Feb 18 2010

Fatehgate – between fact and fiction

Published by at 7:33 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

By Daoud Kuttab

Corruption has always been the Achilles heel of the Palestinian leadership. At the height of PLO’s popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, the relationship between revolution and money was the movement’s major weakness.

Well-respected Palestinian artist Kamal Boulatta best reflected this dichotomy in his painting mixing the words thawra (revolution) and tharwa (riches).

The early days of the Palestinian Authority also witnessed a wave of questions about corruption, this time led by members of the elected Palestinian Legislative Council. Then, a tough report was issued and distributed to members by a committee headed by Azmi Shuibi. The anti-corruption member of the Palestine Legislative Council is now the head of AMAN, a coalition of Palestinian NGOs dedicated to the fight for transparency and access to information. Large billboards created by AMAN greet you as you enter Ramallah calling on citizens to inform it of any government abuse of power or misuse of public property.

Since the PA’s main source of income has been foreign donations, this issue had to be dealt with rather forcefully. When Salam Fayyad, a former World Bank official, took over the PA’s ministry of finance, he went out of his way to unify all sources of income and to ensure transparency of the PA spending. He was the first Arab minister of finance to publicise the government’s entire budget on the Internet, inviting the public to scrutinise it and comment on it.

Fayyad, who continued this transparent direction when he became prime minister, succeeded in convincing donors of his government’s clean hands and has, as a result, succeeded in securing hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked for the PA from governments or international NGOs.

A regularly updated database is now available to the public on the prime ministry’s website, listing all donations to the PA, including the amount, the purpose and the receiving part, be it public or private.

But while non-governmental organisations and the PA have done a good job at fighting corruption and gaining the public confidence, the situation has not been as good within the various Palestinian factions. Both Fateh and Hamas are known to control and disperse millions of unaccounted-for dollars. While some of this money is part of the movements’ private fund-raising efforts, a major portion of it is connected to the presidential (for Ramallah) or (Gaza’s prime ministerial) budgets. Neither the budget of President Mahmoud Abbas nor that of Gaza’s Ismail Haniyeh (or their respective movements, Fateh and Hamas) is public.

During the recent sixth Fateh congress, the long-awaited financial report was not publicly read out, but drowned out by the members’ attention to elections.

Hamas officials, who are unable to use the worldwide banking system, regularly depend on their leader to carry suitcases filled with cash.

Fateh’s spending is often carried out within the office of the president. This situation has given members of the intelligence services in Ramallah and Gaza tremendous powers. More than a year ago, the head of the Palestinian intelligence service in Ramallah was reprimanded for playing politics in an attempt to entrap one of Abbas’ senior officials. The entrapment, in the form of a woman sent to seduce the senior official in Abbas’ office, was videotaped. When confronted with the tape, Abbas refused to carry out any action against his senior official (whose guilt is possibly no more than a moral sin), but rather punished the intelligence officer by demoting him.

This week, nearly a year and a half later, a junior intelligence official who carried out the taping of the programme appeared on Israel’s Channel 10 showing the video and demanding that Abbas dismiss his senior official and others. Threats of revealing more videos and documents were made.

In the process of this entire discussion few asked the simple question of who ordered the entrapment and why the head of the president’s intelligence service would spend time trying to film a middle-aged man’s bedroom privacy.

Fateh and the office of the president must follow Fayyad’s example and come out clean. While it might be understandable that the president will need to have discretion in spending money on legitimate national issues, including intelligence gathering, the Palestinian public does not agree that the financially strapped Palestinian government and presidency should be spent on intelligence officers snooping on individuals’ or officials’ private lives.

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