The Palestinian labour market in the West Bank was limping along in 2017, with unemployment stubbornly high and economic growth slowing. But that didn’t stop the Palestinian Authority government from secretly giving itself a series of lavish payouts and perks, highlighted by a 67% salary hike.
They were kept quiet for the past two years, but news of the decision leaked this week in a series of documents posted anonymously to social media.
The revelations have rocked the West Bank, where the cash-strapped cabinet has been forced to slash the salaries of its employees because of a financial crisis. Coming during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a time of high expenses for struggling families, the report renewed outrage among Palestinians who have long seen their leadership as out of touch and rife with corruption.
“The cabinet members behaved as if the government is their private shop and they can take as much as they want without being held accountable,” said political commentator Ehab Jareri.
The raises were kept secret from the public and approved by PA President Mahmoud 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 pay raise was made retroactive to 2014, when the government took office, giving the ministers an extra bonus of tens of thousands of dollars, the officials said.
The benefits did not end there. Ministers who live outside the West Bank city of Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, received $10,000 a year to rent a house there, another document showed. Officials who already owned Ramallah homes also reaped the lucrative bonus. And in an extra boost, the government inflated the exchange rate, giving them a roughly 17% premium when converting the salaries to Israeli shekels.
The documents were viewed by The Associated Press and authenticated by the Palestinian officials.