Palestinians pledge to cancel leaked ministerial raises, says UN envoy

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The cash-strapped Palestinian government has pledged to suspend a secret increase in ministerial salaries, the United Nations envoy on the Israel-Palestinian conflict said on Thursday after reports of the raise sparked anger.

Documents leaked online appeared to show that in 2017, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas had quietly agreed to increase monthly salaries of ministers from $3,000 to $5,000, as well as boosting the prime minister’s salary from $4,000 to $6,000.

The revelation, by an anonymous online group known as “Against the Current”, came as the Palestinian government faces desperate financial shortfalls.

Nickolay Mladenov, United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said on Thursday he had spoken to recently installed Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, who had agreed to cancel the raises.

“At a time when the #Palestinian people are struggling with economic hardship, when salaries were cut in #Gaza, such decisions defy logic and rightly anger people,” Mladenov tweeted in reaction to the news of the salary increase.

“I spoke to @DrShtayyeh who committed to end this practice immediately and investigate.”

Shtayyeh, who replaced predecessor Rami Hamdallah in April, was not immediately available for comment.

Palestinians commenting on Against the Current’s Facebook page expressed outrage at the reported raises.

“All these ministers, what service do they provide to the people anyway? They’re just honorary roles,” wrote Subhi al-Hamdani.

The Palestinian Authority has been forced to halve the salaries of many employees in recent months due to an ongoing financial dispute with Israel.

The Jewish state has been deducting around $10 million a month from taxes it collects on behalf of the PA, money it says corresponds to payments to families of prisoners in Israeli jails -- including those who have carried out attacks.

Israel sees such payments as rewards for attacks on its citizens, but the Palestinians argue they are a vital lifeline for families who have often lost their main breadwinner. They also accuse Israel of arresting people arbitrarily.

Abbas has responded to the Israeli move by refusing to accept any of the tax revenues, which equate to more than half his government’s budget.

The United States has also cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians.

US envoy Jason Greenblatt said the salary hikes for ministers showed the Palestinian leadership had sought to enrich themselves while creating a “self-imposed financial crisis.”

“Where’s the care/concern about the people?” he tweeted.

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