A vast number of Palestinians in the West Bank live in abject poverty. Many lack access to health and education facilities, and countless buildings, roads and sewage systems are in urgent need of repair. Instances of government officials misusing public funds have fuelled calls for the Palestinian Authority to introduce tighter controls on public sector spending.
Through its work with the public, Transparency International Palestine (AMAN) received a number of complaints about the use of government cars. In 2009, more than 6,000 civil servants owned one, and €18 million was being spent on their fuel, maintenance and licensing. Many of the cars were frequently used for private journeys, or by friends and relatives. Some were reportedly even being sent abroad.
AMAN took its findings to the Ministry of Transport. The Ministry admitted that it was aware of the problem, but lacked the resources to tackle it. So AMAN undertook to assist them. It launched a broad-based media campaign comprising radio, billboard and newspaper advertisements, encouraging citizens to phone in incidents of public vehicle misuse via AMAN's free hotline.
Sure enough, the initiative was a huge success. Within a short space of time AMAN logged more than 150 complaints, which were relayed back to the Ministry of Transport for further investigation. Knowing that this was unlikely to bring about lasting change, however, AMAN called on Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to address the issue more systematically.
Consequently, Palestine's Council of Ministers (PNA) declared a ban on the use of all government vehicles outside office hours, with the exception of the Prime Minister and his deputy. In 2010 around 6,200 vehicles were reclaimed from civil servants. Some of them were given to the government ministries for shared use, but the majority could be purchased by civil servants to use privately.
AMAN realises that this is only one step towards reform, and a lot of work remains to be done to bring integrity and transparency to government spending.