2018, a year of declining trust between citizens and officials
الأربعاء | 17/04/2019 - 03:07 PM

AMAN Coalition Holds its Eleventh Conference in Ramallah and in Gaza

Ramallah, Gaza – Under the motto of “Listen to the people and do not oppress … Fight corruption and do not fear”, the Coalition for Integrity and Accountability – AMAN held its annual conference to present the findings of its eleventh report on the “Reality of Integrity and Anticorruption in Palestine, 2018” in both parts of the country, connected via videoconference. The conference was attended by several government representatives and members of the PLO Executive Committee as well as foreign delegations and ambassadors, mainly the Norwegian Representative to Palestine, the Dutch Ambassador and representatives of donor countries and agencies in addition to a number of social figures and citizens interested in the anticorruption issues in Palestine.

Suppression downs out dialogue

The conference started with a speech by the Chair of AMAN’s Board, Mr. Abdelqader Al-Husseini, who pointed out that AMAN’s Annual Report is considered as a credible source by citizens and decision-makers because it monitors the situation of the national integrity system and its developments and challenges in a whole year, with the objective of drafting a number of recommendations to stakeholders and decision=makers to help them adopt informed anti-corruption and immunity upgrading procedures. The report also raises advocates’ awareness in civil society organizations and mobilizes them to fight corruption and prevent accumulation of errors and deviations and to protect public funds in addition to security the necessary support to consolidate the steadfastness of the Palestinian people and establish a democratic Palestinian state, based on respect of the values of integrity, transparency, accountability and anti-corruption.

Al-Husseini presented the report methodology by saying it is founded on the findings of the special reports prepared by AMAN throughout the year and the findings of the Integrity standard, which depends on a number of local indicators pertinent to integrity and anticorruption the report is also based on the annual opinion survey which monitors the perceptions of citizens on the situation of integrity and anticorruption. The Chairman reiterated that AMAN is committed to monitoring first-hand data and facts so that the report team can document and analyze them. However, some official entities refused or delayed disclosure of information during the report preparation period. He added that the report was reviewed by external readers, namely Dr. Ghassan Al-Khateeb, Dr. Tafeedah Al-Jarbawi from the West Bank and Dr. Talal Okal and researcher Abdelqader Jaradah from Gaza.

Al-Husseini stated that the general environment was not favorable but rather undermines the national integrity system in the past year. As a result, citizens’ trust in the current political system dropped largely in both parts of the country. Their frustration and hopelessness of any breakthrough in the future. This appeared in the findings of the Arab Parameter Survey conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Survey in Palestine this year. Findings showed weak trust of Palestinian citizens in the performance of public institutions, where 83% responded they did not trust labor parties and 66% did not trust the national consensus government, and the same for the President office. It was followed by the government (council of ministers) with 61% and then the judiciary with 56%, followed by the Legislative Council and civil society with 54%. Al-Husseini elaborated on public peaceful protests in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the violent suppression they faced by security organs, violating all laws.

We extend our hands to the new government

Al-Hussein stressed on AMAN’s readiness to discuss its annual and other reports with the government at all levels to promote a genuine partnership based on shared responsibilities and burdens. He invited officials to employ serious efforts to reach national reconciliation, as a perquisite to confront the US-backed Israeli occupation. He also appealed to the new Palestinian cabinet to prioritize anti-corruption efforts, rule of law, respect of the judiciary and separation of powers in addition to openness and involvement of civil society organizations to respond to their claims and recommendations. He reiterated that this kind of partnership is a guarantee to build state institutions on the basis of integrity, transparency and accountability and capable of promoting citizens’ steadfastness. Al-Hussein asked the new government to push for translating the policies on previous cabinet’s agenda and civil society recommendations, mainly AMAN’s, into practical measures on the ground. He called upon the government to especially adopt a national comprehensive cross-sectoral anticorruption plan involving all official and civil efforts and to ratify the Law on Access to Information, set forth in the National Policy Agenda together with the National Archive Law. He also recommended that the government be more open and share responsibilities with the civil society and accept social accountability as a right to citizens toward their officials and decision-makers.

AMAN welcomed the decisions made in the first meeting of the new cabinet including budget-tightening to confront the financial crisis in Palestine. The austerity measures, which AMAN has been demanding for years, include abstention from buying new cars to the newly appointed ministers and use the old vehicles, disallowing first-class flights for all ministers, and request their financial statements. The Cabinet also confirmed it will not raise taxes and will give priority to supporting the steadfastness of Jerusalemites while focusing on activities and programs to improve the quality of services offered to citizens, mainly in health and education with a special focus on occupied Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, as well as the so-called Area (c). The Cabinet announced it will intensify ministerial field visits to assess citizens’ needs and examine their situation. AMAN’s Coalition will follow up on the positive developments announced by the government until they are institutionalized and implemented on the ground to respond to citizens’ needs.

Speech of International Partners

Ambassador Kees Van Baar, Representative of the Netherlands to the State of Palestine, addressed the audience in the West Bank and Gaza reiterating that payment of taxes by Palestinian citizens must be associated to reception of high quality services and to citizens’ right to hold the government accountable for the budget, expenditure and management of public fund. It should be noted that AMAN Coalition’s Program is funded by the governments of Norway, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Environment remains unfavorable for the National Integrity System

Negative indicators affecting the Palestinian political system in previous years persisted in 2018, mounting challenges to immune the national integrity system: systematic aggression by the Israeli occupation continued to loath Palestinian wealth and resources and impose control on the land, not to mention escalation of jeudization of Jerusalem and eviction of Palestinian citizens from the city. Furthermore, the occupation abuses of its control of Palestinian taxes and customs duties (clearance money) to exercise political blackmailing violating thus all international law, agreements and conventions as well as morality and best international practices. On another level, the Palestinian national reconciliation toppled resulting in further deterioration, which was magnified by drop in international assistance to the PA. citizens’ trust in the components of the Palestinian political system dropped further especially following decision to dissolve the legislative council after 12 years of paralysis. The decision coincided with retreated judicial oversight role and weak monitoring and accountability for management of public funds and affairs. All of this in a context of economic recession and insolvency of the private sector, especially in the Gaza Strip. The number of poor increased according to official statistics showing they represent 51% of the total population. Frustration, hopelessness and distrust in official institutions mounted in the Palestinian society.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

The report analyzed the improvements in the public administration of the state including in areas related to commitment to the integrity system and combatting corruption. Regarding public positions, the government approved the civil service national strategy and regulated recruitment in ordinary posts through career planning covering 77 government departments to rationalize the wages bill. It further involved the civil society in overseeing recruitment in ordinary posts (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Higher Judicial Council) while the General Personnel Council pursued preparation of job descriptions for senior and special posts and publication of the results of job exams and competitions. The single code of ethics for security apparatuses was adopted. The General Personnel Council and the Anticorruption Commission continued its awareness program of public service code of conducts. Additionally, a system was prepared to regulate acceptance of gifts and the mechanisms to handle them.

Regarding management of public funds, the report mentioned that the government ratified a strategic plan for the management of public funds; it also noted reduction in the overall public spending, especially on the wages bill. Furthermore, expenses of the security sector dropped and reliance on local taxes and clearance money represented around 85% of the revenues of the public budget.

The State Audit and Administrative Control Bureau (SAACB) pursed its active oversight role and published its 2017 annual report revealing tens of financial, administrative and legal deviations and violations. It submitted 23 reports on suspicion of corruption to ACC. Furthermore, SAACB in the Gaza Strip received 48 complaints involving municipalities, ministries and associations.

The role of civil society organizations in accountability and oversight of public funds and affairs improved with coordinated efforts to organization the National Integrity Day to raise awareness of social accountability. On another level, citizens organized peaceful protests and marches to object to government’s policies and decisions like the mobilization against the Social Security Law and the mobilization to “lift sanctions on Gaza”. The Civil Society Team for Public Budget Transparency continued to publish and analyze data on management of public funds, mainly on revenues and expenditure.

The Electricity Sector Regulatory Council slightly improved its activities following adoption of its organizational structure and annual budget as well as providing for its administrative and financial independence. Syndic elections in the Bar Association, Doctors’ Union, Chambers of Commerce and Industry and Students’ Unions were conducted. A law was enacted on the medical and health safety and protection in spite of objections by the Doctors’ Union against some of its provisions. A slight improvement and expansion of creation of websites to receive complaints from official institutions in the West Bank was noticed. The sites are linked to the government centralized computerized complaints system in the Secretariat General of the Ministerial Council. In the Gaza Strip, the central complaints system is connected to the Ministry of IT and Communication, which manages it.

2018: Severe drop in citizens’ trust in officials

The National Integrity System witnessed severe challenges, most importantly a regression in government’s transparency and openness to the community. As a result, citizens’ trust in the government and its officials dropped with the lack of transparency and integrity in management of public funds, especially the public budget in absence of a legislative authority.

The report addressed the right to equal opportunity to hold public posts, especially for senior positions. This principle was not respected as senior posts were not open to an honest competition for all the Palestinians. 62 officials were appointed via 39 presidential decree in flagrant violation of the Basic Law. The appointments were made without announcement of the vacancies to the public and without any competition or oversight in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The report stated that appointments and promotions were made under the clause of “exception” without reasoning. AMAN Coalition found out that most senior appointments and promotions were based on favoritism and loyalties and sharing of influence. They took place in total violation of the law to grant pension financial privileges. Some included appointment of sons of government officials in senior posts in the judiciary, public prosecution and diplomatic corps. Furthermore, seven governors were appointed without any law regulating this appointment. Government-paid appointments were made in nongovernmental, civil or partisan entities like the Arab-Chinese Relations Commission, and the International Relations Commission and Fatah offices as well as civic education commission and the Higher Council of Youth and Sports.

The report pointed out that special contract employees continued to be appointed without recourse to formal procedures, as a backdoor for appointment. Some officials, whose positions require full-time work, hold other positions in the boards of non-ministerial public organizations or government companies to acquire further financial privileges.

Final accounts suspended for five years

Regarding management of public funds, the Ministry of Finance and Planning kept delaying preparation of its final statement of accounts violating its promise to issue the final accounts for the fiscal years 2013, 2014 and 2015. SAACB confirmed it had audited the final accounts of 2013, expected to be published in 2019. It should be noted that publication of the final accounts five years after the elapse of the fiscal year compromises accountability and oversight of public funds and allows for impunity. It is therefore a must to hold the Ministry of finance accountable for the delay in submission of accounts in spite of its promises.

About 1 billion NIS depleted of the public treasure

The report highlighted the net lending, which usurps around one billion shiekels year of the public treasure. The public debt reached 15 billion shiekles early 2018. Under continuing piracy of Palestinian money by Israeli occupation, a comprehensive and informed plan is needed to restitute the Palestinian rights in full.

The report raised doubts about the government’s austerity and rationalization policy, revealing poor performance and rise in public expenses without any improvement in services. Furthermore, new organizational structures were created leading to inflated departments, units and divisions inconsistently with the size of work. The report referred to another problem related to sound management of public funds, namely public procurement following resolutions from the Ministerial Council for direct purchase by public institutions and ministries, undermining the already weak oversight role of the Higher Council of Public Procurement.

Government’s lack of rigor leads to corruption in public institutions

On anticorruption, the report shed light on government’s abstention from conceptualizing a national cross-sectoral anticorruption plan not to mention the lack of any law or regulation to protect whistleblowers and non-application of the anticorruption law in the Gaza Strip. The public opinion poll conducted by AMAN last wear showed weak citizens’ trust in the independence of the Anticorruption Commission and non-serious efforts to prosecute senior officials while there is no sitting parliament to follow up on the reports and recommendations of SAACB. On the other hand, public institutions do not take these recommendations seriously.

Scarce information and prosecution of journalists, who do not enjoy protection

The report stated the difficult access to information and prosecution of journalists who live permanent fear of legal prosecution because of lack of any professional or legal protection when they prepare their investigative reports. Non-adoption of the laws on access to information and on national archives restrict citizens’ right to easy access to information and strengthens officials’ control over the archives of the public institutions. This is a fertile environment for corruption and impunity as substantial documents are concealed knowing that the crime of corruption is imprescriptible.

Multiple forms of corruption

The forms of corruption observed in 2018 included wastah, favoritism, abuse of trust, misuse of authority and abuse of public position. However, the most salient form – based on the complaints filed to ACC – was nepotism and favoritism (71 complaints). Nevertheless, the Anticorruption Court did not look into any case classified under nepotism or favoritism. This indicates that the anticorruption law is still unable to deal with wasta (nepotism) as a crime of corruption. AMAN therefore recommends an amendment to the law to treat wasta as a misdemeanor.

19 of 482 complaints submitted to the Anti-Corruption Commission were submitted to the Anti-Corruption Prosecution

Most of the complaints related to the public sector, followed by local authorities then trade unions and syndicates. The report revealed piling up of many complaints submitted by citizens to ACC while the public opinion poll conducted by AMAN revealed pessimism and lack of trust by citizens in anticorruption efforts. The percentage of respondents who believe the corruption increased in last years increased from 55% in 2017 to 67% in 2018. This is a sign of pessimism, frustration and lack of trust in anticorruption efforts. On another note, 70% of respondents in the West Bank and 51% in the Gaza Strip expected corruption will increase in 2019.

Analysis of ACC data revealed a huge gap between its efforts and the number of complaints and reported cases received (a total of 482 complaints and cases were reported), compared to the number of files actually submitted to the anticorruption prosecution and court. It is shocking to note that ACC declined jurisdiction over 225 complaints, discontinued proceedings of 249 complaints while the number of cases referred to the anticorruption prosecution for the same period reached 19, and 29 others were settled at the anticorruption court. Furthermore, proceedings in 12 cases were discontinued for unknown reasons. The number of accused in cases of corruption reached 375, of whom 185 were convicted.

Absence of ACC in the Gaza Strip

In the Gaza Strip, cases of corruption are handled by the public prosecution, which acts in the stead of ACC. It is a non-specialized prosecution and is severely understaffed. The Public Prosecution handled only 6 corruption cases in 2017 while no data is available for 2018. This does not reflect the size of corruption in the Gaza Strip. In 2017, the public prosecution handled cases related to crimes of corruption worth twenty million dollars and was able to restitute 92% of this sum.

AMAN coalition observed a rise in economic crimes in 2018, which coincided with daily seizing of expired food that is not fit for human consumption. This resulted from the lack of a single agency to combat expired food and medications. Furthermore, sanctions to such crimes and violations are not sufficiently deterrent.
On another note, the report highlighted cases that require immediate follow up, including continued violations of state land in the Gaza Strip. This requires the formation of an official national committee to survey state land allocated for particular purposes but used alternately, or trespassed or registered as private property.

Smuggled diesel leads to further losses for the public treasure, estimated at billions of shiekels

The report highlighted the non-adoption of the Law on the Petroleum Public Corporation until end 2018, which repays around one billion US Dollars to the public treasure yearly, from prices of gas sold to citizens, in reason of conflict over authorities among officials.

Investigative research showed that some gas stations sell smuggled diesel and that it is necessary to unveil the Palestinian agencies implicated in the suspicion of smuggling and the influential agencies that protect them.

Unregulated transfer of staff between the public and private sectors

The report indicated that there isn’t any comprehensive law to regulate the relationship of senior officials in the PNA with the private sector. This allowed some of them to acquire certain privileges from the private sector and abuse of their position without accountability. As a result, negative values spread like hypocrisy of some private sector representatives toward government officials in tax and customs departments to receive permits and licenses.

The government is accountable to the people

The report listed a string of recommendations including requesting President Mahmoud Abbas to issue a decree setting the date for the next general (presidential and legislative) elections. It also invited Hamas in Gaza to approve the elections once the date is set. At the legislative level, AMAN called for the issuance of a law to regulate concessions, competition and prevention of monopoly as well as the law on access to information, which has been dragging for 15 years. It also called for enacting the law on national archives and the law on the Public Petroleum Corporation. AMAN also invited the Ministerial Council to issue an executive regulation for the anticorruption law to protect whistleblowers against counterattacks. It also called for drafting a law to regulate transfer of ministers, deputies, tax and customs officers to the private sector, as well as a code of conduct for members of the Council of Ministers and regulations to govern and disclose acceptance of gifts and hospitability by officials and staff.

Reform lf justice and judiciary sector and checks and balances

The report invited the President to adopt a transitional plan to reform and unify the judiciary branch to include the public prosecution. It proposed that an interim council or independent commission comprising public, judiciary and professional members, be established to set the objective and professional criteria for evaluation of the justice institutions.

Promote anticorruption efforts

AMAN reiterated its recommendation to the government to adopt a national cross-sectoral strategy to promote integrity and anticorruption similar to other cross-sectoral national plans and strategies approved by the government. It also recommended the enactment of a new medical insurance system, which should be mandatory and comprehensive.

To promote integrity and transparency in public procurement, the report recommended a number of procedures to the ministries and public institutions subject to the public procurement law, and reiterated the necessity to stop granting “exceptions” in purchasing procedures, since these exceptions violate the law.

Regarding public positions, AMAN recommended a rigorous government policy to prevent politicization of public posts and activate the role of oversight agencies. It reiterated on the necessity to establish the “Committee on the Quality of Governance in the Public Sector”, to review the appointment of candidates to civil and security positions in the public sector.

Austerity and rationalization plans for management of public funds

AMAN underlined the necessity to rationalize public spending and called upon the government to devise and ratify an austerity plan to confront the financial crisis and adapt to the new situation while confronting the US-backed occupation policies. AMAN reiterated on the necessity to comply with transparency principles in presentation and dissemination of public budget documents and recommended publication of periodic reports and final accounts on time, as prescribed by the law, rather than treating them as a file that is not accessible to citizens. It is also necessary to revising the risk allowances so that it can be spent only when truly needed.

Influential figures impeded control of non-ministerial public institutions

AMAN Coalition invited the Council of Ministers to approve the financial and administrative systems of the governmental non-ministerial public institutions and asked the President and government to compel these institutions to submit periodic reports to reference agencies, as stated in the law.

Promote integrity of management of privatized public service sectors

To promote integrity in management of public service sectors, AMAN recommended the formation of regulatory councils of public sectors and privatized utilities, and application of the law on the regulatory council of the telecommunication sector. It also called for ratifying the law on the regulatory council of public transport, and the higher council of media. It further recommended to create a national committee to follow up on health and safety of food and medicines. The report invited the Capital Market Authority and the Private Sector Coordinating Committee and the Companies’ Registrar to follow up on the code of corporate governance for enforcement thereof. It called upon board members of civil society organizations, mainly networks and coalitions, to continue forming internal audit mechanisms to control compliance with the code of conduct of civil action. It called upon general assemblies of civil society organizations to activate their oversight role and control the activities of their boards and executive offices.

The report recommended to activate the role of the local authorities councils in oversight and accountability of their executive offices and heads of local authorities, with focus on internal audit units and complaints systems as well as promotion of social accountability.

Fighting corruption: top priority for Palestinian citizens

AMAN’s Executive Director, Majdi Abu Zeid, presented a comprehensive analysis of the latest events that deepened the trust gap between citizens and officials; these included impunity, lack of political will to combat corruption, unclear entity of accountability in the Gaza Strip. As a result, priorities changed in the Palestinian society, where corruption became a top priority for 38% of respondents. Other priorities, like the financial crisis and the occupation as well as national reconciliation, came second. Indeed, 64% of respondents believe that corruption is concentrated among some influential figures.

Questions and interventions from citizens in the West Bank and Gaza Strip focused on particular cases of corruption like Gaza Gas, disposal of government lands and its correlation to the investment fund in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the fact that eighty thousand households in the Gaza Strip have not been receiving their social aid for months.

You may download the report, by clicking on this link:

https://www.aman-palestine.org/en/reports-and-studies/6501.html

 

 

 

 

 

 




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