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Corruption Within Palestinian Society

2006-02-11
by Abdel Rahman Abu Arafeh

Introduction

Since the Palestinian Oversight Commission issued its first annual report in 1997, and it highlighted specific corruption cases, the concept of corruption started being discussed within Palestinian society. In particular, after the Legislative Council took the initiative to follow-up on the matters raised in the report. The report could have led to the questioning of ministers and officials and charging them with certain accusations. The issue became central to the workings of the Legislative Council.

Accordingly, the Palestinian Cabinet, established following the 1996 elections, was about to collapse, especially after the case assumed the nature of a public campaign. For matters not within the scope of this paper, the issue was absorbed and the Government did not collapse, and not a single official was brought to justice. Moreover, the Oversight Commission stopped issuing reports. In fact, the matter was covered-up, on the pretext that the era was too sensitive for being busy with raising side matters while the political process was stagnated. Moreover, and for a number of reasons, the Legislative Council lost its enthusiasm for this topic. Corruption was no longer an issue on the official agenda, with the exception of the resolution issued by the President calling for the formation of an Administrative Development Committee, which was assigned to put steps for performance development and improvement. After a short period of enthusiasm, the role of that Committee was no longer heard of.

The matter was officially frozen, but that was not the case on the public level. The people murmured and rumors were spreading. At the same time, public forums organized by the NGOs included interventions from official personalities identifying cases of corruption, mostly based on cases of sudden wealth by people who were not known to be wealthy only a few years ago.

Accordingly, the concept of corruption penetrated deep within Palestinian society and became a topic of discussion, study, and analysis in terms of dimensions and consequences, especially after knowing through international conferences about the spread of corruption in the entire world.

The issue of corruption in Palestine became one of the main issues. Its "literature" was being addressed through academic research, comparative studies, and research papers in relevant international conferences.

It seems that Palestinian society, while considered nascent as to the concept of corruption in its theoretical and practical dimensions, is still in need for a broader understanding of corruption as a phenomena, so that this society will be able to create mechanisms and laws that control and combat corruption.

This paper will try to deal with the phenomena of corruption in Palestinian society, through a broader understanding to the concept of corruption as known internationally.

Definition of Corruption

Based on a review of contemporary literature circulated internationally on this topic, a number of definitions can be presented. While they all come with different formulations, yet they all agree in the final analysis that corruption, as a dangerous phenomena, embodies the misuse of public office in order to achieve personal gain.

In general, corruption is an international phenomenon that is wide-spread in all countries with no exception, while there are differences as to the extent and effects of corruption from one country to the other.

The most common definitions of corruption describe the phenomena as "straying in the use of public office and capitalizing on it in order to gain privileges that serve personal interests." This definition is acceptable and traditional to a large extent, given that it is the closest to corruption as a reality. This definition takes into consideration that the official will utilize the office in order to achieve personal gains, or gains to family members or to close associates.

Some definitions go to a longer extent in condemning corruption and defining it as "the immoral image and the illegal act carried out with the aim of achieving personal gain."

Human rights advocates give a definition linked to human rights concepts, and consider corruption "as a special kind of human rights violation that reaches the level of absolute negation of the philosophy of equality as the fundamental human right."

For legal purposes in countries that have a law against corruption, there is almost universal consensus on defining it on the basis of decisions resulting from legal proceedings. Accordingly, corruption is defined as "giving, granting or approving a benefit to an official or his/her representative, and accepting, receiving, or approving a benefit to a government official or his/her representative."

The shortcoming here is the lack of a definition for the term "benefit." This leaves ample opportunity for interpretation or even avoiding condemnation. However, the Palestinian Legislative Council, and for its own oversight endeavor during follow-up on corruption cases, has defined corruption as "exceeding the boundaries of legislation, adopted policies, and public values, with the aim of achieving benefits for a person or a private group."

It is worth noting that the term "public office" is not limited to those in the executive branch, but rather includes all positions outside the realm of private property. This means that civic institutions are considered as public centers, because they are involved in the administration of public funds.

Forms of Corruption

The most common and blatant form of corruption is the embezzlement of public funds; whether this is done directly or indirectly. Effects of such an operation depend on the amount and scope of the embezzlement and its repetitiveness.

This form of corruption is considered the most dangerous, especially if it is spread within the higher ranks of the public pyramid. We are talking about people who made it to the top, they are seeking big money, and they have the mechanisms for covering-up the embezzlement. What makes the situation more dangerous is that the spread of corruption within this category opens the possibility for vertical infiltration of the lower level echelon, because of the weakness of deterrence possibilities, and the dominance of traditional phenomena.

The spread of the epidemic within this echelon is dangerous, because this type of corruption is spread within the echelon that is supposed to create the protection articulated through legislation and the supremacy of law, and is supposed to be the role model. We are talking about the equivalent of the spread of an epidemic in the peel that is supposed to protect whatever is inside the fruit.

While corruption with such specifications is dangerous, it is not the only form. There are other forms of corruption in a simple and direct form; such as bribery. Here there is a direct or indirect financial gain as a result of abusing a certain office. This form of corruption is dangerous because its effects are not felt only on the economic level, but additionally because there are social consequences no less dangerous. The spread of this phenomena means that most administrative levels are affected not only in the upper echelon, but also in every other level as well. This allows for the spread of a culture of corruption where society is accustomed to the situation. The behavior is perceived as something normal and acceptable, and even more than that, the law is unable to stop this phenomena because it is so wide-spread.

In addition to the two above-mentioned forms of corruption, which are dangerous, there are 5 other types:

  • Favoritism and discrimination between citizens based on religion, ethnic background, friendship or kinship. Obviously, this form is considered less dangerous, because it does not pursue personal greed as much as it can be described as a "service" to a sector or a certain group. However, the danger of this form is that it adds to economic discrimination against other groups, and it transforms society to interest groups competing for a larger part of the loot.
  • Mismanagement, chaos, and negligence. This form of corruption can be perceived as un-intentional, yet its consequences do not differ much from the consequences of corruption in terms of economic and social damage to citizens.
  • Influencing the judicial system and over-sight agencies, and meddling with judicial and legal procedures. This form of corruption is dangers because of moral ramifications, and because it diverts the energy of the system from one that is fighting corruption, and transforms it into a system involved in covering-up the act.
  • Influencing public opinion and the media and newspapers, in order to serve the interests of an influential group. Including this definition as a form of corruption is not absolute. Some are disinclined to consider this as a form of corruption, as much as it is perceived as a mechanism utilized for the improvement of the stance adopted by a certain group. Lobby groups are included within this concept.

Such a situation can be considered as a form of corruption, because of the possibility that a certain group can advance its interests on the expense of human rights. In general, it is difficult to point an accusation to a certain person, especially that the effort is not carried out for personal gain, except in cases where the media is paid in order to promote misleading and false ideas.

  • Aborting democracy within society through the falsification of election results. This is a model form of political corruption in its broader context. It is widely spread in a number of developing countries, and in the deformed or incomplete democracies. This form of corruption is utilized as a mechanism of rivalry between political parties where the feeble democratic process is meddled with.

When applying the mentioned cases to Palestinian society, we find out that there are examples of all the mentioned models. However, they are limited, they do not constitute a phenomena, and can be identified and controlled. The problem rests in the willingness, or in the extent to which there is willingness, to implement the law and to punish those involved. The form of corruption most rampant in Palestinian society is the first one. At the top of the pyramid, there are certain groups immune from legal pursuit, thus paving the way for ignoring other cases at a lower level.

Possibilities for the Widespread of Corruption

As previously stated, corruption is a global phenomena, despite variations in its widespread. In general, its widespread can be classified in two different ways: epidemic widespread and relative widespread.

Epidemic widespread means that society in general accepts the phenomena of corruption in a specific form or in various forms. Corruption is exercised on a large scale while there are no legal controls. This type is widespread in developing countries, weak economies, and incomplete democracies. In some countries, for example, a small bribe is considered as something normal when attaining a birth certificate or any other regular service.

Relative widespread takes place in societies that are strong democratically and legally. Most importantly, societal traditions, along with the law and regulations, do possess the mechanism needed for revealing and isolating corruption, and for punishing those found guilty.

The drawback, because of the strength of the oversight system, is that corruption might be permitted officially or within a narrowly defined direction. Especially if the matter pertains to economic interests of the country, or if corruption is aimed at acquiring benefits or economic deals in other countries.

It worth posing a question about the location of Palestine in the context of the two types of corruption widespread. Evidently the situation in Palestine cannot be defined as an epidemic widespread. Corruption is still largely limited in terms of type, shape, or extent. It is also limited to some individual cases in the upper echelon, and does not include everybody at that level. Corruption has not spread vertically to the lower levels.

Moreover, there are forms of corruption that do not exist in Palestinian society. This is not credited to societal immunity in a legal sense, but rather to religious and traditionally inherited values that can provide immunity for society for a long time, especially if the principles of social equality and economic parity do not cover all societal segments. At the same time, one cannot assert that Palestinian society is immune against corruption. There are certain cases and blatant accusations that warrant the identification of Palestine as part of the inflicted countries. As to the extent of the damage, controlling it, and its decline, those elements are subject to the interaction between contradicting forces some of which work to the benefit of increasing corruption, such as the unsupervised influence, the poor economic situation, and the absence of a legal system. Other factors that work to the benefit of limiting and decreasing corruption include the value system religiously and socially, and the possibility of the development of the legal system, in addition to the strength of procedures and administrative regulations.

Reasons Behind the Spread of Corruption

Before discussing the reasons for the spread of corruption, it is necessary to describe or define the way corruption is exercised as an "illegal agreement between two sides." Such an agreement can either be voluntary, where it can be descried as being in the "business of cheating," or an involuntary agreement whereby one party in a position of authority blackmails another party requiring a service or is in need for one. The person in a position of authority can stand as barrier against implementation of the service in a smooth and natural way, so that the service is provided only based on something in return not stated by law. This "agreement" spreads normally in police states that are under-developed. This form of corruption is almost non-existent in countries that are developed and democratic, due to the prevalence of principles of equality, the lack of fear, and supremacy of the rule of law.

The Spread of Corruption Can be Attributed to a Number of Factors:

  • The prevalence of a culture of corruption, because of the poor system of inherited values and poor economic standards.
  • Poor income and low salaries, especially among small employees or those in the middle level, whereby there is a negative correlation between salary standards and the spread of corruption.
  • The deformity of social values, because of the surfacing of values that promote show-off, excessive wealth, and the accelerated quest for high standards of living. Such elements contribute to the creation of values and new dynamics, in a manner inconsistent with the values of honesty and the requirements of legal procedures.
  • Deterioration in the system governing the country. This is linked to the nature of the regime, and its initial adherence to the supremacy of law and social equality on the basis of equal opportunity for all. Weakness of the regime renders it unable to control matters, thus resulting in chaos that leads to legal violations and various forms of corruption.

In general, the nature of the regime contributes to a large extent to an increase in the cases of corruption and its widespread, if there is available one or more of the following situations:

  • Lack of resolve by the political regime or the leadership when it comes to combating terrorism, or in dealing with the dangers when sensing that there is corruption.
  • Weakness of the judicial system and the absence of the rule of law.
  • Weakness of the over-sight role of the legislative council.
  • Limited role of the media and its refusal to expose corruption and to participate in confronting it.
  • Lack of involvement of civic society institutions in fighting corruption.

Evidently, in the Palestinian situation the environment may be conducive for the increase in corruption cases, because of the presence of the previously mentioned requirements. This affirms the need for a speedy handling of the situation and moving things in the correct direction, especially in the field of judicial authorities, completing the legal network, and activating the various over-sight aspects in the work of the various legislative, official, media, or civic agencies.

Aspects of the Public Administration that are Most Susceptible to Corruption

In a conducive environment, there are no limits how far corruption can go if there are no personal or public control mechanisms. Following are the specific aspects that create the susceptibility to corruption in public administration:

  • Purchases, contracts, and general tenders:
    Naturally all the mentioned fields are about money. By taking advantage of legal gaps and the absence of procedural and legal mechanisms, key individuals who lack self-control and a sound value system are likely to find the suitable opportunity for illegal benefit. They do that through purchase deals, contracts, and general tenders. Without an accurate system for dealing with the problem qualitatively and quantitatively, the opportunity is open for persons who want to take advantage of the situation.
  • Tax collection, customs, and others sovereignty revenues:
    Also in this case the issue is about money. By taking advantage of a certain office, discounts and benefits are offered illegally in return for bribes and special givings. The danger here is that there is a major opportunity for the destruction and weakening of the country s income sources.
  • Granting permits and licenses:
    The person in the public office of authority is usually the one responsible for corruption, thus assuming the role of barrier or fender; preventing approval of permits or licenses unless the applicant is blackmailed.
  • Granting employments and determining authority:
    In this case, money many not be exchanged, yet corruption may led to cancellation of the principle of equality, and to opening the possibility for favoritism of relatives and friends. Because of corruption, the right person is not appointed for the right job, and a relative or friend is appointed in a certain post regardless of qualifications.

    The Effects of Corruption on Society as a Whole

    While the most vivid consequences of corruption are in the economic field, there are also social and regional consequences that are no less significant. Normally, the economic consequences are highlighted as the direct translation of corruption in the public office. The effects and consequences of corruption are determined according to the following:

    • Loss of resources:
      General revenues are diverted to the pockets of certain individuals, and not to the nation s treasury for utilization based on public needs, leading to a decline in the standard of services that are supposed to be provided by the state to the general public.
    • Limiting the Growth of the Economy:
      Public funds are not utilized for projects and economic infrastructure, because of the control exerted by a number of people or groups. The system for utilizing the money is diverted, from its natural path based on supply and demand, to other diverted paths such as transferring the money to outside the country.
    • Poor Standards of Living:
      Naturally, when public money is leaked to the pockets of certain persons, resources available for economic development are diminished. So at a time when some individuals become enormously wealthy, there appears and spreads a large decline in the standards of living.
    • Damaging the Credibility of the State:
      Developing countries in particular depend on developmental assistance from other countries. When there is corruption, especially if spread among influential figures, the credibility of the state is affected. International organizations start expressing doubt in the ability of that state to activate its economy, they wonder about the fate of assistance funds, and the result is a delay in developmental opportunities

      Weakness of the General Performance:
      Inevitably, the spread of corruption will weaken the administrative and organizational structure of the state. Those in charge will be distracted from carrying out their original duties, especially when they become occupied either with attempts to accumulate wealth, or when they are looking for those trying to become wealthy illegally. Accordingly, energy is exerted on the negative aspects, at the expense of developmental and public service prioritie


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