Anger at Palestinian Authority secret ministerial pay rises

Anonymous online group 'Against the Current' exposed PA government salary hikes despite desperate financial shortfalls.

    Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh leads the weekly cabinet meeting in Ramallah, occupied West Bank [Anadolu Agency]
    Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh leads the weekly cabinet meeting in Ramallah, occupied West Bank [Anadolu Agency]

    The cash-strapped Palestinian government has pledged to suspend a secret increase in ministerial salaries, the United Nations envoy on the Israel-Palestinian conflict said Thursday, after reports of the raise sparked anger.

    Documents leaked online appeared to show that in 2017, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had quietly agreed to increase monthly salaries of ministers by a 67 percent, from $3,000 to $5,000, as well as boosting the prime minister's salary from $4,000 to $6,000.

    According to The Associated Press, the raises were kept secret from the public and approved by 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 revelation, by an anonymous online group known as "Against the Current", came as the Palestinian government faces desperate financial shortfalls.

    Nickolay Mladenov, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said on Thursday he had spoken to recently installed Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, who had agreed to cancel the raises.

    "At a time when the #Palestinian people are struggling with economic hardship, when salaries were cut in #Gaza, such decisions defy logic and rightly anger people," Mladenov tweeted in reaction to the news of the salary increase.

    "I spoke to @DrShtayyeh who committed to end this practice immediately and investigate."

    Shtayyeh, who replaced predecessor Rami Hamdallah in April, was not immediately available for comment.

    Earlier, the prime minister said the PA has been forced over the past months to borrow money from banks, and that Abbas has called for a financial safety net during the Arab and Islamic summits in Makkah in Saudi Arabia.

    Palestinians commenting on Against the Current's Facebook page expressed outrage at the reported raises.

    "All these ministers, what service do they provide to the people anyway? They're just honorary roles," wrote Subhi al-Hamdani.

    The Palestinian Authority has been forced to halve the salaries of many employees in recent months due to an ongoing financial dispute with Israel.

    Israel has been deducting around $10m a month from taxes it collects on behalf of the PA, money it says corresponds to payments to families of prisoners in Israeli jails - including those who have carried out attacks.

    Israel sees such payments as rewards for attacks on its citizens, but the Palestinians argue they are a vital lifeline for families who have often lost their primary breadwinner. They also accuse Israel of arbitrary arrests.

    Abbas has responded to the Israeli move by refusing to accept any of the tax revenues, which equate to more than half his government's budget.

    The United States has also cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies