Ramallah – The Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN) held a session to discuss its draft paper on Politicisation of the Public Service in Palestine. The paper examines and investigates the manifestations of politicised service in the Palestinian public sector, equality and equal opportunities for Palestinians to hold public office, and consequences of public service politicisation on the integrity of governance. In the session, discussants stressed the need to separate and neutralise public service from any phenomena of partisan politicisation or disputes. The provisions of the Palestinian Basic Law should be enforced to ensure the principle of equality and right to hold public office for all Palestinian citizens. Public service policies should be reviewed to avoid any gaps, which that can be used in favour of particular party or body or contrary to the public interest. In addition to compliance with job descriptions, the principle of equality and equitable opportunities will be maintained in the process of holding public office.
The paper defines politicisation of the public service as “using public service for political (partisan) purposes. It involves recruitment of supporters of a certain party by providing special services to these supporters, such as appointments and promotions, with a view to buying their loyalty. It also entails mobilisation for a party by providing particular services to certain groups on a selective, rather than an inclusive, basis. Alternatively public service is used as a means to influence and for buying loyalty to a party.
Upholding allegiance and excluding opposition
The session began with a presentation by Dr. Rashad Twam, who elaborated on some phenomena of politicised public service in Palestine. The most heinous form is politicisation of service provision to citizens. According to Twam, some manifestations of politicised public service give weight to allegiance and exclude the opposition by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank or by the de facto authority in the Gaza Strip. While loyalists are recruited to hold public office by means of exceptional and temporary appointments, opponents are excluded from public service on grounds of the security clearance condition. This practice runs counter to the provisions of the law, namely, holding public office on the basis of equality and non-discrimination. In accordance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the right to hold public office is premised on the principle of equitable opportunities and right to work.
Compulsory retirement… partisan and personal score-settling
According to AMAN’s paper, some loyal public servants are free to exercise their political rights and partisan activities even during office hours. Others have received privileges, such as special and extraordinary grades and capacities (e.g. minister, ambassador, governor) or transferred to the diplomatic corps and judicial authority. On the other hand, the job security of opponents (e.g. partisan and union activists) is compromised by salary cuts, termination of service, dismissal from office, and compulsory retirement. Some officials use public service to settle partisan and personal scores.
Holding public office is managed by a sound process
Mr. Mousa Abu Zeid, Chairman of the General Personnel Council (GPC), denied the phenomenon of politicised public service and the application of a security clearance condition to candidates. Abu Zeid commended the progress made by the GPC. For the higher category, job descriptions are consistently maintained and applied. Abu Zeid denied the existence of reserved jobs, highlighting that a computerised, rather than a manual, application process is in place. In addition to competitions, the recruitment system is governed by clearly defined and sequenced procedures. Accordingly, the most competent personnel are selected after they sit for employment exams. These are followed by interviews held by an independent and impartial committee.
Commenting on the issue of contracts, Abu Zeid said that these are concluded after relevant announcements. Contracts are subject to the same recruitment procedure, including competitions, examinations, interviews, and selection of the best bidders.
Manifestation of politicised public service
In his comments, Dr. Azmi Shuaibi, Consultant to AMAN's Board of Directors, highlighted that public servants should not be forced into a political conflict in favour a particular faction. Citing some examples from Gaza during the internal Palestinian political divide, Shuaibi stated that Gaza-based public servants were requested not to report to their workplaces. With its chairman put in jail, the Union of Public Employees was dissolved after relevant purposes had no longer been needed. Also, Gaza-based public servants in support of Dahlan were affected by salary cuts.
In her intervention, Ms. Khaleda Jarrar, a former member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, explained that the draft report addressed gaps in employment policies, rather than the employment process. Other manifestations of politicised public service include appointment of school principals, the majority of whom are members of a single faction. Although it is illegal, security clearance is practised on a daily basis. Jarrar also stated that offices of certain factions exist within line ministries, wondering how a public institution could be home of these offices. Other participants indicated that some line ministries called on relevant staff members to join forces with certain campaigns and pledge allegiance to the President. Originally designated for all Palestinians, university scholarships are given to and applied for by faction offices.
Abu Zeid pledged to review to draft report and address gaps, if any, as he put it. He called on AMAN to forward any complaints filed by any applicants, who were deprived of holding public office on grounds of their affiliation with a particular faction.