Laws Promote Division

 By:Hanan Abu Dgheim

The Palestinian people have been living a painful and unprecedented division that left destructive impacts on the various aspects of their political, social and economic lives; of which the most serious is the legislative and judicial division and the consequent enactment of geographically unilateral laws and convening of illegal meeting of the Legislative Council (PLC) in Gaza by the Hamas parliamentary bloc and moreover the presidential decrees that have the force of law in Ramallah. Every year the Palestinian division casts a negative shadow on the Palestinian legal and judicial system particularly after the adoption of the annual budget law which is one of the most dangerous forms legislation and outlines the economic line of the government for at least an upcoming year.

 

Absence of Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in Gaza

 

Legal experts stress that as the sessions held by the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) are illegal, the adopted budgets are also illegal.

 

Lawyer in the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), Salah Abdel Ati, said ” We are facing a radical judicial and legislative division and an absence of Legislative Council, however, the Change and Reform parliamentary bloc (of Hamas) annually adopts laws and budgets, which is illegal due sessions are essentially illegal.”

 

He added, ” Some budgets were not adopted and mystery surrounded them, moreover, the legislative council has played no active role in this issue, as a result, the absence of a clear budget and the absence of an active role of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in accordance with the legal foundations, result in lack of censorship.”

According to Abdel Ati, there is a reservation on all legislation enacted during the period of the internal division.

 

Field Research Coordinator at Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, Samir Zaqout, agrees in the opinion with Abdel Ati. Zaqout stated that under the approval of the majority of the parliamentary blocs, the legislative power is absent, therefore all sessions and decisions are illegal and should not be enforced due to lack of quorum and the illegality of the assignment of procurator to replace another procurator within a procuration system on which Change and Reform Bloc depends in order to prove the participation of its members in the occupied West Bank and the participation of its MPs jailed in the Israeli occupation’s prisons, which is contrary to all parliamentary norms and have been rejected by all the parliamentary blocs.

 

General Budget ..

 

Budget is a detailed certified estimate of expenditure and public revenues for a future financial period. According to Abdel Ati, the most important elements of budget preparation is involvement of all Palestinian national political factions in the development of the budget bill and present it to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) on condition of a quorum to be voted on.

 

Abdel Ati stressed the necessary need to, conduct all the financial resources inventory in the budget, and called to estimate the uses of these financial resources; which are quite vague in the budgets of Gaza in addition to ambiguity and the multiplicity of the funding sources whether they are legitimate such sources as taxes and customs or non-specific as tunnels or aid which are shrouded in mystery, thus budgets are often announced in media in public figures without clear details.

 

Zaqout, in return, noted that what provided by the law is a thing and what is implemented on the ground is something else entirely. The Palestinian government in Ramallah in the West Bank prepares and approves the budget and in Gaza Strip the de facto government does the same and prepares and approves its own budget in the Legislative Council session that does have no legitimacy without disclosing any of its details.

 

Zaqout stated that the ability to control budget implementation is absent to ensure the interests of people, when there is a lack of clarity of the budgeting. According to Zaqout, “budget is not just data, it is closely related to the national economy.” He said that ”budget is an indicator of the human rights situation in the state and an indicator of the extent the state interests in the development of education, health and even security sectors.” In some countries approximately half of the budget is allocated to ensure people’s rights.

 

Two different budgets ..

 

The Palestinian internal division casts a shadow on the state budget which as a result of the split has been also divided into two budgets one for the West Bank and another for the Gaza Strip; which constitutes another aspect of the judicial and legislative division.

 

Safi Al-Dahdouh, legal expert and vice president of the bar, for his part said, ” The Gaza Strip has become judicially and legislatively entirely separated area from the judicial and legislative system in the West Bank, due to the internal political split, ”  He added, ” In the normal situation, there should be one budget both for West Bank and the Gaza Strip; however, as a result of the political split, there are two completely different budgets.”

 

Dahdouh explained that the government in Ramallah prepares the budget whereas the Prime Minister approves it before it later approved by the president. Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip, the status quo government prepares the budget and exposes it to the Legislative Council (PLC) and it is approved without disclosing any of its details. He pointed to the seriousness of the enactment of laws in general under the political split, to avoid creating a pathway to two different legal statuses in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip that conflict with each other.

 

Dahdouh stated that all the laws that were passed Gaza’s Legislative council in the period of internal split including the budget law do not observe the legal proceedings and they are contrary to the political rules of procedure of the Legislative Council and moreover they were enacted only for political and partisan purposes.

 

According to Dahdouh, the seriousness of the legislative split and the different budget law lay in the absence of transparency and accountability and ignoring of the role of the Legislative Council entrusted with the adoption of the budget and approval of expenditures and holding accountable to the ministries and institutions.

 

Bad management:

 

After the political split in 14th June of 2007 and the waves of tensions between Fatah and Hamas and Hamas’ uniqueness in decision making in the Gaza Strip, Hamas government submitted its budget of $ 428 million for the year 2009 which the experts described as “primitive” compared to what the government budgets must be characterized. Since then, year by year, the Hamas government continued to prepare and submit its annual budgets with a steady rise in its value until its reached $784 million in 2014 with the total expected revenues of $195 million and total deficit of $589 million.

 

Palestinian economic expert Omar Shaban, for his part, said ” It seems clear that the Hamas government funding sources got foggy (Hamas government led by Ismail Haniyeh until the formation of the consensus government over a year ago), moreover, the government’s funding sources overlapped with the funding sources of the Hamas movement, which led to a poor management of public fund. The sources of funding varied between taxes, customs, duties, tunnels and external aid support in addition to the emergence of a commercial traffic through the tunnels of which revenue estimated of about $40 million.

 

Shaban said, ” Revenue distribution was not clear, the bulk of the budget was allocated to the security sector at the expense of other sectors that are important for people.”

 

Shaban stressed that Gaza’s government big challenge lies in providing a realistic and transparent budget which is difficult in the light of lack of financial sources especially after tunnels shut down; the situation which resulted in creating a harsh economic reality; where poverty and unemployment rates are up to more than 70 percent and amid these high rates the consensus government disclaim all its responsibilities towards the Gaza Strip.

 

Shaban said, ” All the mentioned facts prompted the government to provide an opaque budget of which expenditures are more than revenues and which faces financial deficit and crisis disabling the government from meeting its obligations to pay the salaries of more than 40 thousand employees and forcing it to impose new taxes.”

 

 

National Solidarity Tax Law:

 

Despite the formation of a Palestinian national unity government on June 02, 2014 and the achievement of a bilateral reconciliation between the political opponents Fatah and Hamas “Shati Agreement”, a government ruled by Hamas movement has continued to control the Gaza Strip and Hamas deputies admit new laws of which the most recently is National Solidarity Tax Law; a tax imposed on all goods except for basic goods and ranges between 1% to 10%  of the item price such as in case of cigarettes.

 

Abdel Ati said that the National Solidarity Tax Law is only an amendment to the General Budget Law. It includes taxes and additional fees on all that enters the Gaza Strip where people experience a humanitarian catastrophe. The tax is an additional overload on the shoulders of citizens.

 

Director of Public Relations at the Chamber of Commerce, Maher Tabbaa, commenting on the law said, ” The Palestinian citizen is the one who bears the burden of division, ” adding ” imposing new taxes is illogical amid high rates of unemployment and poverty because that would be borne by the citizen after the rise in prices.”

 

Tabbaa stressed need and urged to repeal the law. Though he understands the goal of getting revenue to the ministries in the absence of the operational budgets, he stressed that it should not be at the expense of  the needs of the besieged Palestinian poor citizen in the Gaza Strip.

 

Deputy of Hamas parliamentary bloc “Change and Reform Bloc”, Huda Naim, said ” Taxes are more like Zakat which serves people only. It is distributed evenly over four sectors, the poor, operational budget for the sectors of health and education, judiciary and security, meanwhile the rest of the amount is allocated to pay employees’ salaries.”

 

Naim defended the right of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in Gaza to enact law in the light of consensus government’s intransigence and its refusal to provide for the operating budget of the ministries in the besieged Gaza Strip despite collecting taxes for its treasury according to her claims.

 

 

The Judiciary Unification :

 

To break the impasse of differing laws as in the budget law and open the way for the consensus government to bear responsibility towards the Gaza Strip, legal experts agreed on the need to end the state of judicial division and the need to form a unified judicial authority with one General Procuratorate and one Supreme Judicial Council.

 

Dahdouh stressed need to achieve the national reconciliation which includes the judiciary unification. He said, ” There are no technical and legal trouble in the judiciary unification, what is required is a political will to end the division particularly in the Gaza Strip due there is a need for the currently employed judges along with the judges who stopped working after Hamas coming and due to the lack of the judges in the light of the backlogged in the courts.

 

He stressed on the need to unify the laws between the Gaza Strip and West Bank and the need for a Legislative Council that does its basic work of law enactment away from political disputes that paralyzed the (PLC) disabling and stopping it from working turning the PLC to a pray to the division parties’ disputes.

 

Dahdouh believes that the most important steps to unify the judiciary is to promote the financial and administrative independence away from the manifestations of ”politicization” and ”quotas” and achieving the independence of judges and ensuring  job security; which all together establishes a unified, fair and equitable justice system that preserves the prestige of the justice system in particular and the prestige of the State in general.

 

Fourth Estate:

 

The importance of the role of media to educate the citizens and uncover the truth and reveal the failure of the officials, became clear, to face the imposed by Hamas government National Solidarity Tax Law and other laws such as budget and tax laws that were adopted and enforced during the period of internal division.

 

A journalist specialist in the area of parliamentary affairs, Fayez Abu Aoun, said, ” The change of the legislative and judicial reality needs a strong will of all the Palestinians and in the forefront the strong will of the journalists as a fourth estate as a monitor and revealer to all the illegal practices.

 

Abu Aoun stressed the need to raise the awareness of the journalists of legal issues. He noted to the role of the social media that enables all the citizens to publish and express their views and opinions.

 

He also stressed the significance of the journalism at various levels, kinds and forms and its role to expose the invalidity of the laws that were enacted and adopted during the period of internal political division as well as to develop ideas that allow return to a unified Palestinian judiciary that enforces rule of law and achieves justice.

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