New leaks expose rampant corruption among Palestinian leaders

The Palestinian Cabinet gave itself a massive secret pay raise in addition to other illegal financial perks behind the backs of the constituents it supposedly represents.

By World Israel News and Associated Press

While unemployment remains high and economic growth slow in the Palestinian-controlled areas of Judea and Samaria, the Palestinian Cabinet secretly gave itself a series of lavish payouts and perks, highlighted by a 67% salary hike.

The payments and perks were kept quiet for the past two years, but news of the Cabinet decision leaked this week in a series of documents posted anonymously to social media.

The revelations have rocked Palestinian society, where the cash-strapped government has slashed the salaries of its employees because it refuses to stop doling out hundreds of millions of dollars a year in stipends to imprisoned terrorists and the families of those killed committing such crimes.

Coming during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a time of high expenses for struggling families, the report renewed outrage among Palestinians who have long seen their leadership as out of touch and rife with corruption.

“The cabinet members behaved as if the government is their private shop and they can take as much as they want without being held accountable,” said political commentator Ehab Jareri.

According to one leaked document, the monthly salaries for Cabinet ministers spiked from $3,000 to $5,000, while the prime minister’s salary was raised to $6,000.

Secret illegal raises

The raises were kept secret from the public and approved by President Mahmoud Abbas, two senior officials said, overriding a 2004 law that fixed ministers’ salaries. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue with the media.

The pay raise was made retroactive to 2014, when the Cabinet took office, giving the ministers an extra bonus of tens of thousands of dollars, the officials said.

The benefits did not end there. Ministers who live outside Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, received $10,000 a year to rent a house there, another document showed.

Officials who already owned Ramallah homes also reaped the lucrative bonus. And in an extra boost, the government inflated the exchange rate, giving them a roughly 17% premium when converting the salaries to Israeli shekels. Cabinet members already enjoy government compensation for personal drivers and international travel expenses.

The documents were viewed by The Associated Press and authenticated by the Palestinian officials.

After years in office, Abbas has seen his popularity plummet. People are disillusioned by his failure to deliver an independent state, his loss of the Gaza Strip to the rival Hamas terror group and general economic malaise. Unemployment among Palestinians in Judea and Samaria is near 20%, and a typical salary for those who do work, such as civil servants, is roughly $700 to $1,000 a month.

The leaked documents have sparked widespread outrage on Palestinian social media, with critics branding the government a “farm” or “shop” for top officials. Amid the outrage, the Palestinian Authority has been forced to respond.

Corruption-plagued Palestinian government exposed

Newly appointed Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, a longtime adviser to Abbas, has suspended the pay raises and referred the issue to Abbas “to review it and take legal measures.” While the issue is investigated, ministers will receive half their salaries, like most other government employees, according to government spokesman Ibrahim Milhim.

Former Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, whose technocratic government enacted the benefits, defended them, saying in a statement: “Cabinet ministers requested the raise in 2017 from President Abbas, who approved it while taking into consideration the rising costs of living.”

The leaked documents offer a rare glimpse inside the workings of the corruption-plagued Palestinian government, igniting conversations about what else the government might be hiding.

“I think this is just the tip of the iceberg of corruption in the Palestinian Authority, considering that we couldn’t have access to more important information,” said Majdi Abu Zeid, a researcher at the anti-corruption watchdog group Aman.

The leaks coincide with a report by Aman finding that the government has improperly filled senior government jobs without advertising them, appointed officials’ relatives to senior posts and refused to disclose budgets of the presidential office and security forces.

Against this backdrop, the litany of leaked findings has deepened public disillusionment. Opinion surveys conducted by the prominent Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki reveal that over 80 percent of Palestinians consider their leadership corrupt.

“The Palestinian Authority lost the trust of people a long time ago because of its unlawful practices,” said analyst Jihad Harb. After the latest leaks, he added, the government looks “very vulnerable and shaken.”