbawi, said the solution to the problem of corruption depends primarily on the existence of a unitary political will indicating that there is no sincerity in doing so.
Public poll on citizen’s satisfaction with the integrity of public institutions:
The public institution serves the people; but do they exercise their rights to their properties?
On March 28th, the Coalition for Integrity and Accountability- AMAN organized a workshop in the Gaza Strip, parallel to AMAN sixth annual conference, with the aim of presenting and discussing a public poll on the integrity of public institutions and the employees thereof. Dozens of representatives of civil organizations, governmental institutions and concerned parties attended the event.
Discontent with employees receiving salaries from the Public Treasury while not attending at their workplaces
Ms. Nadia Al Bayoumi, Director of AMAN’s office in Gaza, presented the results of the poll and emphasized that the poll sought to measure the Palestinian citizens’ satisfaction with the performance of public institutions based on principles of transparency, integrity and efficiency in the provision of services. The poll also aimed at revealing the extent of approval on the performance and integrity of civil servants, and elicits opinions on interventions that can enhance integrity in the work of public institutions.
Results concluded that there is a noticeable improvement on the provision of services in the public institutions; however, Wasta and favoritism still influence justice and equality in offering services. Results further showed the dissatisfaction of the Palestinian citizen with civil servants who receive their wages from the Public Treasury without attending at their workplaces as citizens considered this as one form of corruption.
The poll affirmed that Palestinian law still comes short in criminalizing some forms of corruption while penalties are still lenient.
Better status in the flow of information, and a weakness in communicating with citizens
On his part, Mr. Hani Abu Omra, a researcher and member of the central committee of the Arab Palestinian Front, pointed out that progress has indeed taken place at the level of circulating information, while the quality and accuracy of this information is still less than required, adding that results indicate having a weak relation between citizens and the government. He elaborated that citizens have begun to feel that public institutions are not there to serve them and that a person needs Wasta to get the service he needs while the non-commitment of employees reflect their poor attention to ethical and professional duty and the use of funds for the public’s interest.
On his part, Mr. Taysir Muheisen, a researcher and head of capacity-building and advocacy at the Agricultural Relief Committee (PARC), stated that this poll comes at a time of confusion the Palestine suffers from with regards to the challenges, priorities as well as individual and group conduct. He stressed that Palestinians still have not risen to face challenges neither do they sort out their mistakes. He added that the state of division is becoming more rooted while everyone is learning to live and adapt to the current situation while the aggrieved Palestinians do not take actions neither against corruption nor exacerbation and therefore becoming pathetic. Further, there is a fall back in the role of intermediary institutions, and he agreed with what was proposed by citizens in relation to mechanisms to curtail the dissemination of corruption.
Eng. Fawaz al-Alami, Director General of Administrative Development and Good Governance at the Ministry of Planning in the Deposed Government in Gaza, presented a number of models of administrative reform in public institutions, and emphasized that the government is working to establish and execute a plan to assess governmental performance. In addition, he stated that a lot of information is accessible online through government websites. As for appointments and promotions, tests have become computerized which eliminate the possibility of personal interests interfering in the process. In regards to the poll results, he explained that the citizen feel that the provision of some services has relatively improved, however, improvement is far more than what citizens reflected in the poll.
Participants took part in an extensive discussion about the poll results and explained that they do indeed notice an improvement on the general performance in several areas while there are some shortcomings. They clarified impact that the siege and the particularity of Gaza’s situation have on citizens in general and on the ability of public institutions to address required services sufficiently. Most of them agreed on the necessity of activating oversight on the public sector, and condemned the phenomenon known as ‘ghost employee’ who gets a monthly salary from the General Budget with attending at his workplace.
Among participants, there has been a unanimous consent on the importance of having constant check of the satisfaction of citizens in relation to performance and service providing in the public sector. They also called for conducting more polls to keep abreast of the level of service providing in the various sectors and the shortcomings that need to be addressed.
At the end of the conference, it was re-emphasized that polls are tools which can be utilized by service providers in order to improve the services and the level of contentment that the citizen has with these. This in turn makes citizens confident in their ability to obtain public services without the need for Wasta, neither would nepotism or favoritism influence the integrity and fairness in providing these services.