How do you ensure social accountability without government engagement? Persistence is Key

edward.irby Jun 18, 2017
Blog

Corruption in Palestine

The disruption caused by conflict has become a prevalent feature of everyday life for Palestinian citizens. Recovery is hampered further by trends showing a decrease in donor investment in Palestine[1]. The combination of a weak economy and declining donor commitments mean that on-going development projects need to be implemented as efficiently as possible. Exasperating these barriers is the issue of corruption. 81% of Palestinians see corruption as the second biggest social problem, behind conflict, that is impeding development[2]. This means that the importance of tackling corruption, as well as increasing integrity and transparency, has become ever more pressing during recent times in Palestine.

Beit Jala, Bethlehem, exemplified many of the issues associated with the lack of accountability in service provision experienced by Palestinian citizens. The local municipal authorities operated a ‘closed door policy’ by not engaging in dialogue with local residents. There was no accountability. The local community was unable to raise service delivery problems that they were experiencing. The municipality would not publish any information about the projects they were carrying out. This resulted in a serious lack of transparency and a disconnect with local residents, who were ill informed about what services were being implemented or built for their benefit.

Looking for an answer

Integrity Action’s partner Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ) works to counter lack of accountability in government as well as to install Integrity in service provision for communities in Palestine. Founded in 1990, and working with Integrity Action since 2009, ARIJ look to bring local communities together with stakeholders in government, in order to facilitate co-operation between local institutions, with the aim of bringing about improvements to vital services.

In 2015, in partnership with Integrity Action ARIJ initiated Integrity Clubs in Palestine. These clubs are created in schools to teach children the values of Integrity and the damaged caused by corruption. The clubs allow children to go beyond theoretical understanding about these topics and teach students how to spread Integrity in their communities. This is done through monitoring of infrastructure projects that are important to the club members and their communities. In this way Integrity Clubs are unique as they enable and empower youth to go out and tackle corruption directly. The students get to go out and interact with government officials and contractors and put into practice the knowledge and skills they have gained to bring improvements to services.

The projects

In 2016, ARIJ set up an Integrity Club in Beit Jala. The club members decided to monitor two projects in their community. One of these was a road rehabilitation project to widen a road, in order to reduce traffic as well as install water pipes. This would ensure that people living in the community would be able to access local markets thereby increasing economic opportunities and access to goods. The insertion of water pipes along the rehabilitated road was also important to ensure that local residents would not have to buy water from tankers at extra cost, or risk disease from drinking contaminated water from unsafe and un-piped sources. The other project they chose was the rehabilitation of El-Bayara Park. The purpose of this project was to enable the children who currently play in the street to have a safe place to play and avoid accidents on the street.

Monitoring

In September 2016, the Integrity Club members agreed to try and set up a meeting with the municipality officials for them to guarantee access to the sites and project documents. However, the Beit Jala Municipality would not agree to meet with the club members. They tried many times to arrange a meeting, even writing to the mayor. The clubs are a vocal point for the community, voicing concerns about misspent budgets and badly implemented projects. However, they could only tackle corruption and help spread integrity if there is an open dialogue.

The officials were refusing to enter a productive dialogue. However, the Integrity Club members were able to overcome this problem with the assistance of ARIJ. ARIJ staff went directly to engage with the municipality themselves, sending an official letter explaining the importance of the Integrity Clubs. They informed the municipality how it would involve the community in the implementation of the projects, providing community oversight to ensure that not only would problems be identified and resolved, but also that trust would be built between citizens and government. This resulted in a meeting between the municipality and the Integrity Clubs in December of 2016.

The meeting was very productive. The municipality staff came around and were eventually receptive to the idea of citizen involvement in project implementation. They understood that this was a great way to build trust and repair relations with the community. As a result, the municipality in Beit Jala now cooperates fully with the Integrity Clubs. They provided them with the information they needed and ensured they would be able to conduct visits to the project sites.

We did not give up and persisted in the project, although we went to the Municipality and they refused to meet with us and when we went again they told us the mayor was not in the office, even though he was. We also found this project very interesting and we will continue with social monitoring.” – Lana Imad Abu Alia, Beit Jala High School for Girls.

The Integrity Clubs were able to access projects through constructively engaging with the municipality government with assistance from ARIJ. By explaining the benefits of monitoring the Beit Jala authorities are now willing to engage and help the monitors. They understand that increased social accountability means citizens are more likely to be satisfied with the project as they can help ensure that it is conducted to a high standard. They have come fully round to the idea and have now even made changes to their policies to create a monitoring department to oversee all projects development!