The Coalition for Integrity and Accountability-AMAN
Launching Results of the 2016 Report on “Integrity and Combating Corruption”
9th Annual Conference
Under the Slogan: “A Strong and Independent Country Stems from a Strong and Independent Judiciary: No to Corruption in the Judicial System”
In the presence of many journalists, local and international media outlets representatives, AMAN held its conference to launch its 9th annual report “Integrity and Combating Corruption-2016” in Ramallah and Gaza through separate broadcasts. The conference was attended by government and civil society representatives, academicians, researchers, anti-corruption activists, and ordinary citizens interested in anti-corruption issues.
After welcoming attendees, Mr. Majdi Abu Zaid, Executive Director of AMAN, stated that the report launched today constitutes the culmination of several surveys and studies on the status of corruption and methods of combating it during 2016. AMAN, with the purpose of solving related issues, he added, is keen on drawing attention to the most prominent problems that have undermined and weakened the Palestinian National Integrity System (NIS). In that regard, it had conducted conferences in the past under the slogan “Closed Until Further Notice” referring to the non-functional Palestinian Legislation Council (PLC), as Integrity requires justice in the distribution of resources and burdens, as happened last year. As for for today, our conference is held under a slogan concerning the judiciary, and prompted by the catastrophe which has befell it. This unfortunate catastrophe that I am referring to hampered its independence, which led to citizens’ loss of trust in its credibility; epitomized by the resignation or more like dismissal of the former head of the Judicial Council.
On the other hand, the 2016 report witnessed positive developments at the level of the (NIS) and anti-corruption efforts, most prominent of which are: computerizing the government complaint system, and intensifying the supervisory role of the State Audit and Administrative Control Bureau (SAACB) on institutions subject to its control in accordance with the law, and its issuing of a serious of reports on government, local government units, and civil society institutions. Other developments include: More public institutions and departments became aware of the Code of Conduct for public employees; more integrity was revealed concerning access to public positions, improvement in certain aspects of management of public funds, expansion in the breadth and scope of community accountability regarding public sector institutions and officials. This was accompanied by the growth of social media means as a tool for community oversight and dissemination of information related to corruption, as well as tools for placing people’s concerns on the agenda of society and government. Moreover, applying the Public Procurement Law No.8 symbolized a tangible evidence of better transparency and integrity in conducting public procurement and tenders. Also, there was tangible improvement in medical referrals for treatment outside the Ministry of Health (MoH) institutions; improvement in the provision of cash and in-kind transfers for social assistance and finally, there was improvement in the integrity environment of the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) in the Gaza Strip (GS).
The report did not overlook the general environment including political, social and economic which surround anti-corruption efforts in Palestine. It also did not overlook the external dimensions which played a significant role in weakening the NIS, which also weakened the role of the official regulating institutions in the management of public affairs and finances hence limiting anti-corruption efforts. The most important underlying factors within this negative environment can be summarized as follows: the continued Israeli occupation; reinforcement of the division between the two parts of Palestine (West Bank and Gaza); absence of the PLC; decline in citizens’ trust in the Palestinian national Authority’s performance (PNA); decline in the economic situation and public services, especially in the Gaza Strip (GS) due to the siege and closure of the Rafah border for long periods of time. In addition, efforts for promoting integrity and limiting corruption in Palestine were also affected by the abovementioned negative environment. Furthermore, public interest was compromised more than ever for personal interest; the phenomenon of un-principled competition to access important positions and obtain financial privileges or medical insurance, or a guaranteed pension became widespread. This strengthened the phenomenon of temporary alliances that are not based on principles. However, despite the negative environment, 2016 witnessed several positive developments, especially regarding management of the limited financial resources, which prevented a societal shock because of the decline in international funding.
In the West Bank event, Mr. Abd-Alqader Al-Huseini, President of the Board of Directors-AMAN, and Mr. Issam Younis, Member of AMAN’s Board, spoke in Gaza, each gave the opening statement of the conference by pointing out that this report has earned the trust of both government and citizens, as it is considered a reliable reference and it provides practical recommendations that if implemented it can fortify the Palestinian NIS against corruption. Both speakers praised the positive developments and progress made in combating corruption.
Both Hussaini and Younis warned against neglecting challenges faced by the NIS in 2016.one of the most important challenges is that the government has yet to develop a national comprehensive and participatory plan for promoting integrity and combating corruption. This kept anti-corruption efforts fragmented and dependent on few initiatives put forth by some government and civil society organizations. In addition, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) faced challenges relating to its independence, effectiveness, and external pressure and interventions in its work. Moreover, there was a decline in the judicial role in holding officials accountable, which was due to interventions by the executive authority hence leading to weakening the rule of law which in turn cost the judiciary the loss of citizens’ trust. In Gaza, higher education institutions continued to be politicized and polarized between the PNA in the WB and the authority in the GS after the National Reconciliation Government decided to withhold recognition of certificates issued by the Al-Aqsa University in Gaza. This is in addition to what 2016 witnessed in the form attempts to restrict the role of media and civil society in terms of accountability. Additional challenges in 2016 included: the continuation of withholding local elections; keeping bilateral agreements signed between the PNA and Israel a “secret”. Also, agreements between the PNA and other Palestinian parties were kept secretive, such as the water, electricity, and communication agreements, while at the same time trumpeting to the public that these were national achievements. Younis and Husseini said that the government did not issue the “Access to Information Law” before the end of 2016 and without any justification despite its repeated pledges to do so.
Husseini and Younis concluded their speech by calling on the President to speed up the presidential and legislative elections as well as to facilitate local elections in all Palestinian areas. They also called on him to establish a national reform committee concerning the judiciary; and for the government to prepare a comprehensive and participatory national anti-corruption plan that promotes integrity and combats corruption. The plan needs to define priorities as well as implementation responsibilities of each party involved, as they stated. The two speakers called on the PNA to publish all agreements signed by the government on behalf of Palestinians, and especially those involving concessions such as: the telecommunications, electricity, water and the Bahrein Canal agreements. Finally, they called on the Prime Minister to fulfill his commitment by issuing the “Access to Information Law.
During her presentation on behalf of AMAN’s international partners, Ms. Henny De Vries, Deputy Head at the Netherlands Representative Office in Palestine, expressed the partners’ pride as Dutch, Norwegian, and Luxembourg in supporting AMAN’s Coalition, which has become a role model institution in the fight against corruption. Ms. De Vries pointed out that transparency and accountability are closely linked to combating corruption, and its absence provides a fertile environment for corruption, especially in light of the dysfunction of the PLC hence failing to carry out its natural task of oversight. Therefore, work of civil society organizations in accountability and oversight, led by AMAN-the leader in this area- carried great importance. This is especially important since it functions under unusually difficult circumstances most important of which is the Israeli occupation, the internal division between the WB and GS and consequent ramifications of having two political systems, in addition to the limited economic resources and violation of the freedom of movement among other freedoms.
Ms. De Vries concluded her statement by urging the Palestinian government to adopt AMAN’s recommendations stipulated in the report, which would help the government to become more open. And to also deal with civil society as a partner rather than a rival. She praised the government for launching the national policy agenda 2017-2022 under the slogan of “Citizens First”. She said that this will constitute the cornerstone of establishing a healthy partnership between the government on the one hand and the media, civil society, and citizens, on the other hand.
The First Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Council in Gaza, Dr. Ahmad Bahar, presented his statement in which he referred to the importance of the report and its recommendations. However, Dr. Bahar had some reservation on some points mentioned in the report about the dysfunction of the Legislative Council in which he assured everyone that he is exercising his role in Gaza. He called on AMAN to ensure accuracy and objectivity when investigating issues for the report in the future, since many Palestinian, Arab and international positions are built based on its results.
Therefore, he calls on AMAN to avoid making wrong decisions and false statements considering the internal division between the two parts of the homeland.
Dr. Azmi Shuaibi, Advisor to the Board on Anti-Corruption Policy-AMAN, presented the “In the spot” corruption issues that surfaced in 2016. He said first it is the continuation of the Israeli occupation. Then it is the absence of the PLC where its failure to exercise its oversight role over the executive authority had maintained AMAN’s anti-corruption efforts modest despite the presence of civil society and a group of dedicated anti-corruption activists.
Dr. Shuaibi said that 2016 also witnessed a drastic decline in the rule of law and the breakdown of the judiciary where its independence was greatly affected from within the judicial authority itself, which hindered its reform from within.
This is best exemplified by the Constitutional Court and its establishment as well as the accompanying criticism and external interventions that had brought an end to the only outlet for citizens to obtain justice, since citizens reached a conviction that the judiciary is controlled by others (i.e, lack independence).
Regarding anti-corruption efforts, Dr. Shuabi pointed out that it has been more than years since the “Illicit Gain Law” of 2005 was issued where later in 2010 it was amended to become the Anti-Corruption Law.
Also in 2010 the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) was established to take on anti-corruption efforts. However, the ACC is only one institution, despite the weight it carries in that regard, and was never meant to be burdened alone, as perceived by the Palestinian government who continues to place the responsibility of combating corruption on it as mandate and task.
AMAN sees that the only way to remedy this situation is to prepare and implement a comprehensive and participatory anti-corruption plan, led by the government, that would also promote integrity. To clarify his point further, Dr. Shuaibi cited AMAN’s opinion poll, which concluded that 80% of respondents stated that anti-corruption efforts were insufficient in 2016.
Other “In the Spot” issues included the reduction of social assistance and allowances for poor families, at a time where officials of some institutions are being paid outrageous salaries. Moreover, all efforts to have the government stop or reduce such salaries, which at times amount to 15 thousand U.S. dollars a month, has been met with failure and frustration, as this phenomenon continued during 2016.
Dr. Shuabi also touched on the government’s desire and failure to manage public funds considering the financial gap which exists between expenditures and revenues and the need to abridge this gap by reducing expenditures and increasing revenues. In this regard, he called on institutions in charge of public funds management to rationalizes expenditures and not to exaggerate expenditures such as the Palestinian Monitory Fund in building its new headquarters. Also, medical insurance which collapsed due to administrative decisions taken by the MoH to spend more on health insurance than on improving health services. The only solution to remedy this problem is to issue a new and comprehensive insurance system and to ensure cancellation of all “exceptional” decisions taken previously. In addition, it is important to rationalize expenditures of the security apparatus by relocating/reposting of employees within the apparatuses; in favor of the police and customs officers’ agencies.
Dr. Shuaibi went on to talk about the electricity, water and telecommunications, which have become monopolized due to non-activation of their regulating councils hence leaving citizens forced to pay whatever cost imposed on them. Other issues covered by Dr. Shuaibi included the non-publication of the signed contracts in 2016 concerning these services. He stated that it would have been favorable for the government to publish these agreements and inform us, the public, of our rights and duties. He concluded his “in the spot” issues by stating that the government continued to withhold transfer of approximately 94 million Shekels monthly to the Pension Agency’s account. It is worthy noting that this is an amount stated in the agreement between the Agency and the Ministry of Finance (MoF), as this money is owed by the government to the Agency.
Neutralizing public services from political rivalries is a must
In Gaz, Mr. Wa’el Ba’lousheh, Director of AMAN’s Regional Office, presented the 2016 “In the Spot” corruption related issues in the GS. Mr. Balousheh emphasized AMAN’s position regarding the internal division and of neutralizing public services’ provision from political rivalries. He said this also applies to the electricity sector and exemplified by lack of transparency in the management of this sector in terms of cost and resources because of the struggle for power between Fateh and Hamas. This also applies to politicizing of education typified by the disputes which have directly affected students of Al-Aqsa University in 2016. Ba’lousheh also pointed to the limited public services available to citizens for travel through the Palestinians borders in the GS, as well as to medical referrals which is an area where corruption flourishes. Regarding local elections in the GS Ba’lousheh said that obstructing the holding of these elections was a blow to efforts of strengthening social accountability calling on officials in the GS to be more open and transparent to society and institutions and not to remain isolated from the public. He concluded by praising the internal review carried out by Hamas, as AMAN believes that this is very important since transparency will be in favor of the movement. He also said that it is important to distinguish between management of the Movement in the GS and that of State administration as the latter is subject to be held accountable by the people, and not to confuse public services with political resistance.
Based on data and information provided by the ACC, the Anti-Corruption Prosecution, the Corruption Crimes Court, AMAN’s Integrity Index, and the Public Opinion poll, the “Integrity and Combating Corruption Report 2016” indicated that the most prominent forms of corruption in 2016 were: (1) Abuse of power (2) waste of public funds (3) abuse of trust (4) bribery (5) embezzlement of public funds (6) Wasta and Favoritism (7) money laundering (8) refusal to carryout court orders. Based on data provided by the ACC in 2016, there was 290 complaints/cases received by the ACC that were within its legal jurisdiction; 31 of which were referred to the Anti-Corruption Prosecution. While in 2016 the total sentences issued by the Palestinian judiciary amounted to 22, two of which are for two individuals fleeing justice and are outside the country.
As for economic crimes in 2016 included in the report, crimes were divided as follows: 542 crimes concerning consumer protection issues, 32 crimes were related to products from Israeli illegal colonies, 22 crimes on intellectual property, 17 crimes on tax and customs evasion, and 8 crimes on money laundering, as per recorded cases in the Anti- Economic Crime Prosecution.
AMAN called on the President and the Prime Minister and other related parties to take the recommendations of this report seriously, most important of which are:
• The President and the Palestinian Government are requested to expedite the holding of legislative, presidential, and local elections.
• The Council of Ministers is requested to immediately invite all official parties, including the ACC, the SAACB, the General Personnel Council (GPC), and the Public Procurement Council; in addition to ministers, and representatives of civil society working in the field of integrity and anti-corruption, to participate in the preparation of a national comprehensive integrity and anti-corruption plan.
The plan is to define priorities and responsibilities of each party as well as the mechanism of implementation, follow up, and monitoring of activities. In addition, the government and parties involved should ensure allocation of funds needed to implement the plan.
• The Council of Ministers is requested to prepare a comprehensive plan of action concerning rationalization of public expenditures that specifies objectives to be achieved during the year in each area of spending. First and foremost, filtering salaries and semi-salaries, security expenditures, cancellation of net lending, halting building new premises and buying new government vehicles for several years; rationalize the consumption of gas used for government vehicles; address the problem of the more than 2000 cars used by the security apparatuses where a large number is used for personal purposes.
• The President is requested to form a national reform committee specifically for the judiciary ensuring that reputable judges, legal experts and representatives from the various unions are amongst the members. The committee is to be tasked with the preparation of a comprehensive reform plan for the judiciary.
• Demand to strengthen the role of the SAACB in terms of independence, effectiveness, and commitment to professionalism and impartiality in accordance with provision of the law. This will prevent any attempts aimed at subordinating the Bureau to the executive authority’s control.
• Commitment by the government and the MoF to enhance transparency of the public budget by publishing all financial documents on time.
• The President, Prime Minister and Minister of Interior are requested to prepare a comprehensive reform plan with the aim of reconsidering the number of security agencies, staff and employees, budgets, and areas of expertise. in addition, the plan should include the adoption of the principle of re-locating employees to work in the police force due to the dire need to protect the law and order, and for the service of citizens. It is also recommended that a specific police law is issued.
• The President and Prime Minister are requested to cancel all previous decisions relating to tax exemptions or payments of electricity and water bills. They are also requested to prepare a specific and clear plan for assisting poor families in paying their bills and for collecting money owed by others, especially from rich people to ensure fair distribution of burdens.
• The head of the GPC is requested to complete and approve the job descriptions forms for all senior positions.
• To ensure integrity and equal opportunities in assuming senior positions, the President is requested to form an official national commission to supervise and monitor appointments in senior positions as well as to regulate the work in terms of respecting job descriptions prepared by the GPC, and ensure that job vacancies are announced publicly, etc.
• The Prime Minister is requested to fulfill his promise: to issue the “Access to Information Draft Law”; regulate the national archive, and protect and maintain public records and ensure provision of information to all. The Prime Minister is also requested to demand that the government publish all agreements signed on behalf of the Palestinian people, and especially those related to concessions such as the telecommunication agreement, as well as agreements signed with external parties that have financial obligations such as the agreement of principles on electricity, water and the Bahrein Canal, including all related annexes. Also, requested from the MoF is to publish the agreement concerning debts owed to the Jerusalem District Electric Company and method for payments.
• To immediately activate the regulating bodies for the electricity and water sectors, which continued to be very weak in 2016 due to the power struggle between the Water Authority and the Water Sector Regulating Council. As for the electricity council, it was never activated hence in reality there was no supervision or control over electricity companies. The Telecommunication Council needs to be established.
• The Minister of Finance is requested to ensure that budgets unrelated to cash assistance granted to poor families are not included under the budget of the Ministry of Social Affairs’ program. In addition, the Minister is requested to increase allocations for the poor families’ assistance program.
• Adoption of a new comprehensive and fair health insurance law to eliminate the enormous gaps that have accumulated in the existing system due to the many bad decisions taken which have exhausted it. And to rapidly develop and adopt an accountability system for medical errors, and the establishment of an insurance system concerning medical errors covering both, affected individuals and those working in the health sector.
• The Minister of Local Government is requested to put forth an action plan to settle municipalities’ debts. To also carryout financial settlements in coordination with the Energy Authority and the MoF keeping in mind the interest of the public treasury. It is vital to solve this issue before the State Transport Company assumes responsibility for payment of all such funds to the Regional Israeli Electric Company from the public treasury.
• The government is requested to establish a technical committee of experts and officials from the MoF, and representatives of the Board of Directors of the Pension Agency, and in the presence of retired public employees from the Pension Agency. This action is to work on ending the debt owed to the Agency as well as to put a timeline for payments in accordance with the Palestinian Pension Agency Law. And to immediately begin paying back staff members’ contributions that have been deducted from their salaries. In addition the PNA’s contribution to the Pension Agency should be carried out as stipulated by law.