The Palestinian Authority’s secret pay hikes anger public hit by cuts

The cabinet quietly signed off on 67 per cent pay increases as it slashes salaries and services elsewhere

FILE - In this April 29, 2019, file photo, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, center, chairs a session of the weekly cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Leaked documents showing the Palestinian Cabinet secretly gave itself a generous raise have rocked the West Bank, where the cash-strapped government has been forced to slash the salaries of its employees. 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. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed, Pool, File)
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The Palestinian government secretly signed off on pay increases for Palestinian ministers – the equivalent of a 67 per cent salary hike – at a time when it was cutting other salaries and services for cash-strapped Palestinians, according to documents released online by a Palestinian anti-corruption group.

The revelations angered but did not appear to come as a shock to the Palestinian public, which has long complained about corruption and abuse in the western backed-Palestinian Authority, including the mismanagement of public funds.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas personally signed off on the pay hikes two years ago, the leaked documents show, raising the monthly salaries of PA ministers from $3,000 to $5,000 and Prime Minister’s to $6,000.

The move only became public this week after an anonymous Palestinian group, roughly translated as “Against the Current”, circulated the official documents on social media. The documents also showed PA ministers receiving lavish housing allowances and an inflated exchange rate to boost their salaries when converted from dollars to Israeli shekels.

"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," Majdi Abu Zeid, who works for anti-corruption Palestinian watchdog group Aman, told the Associated Press.

The Palestinian legislator has not met in over a decade because of the political split with Hamas, the group that rules the Gaza Strip, while Abbas remains widely unpopular, serving his 14th year of a nominally four-year term.

Over 80 per cent of Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank consider their leaders corrupt, according to the most recent survey published by the Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki in April.

“Did you know: Palestine has twenty-five ministers with a salary of $5,000,” a meme published by “Against the Current” reads. ”But what is hidden from the public is the presence of tens of those who are not ministers, but paid the salary of ministers.”

Former Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, who held the position in 2017, defended the pay raises 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,” he said.

Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, who was recently appointed to the position and is a long-time Abbas adviser, told the AP that the salary hikes had been suspended for now while Abbas reviews the matter.

The Palestinian West Bank economy is extremely weak, with low economic growth and official unemployment reaching 20 per cent. The average salary of a civil servant is $700 to $1,000 a month, according to the AP.

In February, the aid-dependent PA cut the salaries and pensions of civil servants in an attempt to address its running deficit.

These cuts were precipitated by Israel’s decision to freeze the transfer of $138 billion – money that Israel collects from customs levied on items intended for the Palestinian Territories – over the PA’s policy of providing salaries to Palestinians in Israeli jail and the families of those killed or injured while carrying out attacks against Israel. Israel says these payments encourage violence, while the PA says they are a necessary form of social welfare.

American cuts in aid projects to Palestinians in recently months have further depressed economic and political prospects.