Feb 03 2000

Balancing the budget

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

The Palestinian Legislative Council last week by a small margin approved the annual budget for the year 2000. Twenty five legislatures (mostly government ministers) voted for and 18 voted against. The majority of the people’s representatives (55) avoided the session, to avoid pressure from the government to vote for a budget they don’t agree with.

The World Bank’s representative, Joseph Saba, told me that he is pleased with the direction the Palestinian Authority is taking. “We are happy because they agreed to the principles we have been urging them to adopt.” Saba listed the budget principles the World Bank wants the PNA to implement as “all the income, all the expenses and that the budget is presented in time.” The World Bank head said he was unhappy with the inability of the Palestinian executive to limit public employment. “There are more than 100,000 government employees which is the highest proportional public labour force in the entire Middle East.”

The 2000 budget is a balanced budget. The PNA expects to earn $964 million in taxes and other income (over $750 million from Israel which includes taxes collected from Palestinian workers). $940 million will be spent on regular expenses and $24 million will be spent on development projects. Dr. Salam Fayyad the representative of the International Monetary agrees that the PNA has made a qualitative improvement this year. “They presented a budget that is reasonable and realistic; a far cry from previous budgets.”

The IMF representative also added that the PNA is moving in the right direction in putting their financial house in order especially following the presidential decree which created the economic council whose job will be to unify and declare all revenues.

Palestinian critics were not so easily swayed. Dr. Azmi Shuibi the former head of the budget committee feels that the Ministry of Finance puts out fictitious figures.

“Last year when we went to follow up their numbers we found millions of dollars credited to various ministries. These ministries insist they never got them.” Shuibi, is also concerned about the increase in dependence by the Palestinian National Authority on loans and the sharp increase in government employment.

“These decisions contributed to a very bad economic future. The debt is over $600 million and salaries are more than 60 per cent of the budget. Every person that is employed will want annual raises and then retirement and pension. Who will pay for that?”

Rawi Shawwa, who voted against the budget added her voice to the need for more honesty about revenues but made a desperate cry for a change in priorities.

“The largest winner in the 2000 budget continues to be the security forces who get the lion’s share of the budget. 35.14 per cent go to security while health only gets 9.8 per cent” Shawwa also denounced the low social welfare budget, only 5.5 per cent. Compare this to the share of the president’s office which is 6.1 per cent. She complained that families of martyrs get very little compensation. $50 in Lebanon, $120 in Jordan, $110 in Egypt.

For me the most revealing part of the 2000 budget is a list of unusual people getting salaries from the General Personal Council. The Palestinian Child Theatre is Gaza (Mrs. Arafat’s organisation) has 45 employees on the government payroll, The Union of Palestinian workers has 38 unionists on the payroll, Al Hayat Al Jadida newspaper, a supposedly private newspaper has 68 employees paid by tax payers. Al Bahar company, another supposedly private company and one of the famous monopolies, has 19 employees paid from the PNA budget. 47 members of the Women’s Federation are paid from the public coffers while six cadres of Fatah receive a government salary. A number of other fringe political groups are also listed in the document issued as part of the 2000 budget.

There is no doubt that there are clear improvements in the annual budget of the Palestinian National Authority. What is needed now is a greater effort at the rule of law and an opportunity for the representatives of the people to be allowed to practice a more active watchdog role. The Palestinian public has a right to know where taxes are being spent. If the official bodies of the state are not able or not allowed to practice an effective role in accounting and supervision, the time may be right for the public to create active non governmental organizations whose main purpose is to ensure good government practices in the Palestinian National Authority.

No responses yet

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.