Speech given by Majdi Abu Zaid, Executive Director of the AMAN-Coalition, Transparency of Palestine, during presentation of the Ibn Rushd Prize on behalf of AMAN on the 1st December 2017
Good evening Ladies and gentlemen
Allow me first to convey to you best regards from the chairman and from all members of the General Assembly and the civil institutions that comprise the Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN) – Transparency Palestine, the national branch of Transparency International. I would like to thank the Ibn Rushd Fund for Freedom of Thought and its active members. And my specials thanks go to the jury for their confidence in choosing ‘Transparency Palestine’ to be awarded the Ibn Rushd Prize this year, which is dedicated to excellence in combating corruption in the Arab world.
At the AMAN Coalition, Transparency Palestine, we consider this award to be far more significant than its material value. It will greatly encourage AMAN, Transparency Palestine, to increase our efforts to fight against corruption despite the complex objective circumstances and discouraging political context.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The AMAN Coalition – a Palestinian NGO dedicated to promoting values of integrity, transparency, accountability, anti-corruption, and preventing corrupt people from acting with impunity in Palestine – is a group of civil society organizations and activists formed over 17 years ago. Those activists believed that Palestine – whose people have suffered from Israeli occupation, displacement, killing and arrest over the course of a century and whose sacrifices in money, land, blood and revolution seeking freedom have left a scattered diaspora, refugees even in their own land – deserves to be free. Its people deserve to live free. They deserve a country in which democracy, justice, equality and the rule of law prevails under the protection of a fair political system, immune from corruption. In short, our ambition is to see Palestine free and immune from corruption in all its forms.
It is a long and hard road the AMAN Coalition has walked, accompanied by immense challenges. The emergence and development of the coalition coincided with the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority after the signing of the Oslo agreement between the Palestinians and Israel, beginnings of the state on the national territory by the historic, charismatic leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization returning from the diaspora, as well as the difficult labour of the transition from revolution to statehood.
There were two sometimes conflicting focuses at work in the transition to statehood.
The first focus was on the importance of achieving independence and building institutions quickly. The declaration of statehood was to be in 1999, but failure of the peace process and the de facto extension of the transitional period required that the priority be survival and liberation. Other priorities related to institutionalization, separation of powers, building a system of control and accountability and combating corruption, became less important.
The second focus was on national liberation, rapid preparation of the state and resistance to the Israeli colonial project and believed these not to be in conflict with the importance of building the state and its institutions on the basis of the best international standards, practices and experiences including the principles of separation of powers, the adoption and implementation of a system of control and accountability, and fighting impunity. Those who believed in this approach, including the founders of AMAN Coalition, considered that a combination of liberation and building the institutions of a fair state is a basic prerequisite and a necessity that helps people withstand occupation and accelerate the process of liberation.
This dilemma continued with different levels of intensity. The founders of the AMAN Coalition realized the sensitivity of the Palestinian circumstances and were aware of the road full of challenges and dilemmas facing the building of a national integrity system: the problem of preserving the new born, incomplete state as a result of Israeli occupation practices while determining and persisting on creating and cementing institutions and improving their performance to the highest possible level
I will not dwell on the founding and development of the AMAN Coalition, rather I will give an overview of the most important stations and lessons learnt from the long years of struggle against corruption and the establishment of a national integrity system. Despite the specificity of the Palestinian experience in this field, it is an experience worthy of being considered as example for similar circumstances.
Since its establishment in 2000, the coalition focused on and promoted the concepts of integrity, transparency and accountability in order to raise awareness of fighting against corruption. It has been calling for the adoption of a positive and cooperative approach in working with various partners, including the government, civil society and the private sector. The absence of an official anti-corruption institution has increased the burden on AMAN as the only public institution working in this field in the society through carrying out events and activities to reinforce the values of integrity, and the principles of transparency and accountability as a precautionary measure that effectively prevents corruption. At the beginning, AMAN focused on carrying out Palestinian studies and research. It applied international researches on the region, conducted public opinion surveys on corruption, and started a wide range of lobbying campaigns on important issues. The Coalition has contributed to building the capacities of cadres, activists, researchers and trainers, enabling them to contribute to the implementation of AMAN programs and activities. The focus was on elites and intellectuals, targeting workers and officials in the public sectors (government and local bodies), civil society and the private sector.
AMAN continued with its focus on education, awareness-raising, and building capacities (specialized training courses on specific aspects to enhance the integrity and transparency of work in all sectors). It partnered with Palestinian NGO’s to carried out education and awareness activist in various governorates of the country in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which allowed AMAN to use its resources on other vital activities. Later, the process of receiving and following complaints from citizens through the establishment of the Advocacy and Legal Guidance Centre was institutionalized. This disturbed the government and some official security forces and civil authorities, which violently attacked AMAN for receiving and addressing sensitive and influential complaints.
We have been focused on long-term interventions such as the preparation of the courses and curriculums which are currently taught in eight universities, as well as the preparation and training on of codes of conduct for public officials and administrators.
The AMAN Coalition later sought to present itself as a civil society institution supporting official efforts (the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Legislative Council, the Office of Financial and Administrative Control) and not a substitute for it. AMAN has always sought to win the trust of the other parties without diminishing its own right of monitoring. Its approach and relationship with the public sector has always been characterized by three standards: a partner in planning, an observer of implementation, an inspector of results.
AMAN has made significant progress in recent years in combating corruption: 1) the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Authority, 2) developments in the legislative system, 3) the official signing of the State of Palestine on the United Nations Convention agreement of fighting against Corruption, 4) raising societal awareness of corruption and its forms, and 5) an essential gap being filled in prosecution and conviction of corrupt people. There was now a clear title to everything related to corruption, and we started hearing of officials being brought to the corruption court. In spite of this progress, AMAN still believes a unified national plan to fight corruption is needed. For there is still no agreement on how to distribute efforts and assume responsibilities, especially when it is related to official services, regulatory and oversight institutions.
With the noticeable decline of the official monitoring role due to the absence of the Legislative Council, we also found a lack of respect for the rule of law and a continuing sense among the majority of citizens that corruption would continue with impunity. This required AMAN to focus on effectively prosecuting the sources of corruption and corrupt persons. This development in the role of the AMAN Coalition is considered to be a strategic change in AMAN´s orientations and mechanisms of work, in particular, turning into a “watchdog”.
AMAN Coalition believed that it was time to put pressure on workers in public institutions, some of whom did not reflect the government’s stated policy on integrity, transparency, and accountability. Here AMAN´s purpose was to push for a change in the negative official policy against corruption and the pursuing of the corrupt, without repealing the proposed legislations and recommendations. It wanted to influence policies, raise awareness, build capacity and have influence on culture and public opinion, produce knowledge and become part of regional thinking. The AMAN Coalition is a Palestinian and Arab house of experts in the field of corruption prevention, with a rich heritage, and knowledge of the instruments that can help achieve a society free from corruption.
Having entered this stage, AMAN Coalition had to review its strategies and working mechanisms. AMAN was the spearhead of the movement of civil societal institutions against corruption in terms of monitoring, pressuring, and holding corrupt persons accountable. Despite the gravity and the enormity of the responsibility, and despite the bad local, regional and international circumstances AMAN had to push forward the values and principles and make enforcement of anti-corruption laws part of the real legal system. From that point on, the monitoring role has increased and the transition was from focussing on preventive intervention to focusing on monitoring, practicing pressure, advocacy and loud protest.
Experience has shown that, despite the importance of legislative intervention, this role will remain deficient, if it is not strengthened by a regulatory role to ensure law enforcement. The same applies vice versa, working with official institutions and local bodies on codes of conduct and complaint systems, training personnel and preparing regulations and procedures will remain formal and ineffective if they are not accompanied by strict control by the official and civil regulatory institutions for the implementation of these codes of conduct, and publishing reports on those who do not apply them.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In spite of the important role played by the AMAN Coalition in raising awareness, producing and disseminating knowledge, proposing legislation, consolidating public institutions, proposing mechanisms and recommendations for reform – the Coalition even played a prominent role in the adoption of the Anti-Corruption Law and in the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Commission – all this does not stop AMAN from saying loudly that combating corruption cannot only be achieved through pressure on the political system, but also by changing the values of society. We must become a culture that rejects corruption and corrupt people, a culture that is committed to combating corruption. This requires reconsidering the partnerships, tools, mechanisms and the orientation needed for the establishment of a societal movement to put pressure in a grassroots approach rejecting and criminalizing all practices, customs, and mentalities that justify corruption.
AMAN has already embarked on forging partnerships with NGOs working in different fields, which also include diverse social groups and classes, giving priority to youth organizations across the country. AMAN started offering them the tools, capabilities, and capacities to fight corruption in their fields of specialization. They are to form the germ cells that can set in motion a wide social movement that is not limited to AMAN, but forms a broad front of institutions that combat corruption in all fields.
Civil society has increased its interest in fighting corruption since several grassroots organizations have expressed their willingness to participate in the general anti-corruption efforts, in addition to the interest of research centres and universities in transferring knowledge. Moreover, the private sector’s interest in governance in public shareholding companies has also increased. In addition, it could be observed that a large number of senior officials had adopted the discourse on transparency, integrity, and accountability as a matter of principle as part of the process of improving the performance of the public sector, not to mention the expanded role of the various media organizations in these efforts.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The work of combating corruption is long and hard and creates many enemies, who feel less secure, enemies who are disturbed by the presence of control institutions that use their claws and high voice, and have a broad basis of community alliances on their side, for nothing escapes their observance. Despite this, the high professionalism of these expert monitoring institutions imposes a degree of respect and awe towards them, who are enemies before being friends, imposing itself on agendas, public decisions, and, remarkably enough, does not let even the most sensitive people question the role of the AMAN Coalition.
Imagine a civil society foundation monitoring so far as to prepare, approve of and manage the public budget and its final accounts, monitoring government decisions, decrees, laws and promotions and appointments (especially for senior and sensitive posts), public procurement, government plans, policies and strategies, commitments and general promises, public services, regulations and procedures, administration of local government and its institutions, public debt, fairness and effectiveness of the tax system, effectiveness of regulatory institutions, pursuing corruption offences, criminalization and prosecution, asset recovery and prosecution of the fugitive corrupt We are doing all this and more. AMAN Coalition conducts itself with the utmost professionalism and neutrality in a society that is highly politicized as a result of the conditions of resistance to occupation and under a regime with a non-democratic political system, in which the parliament, as the spearhead in the area of oversight and accountability, is absent. We must take pains not make any error, because one error may cost the institution its existence.
I thank you again and I promise you on behalf of my foundation and all the volunteers, workers, partners and friends who are supportive and involved in fighting corruption that we will keep on and continue our efforts with all the hope and optimism that accompanies our work until our goal is achieved… a Palestine free from corruption.
2017 December 1st
Majdi Abu Zaid