The buzz word this week in Palestine has been the need to fight corruption. You see reference to this issue in the press, on the Internet, in leaflets as well as by word of mouth.
I was surprised when I saw a fax signed by the anticorruption unit of Fatah’s al-Aksa Martyrs calling on Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to weed out corruption in Palestinian society. The leaflet didn’t settle for generalities, but it named a senior Palestinian banker whom the group accused of transferring some $12.6 million it claimed were meant for those who were suffering from the recent situation to an account outside of the area.
In the daily newspaper al-Kuds, at least two references were made to corruption. A statement by the local Christian Orthodox Committee spoke of the need for the end of the corruption within the Church. The statement was made on the eve of elections for a new patriarch to replace Diodoris I, who died last December.
In an article in the same newspaper, Eyad Sarraj records a conversation with a friend who believes that the second intifada is over because of the way it is turning inwards, raising the level of tribal and family conflicts as well as kidnappings and assassinations.
In the article, Sarraj responds to his friend that the situation is fine and asks his friend not to make too much of a single assassination. The reference here was to the unresolved case of the Gaza assassination of the head of Palestinian TV, Hisham Miki. At the time, the Palestinian Authority accused collaborators over the incident.
The anticorruption unit of al-Aksa Martyrs issued a statement shortly after the attack, saying that they had to do it after the PA failed to do anything about the public’s complaints. Later the Palestinian Authority seized all of Miki’s belongings and barred his wife and son from leaving Gaza pending an investigation.
But perhaps the strongest anticorruption campaign is the one being waged by word of mouth.
Senior civilian and police officers in the PA are said to be under investigation and there is talk about some of them being deported to Egypt and Tunisia. A senior personnel officer is accused of having made up a fictitious list of employees whose salaries he pockets. The police officer is said to have collected a tax for workers’ permits to go to Israel, which has never made it to the PA’s coffers. The list goes on and on.
Optimists see this anticorruption movement as a positive sign for the upcoming Palestinian state. Others see the campaign as a mere reaction to the public anger expressed in the intifada not only against Israel, but also against the PA and its style of operations.
The problem of course can’t be solved by a knee-jerk reaction to public discontent. It needs to be carried out along sound principles of good government. This means the return to the basics of a transparent government and strengthening the judiciary and the rule of law in the Palestinian areas.
The PA needs to apply some kind of freedom-of-information act in which the public will have the opportunity of scrutinizing details of how the government works, sources of income, tender arrangements, etc. In addition to strengthening the judiciary, the media should be given a free hand in its work. Government-run media should be publicly owned with a board accountable to the people and not to the executive branch.
Furthermore, regular elections for the various levels of authority from the municipal to the legislative to the executive are necessary to allow for a civilian way for people to express their anger at inefficient and corrupt officials. Otherwise the rule of the gun will replace the rule of law. And the present anticorruption campaign will be no more than another phase that will soon disappear once the political/security situation is relaxed.