The Palestinian Coalition for Integrity and Accountability – Aman held its annual transparency festival under the slogan "towards the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary". Under the auspices of the President of the High Judicial Council, Chancellor Issa Abu Sharar, the festival was held in the cities of Ramallah and Gaza through video conferencing facilitates on the occasion of the International Anti Corruption Day.
At the start of the festival in Commodore Hotel in Gaza, Dr. Kamal Sharafi, Aman's Deputy Commissioner, stressed the fact that the festival is being held at a time when Palestine is in the midst of a difficult and complex situation. While the occupation continues to adopt racist measures against the Palestinians, the internal Palestinian conflict is exacerbating.
Beside its obvious impact on the daily lives, the internal Palestinian divide provides a fertile ground for the depletion of energies and resources, therefore causes the poverty and unemployment to increase further, promotes corruption, and becomes an obstacle to reforms in political and economic system. This event aims to advocate for the review of our legal and judicial system which represents a national stepping stone out of the situation.
In his speech, Dr. Sharafi maintained that Aman, the Palestinian Coalition for Integrity and Accountability, was essentially created to promote accountability and transparency. Over the years, Aman has carried out activities and strived to inform the Palestinian citizenry on the phenomenon of corruption. The coalition also paid special attention to building valuable relations with similar institutions at the regional and international levels. All efforts were geared to promote value that aim to strengthen the principles of transparency and accountability. Since the work of Aman Coalition has been characterized by independence from factional and partisan influence, Dr Sharafi extended a call for the Palestinian civil society organizations to join the Coalition.
The president of the Palestinian Higher Judicial Council, Chief Justice Issa Abu Sharar, emphasized the role of the judiciary in the fight against corruption. Many accomplishments have recently been achieved with support from President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Dr. Salam Fayyad. This year the Higher Judiciary Council adopted some important steps exemplified by the hiring of judges in accordance with the highest degree of transparency. Special committees were formed to oversee the entire recruitment process. In addition the Media and Information department was established in order to undertake the task of disseminating information and facts to the relevant parties. The Chief Justice confirmed the intentions of the Council to development and put into action further plans for the development of the Palestinian judiciary. Abu Sharar explained that the adoption of courts' administrative and financial manuals as well as the approval of new oversight mechanism to follow up with the working time of the judiciary's personnel as some of the most important judicial accomplishment which also includes the addition of new buildings incorporating scientific and sound security systems. Furthermore most court houses in the Palestinian cities will see the addition of new building and much improvement to their public services.
The Higher Judicial Council has begun the implementation of the recent survey to assess the performance of the Palestinian judiciary. Abu sharer confirmed that Israeli checkpoints constitute a major cause of inability of Palestinian institutions to enforce court rulings in some legal cases. Moreover, areas behind the separation wall have become a major cause behind the non-resolution of some pending legal cases. Nevertheless, the Council is working to develop regulatory programs for the Palestinian judiciary which will be implemented during the next year.
For his part, Dr. Azmi Shuaibi, the Commissioner-General for Aman's Coalition, emphasized the relationship between the civil society and the Palestinian judiciary in relation to the corruption files brought to the attention of the Palestinian prosecution office. The existing memorandum of understanding with the judiciary aims at keeping the doors open for the community and educational institutions to become more informed of the role of the judiciary. This MOU would allow the civil society institutions to play its oversight role over the institutions of the Palestinian National Authority but would also provide an opportunity for establishing mutual relationships between the relevant parties in order to lay the foundations for transparency.
Dr. Azmi Shuaibi maintained that the ongoing cooperation between the Public Prosecution and Aman Coalition where Aman, in cooperation with the Economic Crimes and Corruption Department, provided corruption-specific information pertaining in cases of corruption under investigation by public prosecutors.
Since Aman Coalition defines corruption as the misuse of public office for private interests, a list was prepared to show corruption cases in the Palestinian institutions that fall under this definition. Therefore, all cases related to economic crimes, as per the aforementioned definition, are excluded as corruption cases. However, a review of all crimes filed at the Corruption and Economic Crimes Prosecution office that:
Combined corruption and economic crime cases:
The total number of cases in 2007 reached 820, of which 14 cases (or 11%) are corruption-related, 35 were closed, 52 are referred to the Court, while 41 cases are still under investigation. In 2008, the number of cases totaled 81 of which 43 cases were referred to the court and 38 are still under investigation.
It was also noted that a large number of corruption cases are still open or closed since 2004 for many reasons, most important of which is the non-completion of immunity withdrawal procedures. About 13 cases involve figures that held senior executive positions.
Moreover, a review of corruption files reveals that corruption in the Palestinian context takes the following forms: misuse of public office and trust for personal interests, embezzlement of public funds, receipt of bribery, fraud, money laundry, and manipulation of laws and resolutions for private gains.
Dr. Shuaibi explained that there are many considerations behind the low number of corruption crimes before the Attorney General, such as:
- According to the Criminal Procedure Code (No. 3) for the year 2001, the Prosecution is not allowed to investigate or bring a criminal case before the court unless based on civil complaint or allegation. Similarly the prosecution can not request permission except on the basis of written or oral complaint from the victim or his agent, or upon a civil claim from the person or his/her agent, or upon request or permission from the competent authority. In this respect, the public prosecution of its own accords can not loge a case or open an investigation unless preceded by a complaint.
- In cases where the law requires the presence of a complaint or a claim to a civil right from the victim or others, the complaint or allegations is not acceptable unless lodged within three months of the day the victim knowledge of the crime and perpetrator or unless otherwise provided by the law. For this reason, many crimes are dismissed because they are lodged after the expiry of the period determined by the law for filing complaints.
- The absence of a culture oriented to the pursuit of justice and holding violators of the law accountable for their actions.
The Secretary General of Transparency International, Ms. Angela Keller, urged the governments of the world to undertake more anticorruption efforts. As corruption moves across borders so does the work of Transparency International by virtue of its network of 90 affiliated international institutions spearheading the fight to compact corruption promote transparency. She also pointed out that Aman is the third Arab institution to join Transparency International which testifies to Aman's effectiveness in the fight against corruption in Palestine. The coalition is also active at the regional level where Aman will soon launch a project for advocacy and legal counseling centers. The main challenge is the adopted approach to fighting corruption which must be holistic in nature and open to the public.
In his address on behalf of the UNDP/PAPP, Mr. Shinji Hirose pointed out that corruption is a major obstacle to development, production and systems' restructuring programs making corruption a word-wide phenomenon rather than being exclusive to the developing countries. The United Nations considers all actions undertaken by the Palestinian people and Palestinian government pertinent to integrity and transparency very essential. Aman Coalition has succeeded in developing plans and programs for the promotion of transparency and accountability and combating corruption in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Therefore, it is imperative for all actors in Palestine to adopt a collective approach to the fight against corruption in order to achieve a better future for the Palestinian people.
For his part, Mr. Talal Awkal, a member of Aman's board and the technical committee of the integrity awards explained the working of these committees pointing out that rewarding those individuals who uncover the cases or corruption is an important step in the right direction. However, combating corruption faces many obstacles not only on in light of the weakness of the judiciary and the ongoing state of internal division but also for the continuing decline in public freedoms and curtailed role of the civil society institutions.
Mr. Awkal pointed out that the awarding technical committees consist of a number of renowned academics, media personalities, and civil society and community leaders, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The festival concluded with the distribution of the annual integrity and accountability awards to their winners. The journalist Ghazi Bani Odeh was granted the 2008 award for integrity and accountability for his investigative reporting on expired and counterfeit food and medicines and to the journalist Abdel Basset Khalaf for his reporting on urban sprawling to the Palestinian agricultural areas and more specifically in Marj Ibn Amer area.
The 2008 integrity and accountability award for the public sector employees went to Mr. Ibrahim Qindah who was harassed after he blew the whistle on corruption cases in the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation that involved bribery and exploitation of public position. The National Insurance Company received the 2008 integrity and accountability in designated for private firms (private sector).
The 2008 integrity and accountability award for employees of the local governments has been withheld because no candidate fulfilled the award's requirements.
Ten children received Aman's prizes for winning the "Children of Palestine: an Eye on Corruption" drawing competition which were distributed equally between participants from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Gaza winners are: Mohamed Ragab, Karaam Abu Jasser, Mohammed Hussein, Amjad Turki, and May Waheeda. Three of the five winners from the West Bank came from Bethlehem schools which are: Ibrahim Astfan, Baraa' Fayez Abu Joudeh and Mohammed Odeh. The remaining students are May Awni and Omar Turkman both of which are from Nablus district.
Special acclaim was also made to the members of the technical awards committee comprised of Mohsen Saleh, Ahmed Abu Arqoub, Musa Abu Dhim, Said Kullab, and Mustafa Shehadeh.
Then the festival honored the journalists and media personalities participating in the award committees that were composed of: Hassan Kashef, Talal Awkal, Jaber Mohsen, Mohsen Franji, and Fathi Sabah
In addition, the festival recognized the members of the special technical committees for the private sector award that included: Amjad Badran, Tha'era Moussa, and Raed Abu Zaa'rour.
The festival made special tribute to the following artists who sat on the panel of judges for the children's drawing competition: Suleiman Mansour, Nabil Anani, Mohamed Saleh, Yusuf Kitleh, Abeer Al-Khatib, Ahmad Abu Haniyya, Ahmed Al-Mughrabi, Nour Almasri, Walid Abbas and Ali Al-Addam.
At the end of the festival, the participants toured the children's drawing exhibition for the youngsters who had participated in a drawing competition entitled "Children of Palestine: An Eye on Corruption". Thousands of children took part in this competition which Aman organized this year in more than a hundred of UNRWA and private schools in both of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
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