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EU ‘should not pay Gaza public servants who don’t work,’ auditors say

The European Union's financial assistance to public servants via salaries in the Gaza Strip should be halted because 40 per cent of recipients of the aid do not go to work, European auditors say. Hugh Naylor reports

RAMALLAH // The European Union’s financial assistance to public servants in the Gaza Strip should be halted because much of it goes to people who do not work, European auditors have said.

The EU pays about 20 per cent of the salaries of teachers, physicians and public officials in the besieged Palestinian territory, but many recipients of that aid do not actually hold down jobs, according to an investigation by the European Court of Auditors.

The auditors called for diverting EU funding, which is an important means of support for many Gazans, to the West Bank.

“Our suggestion is to discontinue the programme for employees in Gaza,” said Gustaf Wessberg, who led the inspections over the last 16 months. “The payment of civil servants who do not work does not meet one of the EU’s main objectives to provide public services to the Palestinian people.”

The European auditors disclosed a number of findings at a news conference in Brussels on Tuesday, including one in which some 40 per cent of public servants in Gaza do not work.

The auditors examined about €1 billion (Dh5.06bn) of EU funding to the West Bank and Gaza between 2008 and 2012.

Gaza’s residents have struggled for seven years under an Israeli-blockade, the Islamist group Hamas having wrested control over Gaza in 2007 from the Fatah faction that controls Palestinian areas in the West Bank.

The investigation raises questions about oversight by the EU Commission, which runs EU aid programmes in the Palestinian territories.

Peter Stano, an EU Commission spokesman, defended the Gaza programmes, arguing that the money helps people who may be prevented from working in the territory because of the feud between Hamas and Fatah.

“If the Palestinian Authority is not paying these people, who is going to provide for them? If you have people running around without income, then of course, they are more prone to be taken by extremists,” he said.

The disclosure of the findings comes ahead of another visit to the region by the US secretary of state, John Kerry, who was expected to arrive yesterday in an attempt to resolve a crisis in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that he helped restart in July.

Palestinian officials have reacted angrily to a reported US plan that reportedly allows Israeli troops to remain deep inside a Palestinian state. Mr Kerry reportedly broached the idea during a visit to the region last week as a way to satisfy Israeli security concerns and thereby encourage concessions during the peace talks from the Israeli prime mister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a confidant of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, on Monday rejected the idea, saying it had produced a “crisis” in the negotiations.

hnaylor@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse

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