GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Palestinian Authority (PA) is establishing an independent academy to offer specialized anti-corruption courses and degrees.
The Palestinian Anti-Corruption Academy will produce a Palestinian generation able to fight corruption, according to Ahmad Barak, head of the Palestinian Anti-Corruption Commission. Barak announced the initiative Sept. 9 to representatives of Palestinian universities meeting in al-Bireh. The academy will be affiliated with the commission, which was established by the PA in 2010 to investigate any suspicions of corruption attributed to Palestinian officials.
In 2017, the PA started including some elective academic courses on combating corruption in some university curriculums, but the academy will offer specialized diplomas and master's degrees, in addition to workshops and training, and will be open to all students.
Muntasir Hamdan, the commission's media officer, said the idea for the academy stems from the commission's thinking "that academics are the backbone of its work and that fighting corruption on scientific grounds will make significant progress.”
The commission is putting together a board of directors for the academy drawn from relevant institutions and civil society organizations. The academy is expected to launch in Ramallah in early 2020 with administrative, financial and academic independence. Hamdan said the commission is qualifying trainers specialized in fighting corruption drawn from professors of law, governance and administration in Palestinian universities to be part of the academy's staff.
"Courses will focus on the theories and principles of good governance and combating corruption and will offer a review of Palestinian and international experiences in this regard," Hamdan said. “The academy will graduate students specializing in protecting public finances and financial and administrative control in all public and private institutions, and experts in integrity and good governance.”
Othman Othman, a political science professor at An-Najah National University, told Al-Monitor that establishing the academy reflects the commission’s seriousness about holding Palestinian institutions accountable. “This step will give international bodies that provide financial support to the PA, such as the European Union, a reassuring indicator that it is serious about eliminating all forms of corruption in its institutions, most importantly financial corruption.”
He added, “This is a positive step toward an advanced awareness among the Palestinian society against corruption, bribery and the exploitation of public positions for individual interests at the expense of the public interest.”
Despite the PA's anti-corruption efforts — such as its accession to the UN Convention against Corruption in 2014 and its preparation of the National Strategy for Combating Corruption 2019-2020 — the public still believes corruption is prevalent in PA institutions. A survey conducted by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research published in July showed that 80% of respondents believe corruption exists in PA institutions.
Othman attributed this high indicator to a lack of community participation in efforts to combat corruption, and the absence of the Palestinian Legislative Council to oversee the work of the government and its institutions.
Hamdan, however, believes the public's perception is exaggerated. Still, he said one of the academy's objectives is “to achieve the greatest possible community participation in the fight against corruption to make society aware of the magnitude of corruption and efforts to combat it."
According to the commission's 2018 annual report, the commission received 492 complaints and reports of suspicion of corruption in official institutions and bodies. Out of these complaints, 193 were dismissed as administrative irregularities that did not constitute corruption. The remaining 299 complaints included nepotism and favoritism (65), abuse of authority (36), misuse of public funds (14), mistrust (62), forgery (10), embezzlement (15), unlawful enrichment (25) and bribery (17).
The report further showed that the commission transferred only 28 of these complaints to the public prosecutor during 2018. The commission attributed the slow pace of handling complaints to the need for detailed examination and documentation.
Talal Awkal, a board member of the Coalition for Accountability and Integrity, told Al-Monitor the academy will help remedy that situation, saying, "The fight against this crime by the executive and the judiciary institutions remains slow because these bodies are not specialized.” Awkal added, “This academy will contribute to the development of our tools to combat corruption and accelerate the process of dealing with it" by providing graduates who understand and can work with specialized executive and judicial bodies.
The commission is gearing up to host a regional conference, Integrity and Governance for Sustainable Development, Dec. 9-11 in Ramallah. The conference aims to promote transparency and boost cooperation among all sectors in the fight against corruption.
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