[‘Isa] Have you taken notice of the reports prepared by the Central Control Commission regarding the spread of huge corruption within the lobbies of the Palestinian Authority? If your answer is in the affirmative, how would you comment on this?
[Hawatimah] We have in our possession a report prepared by the Central Control Commission, which came in 600 pages; a report prepared by the Ministerial Committee headed by al-Tayyib ‘Abd-al- Rahim, which came in 129 pages; and a report prepared by the Legislative Council’s Financial Committee, which came in 60 pages. All these reports show that the octopus of corruption is spreading in all areas of the Palestinian Authority and its security and intelligence arms. Furthermore, these reports recommended the resignation of the entire Palestinian cabinet. They acknowledged that $326 million; that is, 43 percent of the 1996 budget, was embezzled; that 35 percent of this budget was spent on security agencies; and that 12.5 percent of the budget went to ‘Arafat’s office. Some 9.5 percent of the budget; that is, $73 million was left to the entire population of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, who total 2.5 million people. With regard to the Palestinian diaspora, they got nothing of this budget.
Before these reports saw the light of day, we urged ‘Arafat to heed the appeals of the people and realities in this regard. This was contained in a letter I sent him through ‘Abbas Zaki [member of the Fatah Central Committee and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council] in reply to an oral message ‘Arafat sent me in April through Zaki. In our appeals in this regard, we clearly underlined the need to deal blows to Mafia gangs and corruption within the lobbies of the Authority’s organs.
Now, these reports, all of which were prepared by the Authority itself, recommend the dismissal and trial of five ministers, rebuking two others, and questioning another. They also demand an investigation of why monopolies, chief among which are the Petroleum Corporation, the al-Bahr Company, the Tobacco Company, the Cement Corporation, the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, and the Cereals Corporation were placed under the control of brother ‘Arafat’s office. Likewise, the revenues of 12 basic commodities do not find their way to the Authority’s treasury, are not subject to auditing, and are not deemed part of the general budget; not to mention the second budget [the second treasury], whose assets are deposited in four Israeli banks. These assets are in excess of $500 million. These assets, which are fetching 16-23 percent interest, are used for speculation on a par with the shekel.
This is a far cry of the hunger suffered by our people in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. This also shows how the Palestinian Authority is neglecting the Palestinian diaspora, who unleashed the revolution and the PLO. This is a joint far cry appealing for an end to corruption, and for the dismantlement of these institutions, so that there may be room for the launch of new institutions that would be highly efficient, trustworthy, and accountable. Consequently, we demand public trials attended by human rights organizations and representatives of donor nations to curb the spread of corruption that has spared nothing.
[‘Isa] But some of the ministers whose names were mentioned in the reports said that the charges against them are politically motivated and that they are aimed at dismissing them.
[Hawatimah] I firmly believe that these ministers want to turn their backs on all these reports that implicated them in corruption scandals. I would like to tell you in all honesty that the reports, copies of which are in our possession, are clear. Moreover, several officials affiliated with the Palestinian Authority, including Hanan ‘Ashrawi, ‘Abd-al-Jawad Salih, and others, commended the accuracy of the reports. However, they affirmed that these reports did not address the activities of the monopolies working under the direct supervision of brother ‘Arafat’s office. Given all of the above, all files must be opened and referred to court. First of all, all the ministers whose names are mentioned in the reports must be relieved of their posts and sent to court, as happens in all world states. They must undergo transparent trials in the presence of international observers.
[‘Isa] With regard to ‘Arafat, is it possible that he is unaware of this huge corruption?
[Hawatimah] We within the revolution and the PLO, as well as Palestinian laymen, cannot assume that the ruler is good and that it is his entourage that is corrupt. I will address this issue in a book that will see the light of day soon. The ruler is well aware of many things being done by his entourage. Nonetheless, he is not necessarily aware of all the minute details. He knows a lot about what is going on around him. The self-rule authority is coming face-to-face with a huge report. There is huge corruption, and brother Abu-‘Ammar is aware of many things in this regard.