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PA Minister Fayyad: The PA “has always made the financial needs of the prisoners’ issue its top priority”

Article by Minister of Finance Salam Fayyad
Headline: “The prisoners and the Finance Ministry”
     “Let us settle the issue between us: the Ministry of Finance and I personally are being subjected to an unjust, wrong and misleading attack based on claims made by a few who are trying to exploit the prisoners’ issue, with all its painful and tragic aspects, [saying] that the Ministry of Finance has neglected this issue and is treating our imprisoned brothers in the Israeli occupation’s prisons as repressed and forgotten. Even worse, this group has even attributed this alleged negligence to the Minister of Finance’s inability to understand the issue’s struggle aspect, or to intentional neglect on his part.
As I have said, this is an unjust, wrong and misleading attack. It is unjust because of its content, and as will be explained below using numbers, it is the exact opposite of reality, since the [Palestinian] National Authority has always made the financial needs of the prisoners’ issue its top priority. This is a wrong [attack] because it ignores the fact that our deeply rooted Palestinian nation is fully capable of differentiating between the struggle, its honor, its high moral standard and nobility and between pretending to struggle for the purpose of gaining ownership of this virtue and having exclusive control over the issuing of character references. [This campaign] is also misleading because, as will be explained hereinafter, it intentionally ignores important facts that shed light on the essence of the relationship between the Ministry of Finance and the prisoners’ issue and those in charge of it.
Before providing a fact-based explanation, I believe it would be fitting to stop and clarify something and to apologize in advance. This is an explanation regarding the accusation on which the attack against the Ministry of Finance is based. I would like to make it clear here that the alleged negligence attributed to the Ministry of Finance has nothing to do with the prisoners’ and their families’ allowances (mukhassasat) (these allowances are fully paid) but rather is about the monthly allowances [paid] to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, to cover its operating budget and lawyer fees. As for the apology, it has two aspects to it. The first has to do with the need to focus on the time since I was appointed Minister of Finance, and to compare the PA’s financial conduct during this period with the previous period. Yes, I am forced to do this because I am being accused not only of inadequate treatment and negligence but also of having malicious intent. I was subjected to a lot of this form of slander in the past and still was careful not to enter these kinds of arguments and comparisons. I believed the whole time that the government’s responsibility requires investing all possible efforts in dealing competently and honestly with the fateful challenges our nation faces and not in promoting oneself. But it seems that my lack of response, along with the lack of response by the political system to which I belong and for whose interests I work, were not seen as rising [above the claims] but rather as a weakness, or at least as an admittance of the truthfulness of the claims and lies attributed to me by those opposed to the reform, who are a small interested party. The second and important aspect of my apology has to do with my need to speak about the prisoners and released prisoners’ issue in a purely financial context. Although I need to do this, I do not want anyone to think that we see this issue as a monetary issue; and that our financial commitments to the prisoners and their families are by way of being a fulfillment of an obligation. This thing [the obligation towards the prisoners] will be fulfilled only through the release of the prisoners and their return to their families and by providing all the means for them to join their working brothers, in both the public and private sectors, on the way to building the state and institutions.
I will now present information regarding the prisoners’ allowances (mukhassasat) and the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club allowances:
First of all: The Prisoners’ allowances:
1. The expenditure for the prisoners’ allowances increased between June 2002 to June 2004 and reached 6.9 million shekels per month. This is a 246% increase in the monthly average compared with January 1995 to June 2002.
2. The amount spent on the prisoners’ and released prisoners’ allowances from June 2002 to June 2004 is about 177 million shekels, i.e. an average of 88.5 million shekels per year. This, compared with the sum of 121 million shekels spent between January 1995 to June 2002, i.e. an average of 16 million shekels per year. In other words, a 450% increase in the annual average expenditure in the past two years compared with the annual expenditure from January 1995 to June 2002. It should be noted that the rate of this increase is much higher than the increase in the number of prisoners in the past two years.
3. In addition to the allowances, the PA covered other expenses (fines, lawyer fees, and aid for released prisoners) at a sum of 22 million shekels from 2002 to 2004. It should be noted that this sum includes lawyer fees paid by the Prisoners’ Club in addition to the lawyer fees paid directly by the Ministry of Finance to other lawyers.
Second: The Palestinian Prisoners’ Club allowances:
It should be noted first of all that the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club has a monthly operating budget of 40,000 shekels, in addition to a budget [literally: allowance] for fees for lawyers with contracts with the Prisoners’ Club, at a sum of 50,000 dollars per month. The Ministry of Finance transferred the monthly budget [literally: allowance] for the months of January, February and March this year to the club. In other words, this year, as of this date, the Ministry has transferred half of the sum it committed to the club. This in comparison to transfers of only one third of the sum committed, as of this date, to all of the PA’s ministries and institutions – and this is of course due to the current [financial] crisis and the scarcity of [financial] resources, including foreign aid. We are dealing with a severe financial crisis which we mention incessantly and of which everyone is aware. But there are those who purposely do not listen or believe this. In any case, a known fact in public funds management is that when resources are scarce and inconsistent, a transition to a state of crisis management is required. This includes the need to differentiate between what is important and what is more important. This requires a lot of effort and thought. And I must raise a question at this point: Does anything in our considerations point towards discrimination against the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club? How can this be, when the Ministry of Finance has transferred half of its payments for this year, while it has transferred only a third of the payments to the PA ministries and official institutions? Did the Ministry of Finance discriminate against the Prisoners’ Club when, on June 8, 2004, it transferred a check for the sum of 175,000 US dollars as payment for previous debts, while it did not pay what it owed any other PA ministries or official institutions for the previous year?
There is another matter that must be mentioned in order to clarify the financial relationship between the Ministry of Finance and the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club. When the Ministry of Finance transfers a payment in advance, it requires the payment of any previous debts and [the presentation of] documents proving that the money was spent, according to the rules, on the approved clauses. This is done to ensure that the payments arrive at their destination. I believe that every citizen is entitled to ask to what extent the Prisoners’ Club is obligated to this system. The reality is that the Prisoners’ Club did not always follow this system. This matter, in addition to the resource scarcity, explains the irregularity of the transfers [of money to the Prisoners’ Club.] Is this only a claim or are those in charge at the Prisoners’ Club aware of this? Well, they know this very well and proof of this is that on July 10, 2004 the clubs’ chairman sent me two letters, in one he asks for ‘the irregular transfer of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club’s monthly budget for the months of April and May 2004.’ In the second he asks for ‘the irregular transfer of the April and May payments for the lawyer fees.’ In both letters he commits to settling the issue and later on, to paying for the previous expenses with the necessary invoices. (I have both letters in my possession if anyone wishes to review them.)
Would it not have been appropriate for those in charge at the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, before turning to slander and making accusations and threating – not only to end the prisoners’ legal representation but also to end their visits to the prisoners – to stop and ask themselves: Why is it difficult to first pay previous debts? And if they find this difficult why don’t they discuss this with us first instead of threatening with denunciations and slander? And a final question – does what the Club view as the Ministry of Finance’s negligence, call for threatening to stop lawyer visits to the prisoners?”