Tuesday, May 07, 2013

6-May-13: European bureaucrats keep pouring cash into the dark recesses of the PA, while Palestinian Arab concerns are ignored

Arafat mausoleum in Ramallah: one of many cited
instances of corruption in the PA [Image Source]
It would be nice to think of the newly-evolved neighboring state of Palestine - the one recognized by Google in the past few days and by the United Nations a little earlier - as being normal, serious and operating like governments ought to.

The problems with today's reality are clear, starting with the fact that the president was elected in January 2005 to a four year term but holds tenaciously to power eight years later. Elections to the Palestine parliament were held once only in January 2006, and its 132 members remain in power too. (Note that they don't have that much to do since it no longer meets.) But there's no power vacuum; quite the contrary. Things get done. It's just that many of those things are disturbing.

The 2013 annual report (helpfully called "Corruption and Ways to Combat It”) of the Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (known as AMAN in Arabic) and issued last month is summarized in a article released today under the heading "Report Highlights Corruption In Palestinian Institutions". It's a report that has gotten close to zero media attention.

The article is authored by Hazem Balousha, a Palestinian journalist from Gaza, and published on the Al Monitor site. As the name suggests, it deals with corruption inside the PA. This certainly does not mean the PA is more corrupt than that other Palestinian Arab government sitting in Gaza. It's just that the Hamas regime provides a far more problematic environment for digging around and revealing what the jihadists of Hamas are doing with their power and their money.

Some of the report's disclosures:
  • First and foremost: Presidential and parliamentary elections need to be held and are not. (Our comment: In government, accountability is its own reward, but it's hard to achieve when none of the actors have to face the electorate.)
  • Graft is the PA's most common form of corruption. It is rampant because of the "absence of an official framework" and "lack of mechanisms".
  • Beyond graft, there are also nepotism, favoritism and squandering of public fundsAlso embezzlement of public funds, money laundering, forgery, breach of trust and abuse of office for personal gain. (We get the impression the list is not meant to be exhaustive.) Overall, the PA suffers from a low level of transparency in its public, private and civil sectors.
  • Laws introduced to address problems in the inherently lucrative fields of public procurement and tenders have still not been implemented.
  • The report says PA officials "who refuse to abide by the High Court of Justice’s decision" should be tried for corruption, as the law requires.
  • Government vehicles are still being misappropriated by employees.
  • "Suspicions" have grown about the running of Palestinian Airlines. It flies from Egypt's El-Arish airfield, and though it has only three aircraft (all received as gifts), public disclosures of money being stolen from inside have been rampant for years (example).
  • There are also "suspicions" (example) about the mausoleum for Arafat in Ramallah.
  • There is "concern" about the absence of a legal framework to govern "the activities of national security, intelligence and police agencies". Some security chiefs still illegally hold leadership positions within political parties.
  • The budget for the PA’s security apparatus is "murky". That budget "accounts for nearly one third of the Palestinian public budget" but is "comprised of only one figure, without details... of their revenues and expenses". (In other words, a pork barrel.) The way expenses are managed in the security sector "provides opportunities for corruption to prevail”.
  • Palestinian universities are notably non-transparent. They fail "to disclose financial statements and administrative reports in a manner that raised rumors from time to time about their budgets and the mechanisms that they used to make decisions pertaining to filling executive positions”.
  • The Ministry of Health is "in a state of regression". 
  • The important Water Resources and Energy ministries come in for particular concern about their corruption.
  • There are too many public institutions and they are consuming more than reasonable quanitities of resources. They should be shrunk to reduce the current high levels of the squandering of public funds.
  • The PA Public Prosecutor’s office "is not subject to oversight". As a result, it loses most of the cases it brings before the High Court of Justice.
  • As for the political parties themselves, they mostly follow what the report calls "the traditional quota system for dividing senior government positions, representative organizations' boards of directors memberships and posts in embassies abroad”.
  • And finally to the role of the president, Mahmoud Abbas: in the absence of a functioning parliament, his office relies on declaring laws and decrees and these are of doubtful constitutionality.
At the end of March 2013, the EU's foreign minister Catherine Ashton announced a further massive injection of European money into the Palestinian Authority:
With this contribution the European Union delivers on its promise to sustain the PA's viability and its ability to ensure essential services for the Palestinian people without interruption. We will continue to support the Palestinian people, including through UNRWA, and urge other donors to do the same.”
As far as we can see, there is not a word in the announcement or the accompanying media coverage about the central role played by Palestinian Arab corruption in the PA's problems. European taxpayer money just keeps on arriving to fuel the rort, even while European governments are themselves in deep fiscal trouble. (And that's before we even mention the catastrophic scandal called UNRWA.)

Perhaps the Norwegians, some of whose parliamentarians are deeply embarrassed (but much too late) by what has been done with their massive transfers of aid to the Palestinian Arabs, can lead the way by bringing a completely new approach. Demanding that the Abbas regime give an honest, business-like accounting of how and why they operate a rewards-for-terrorists scheme might be a good place to start.

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