Palestinian covid handouts for needy went to bankers, wealthy officials and Palestinian diplomats

Corruption on the West Bank saw pandemic payments for the needy going to fat cats earning up to £4,000 a month


Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas holds a joint press conference with the Turkish president after their meeting at the Presidential Complex in Ankara on July 25, 2023. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP) (Photo by ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Palestinian officials, bankers and diplomats fraudulently received Covid aid payments intended to help the poorest West Bank families.

A report by the Palestinian Authority (PA) State Audit Bureau found that some beneficiaries of the £15 million Covid relief fund — for “the neediest and most marginalised” — were working from home on £4,000 a month.

They were still in well-paid jobs at PA ministries, universities, banks and telecommunications firms.

Although the fund was set up by the local private sector and Arab donors, the revelations raise serious questions about Britain’s involvement in propping up the notoriously corrupt PA.

Since 2008, the British taxpayer has given the PA regime about £640 million, mainly through donations for spending on health and education. On top of this, since 2011, £65 million has gone to support the PA security services, the brutality of which the JC disclosed last week.

The Palestinian audit found that up to six members of the same family had received Covid payments, when only one was allowed.

Aid was also given to people registered as directors of profitable companies or who had large shareholdings in stock exchange listed enterprises.

The corruption of the scheme — known as Waqfet Ezz, or the “Stand with Dignity” Fund — has been ignored by the international media.

Health analyst Jehad Harb told the JC: “They started distributing Waqfet Ezz when Covid brought the economy to a halt, and vast numbers made applications for aid. The need was huge.

“But some of those who asked for money were not needy at all and had not suffered from the crisis. It’s clear they should not have got help. Some officials arranged to give fund money to their relatives.”

There had, he added, been few attempts to check the status of recipients and there was no reliable record of needy Palestinians. “We do not have any data infrastructure,” he said.

The PA set up the fund in April 2020, funding it with compulsory contributions from local companies which were reeling from the pandemic.

The demands caused hardship and resentment in the private sector. One Palestinian businessman, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the JC: “It was crazy.

“They were forcing us to give to this fund, adding still further to the pressure on the private sector, instead of supporting us. Meanwhile PA officials were getting paid their usual salaries for sitting at home.”

The disclosure of apparent corruption was, he added, not surprising, but still left him outraged. “Everywhere you look there is corruption, because there is no accountability,” he said.
The businessman added that in addition to financial corruption, the West Bank was also affected by widespread cronyism.

Under the system known in Arabic as wasta, or “who you know”, members of the ruling Fatah party, or those close to the PA leadership, benefit from many kinds of favouritism.

He cited an example in March last year, when the PA began to distribute Covid vaccines. The first 12,000 doses had gone not to the most vulnerable but to security officials, the President and Prime Minister’s staff, executive committee members of the PLO and even the Palestinian football squad.

A statement by Aman said that vaccines were being given “outside the framework of a clear and published plan and within the framework of patronage and connections that seek the private interest at the expense of the public interest”.

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