This project coincided with a period of local government reform and elections. The aim was to develop a model to enable evaluation, monitoring and reporting on the extent of accountability and transparency in local government bodies and ultimately to protect the integrity of these institutions and therefore secure public confidence.
With the goal of producing generally accepted benchmarks and performance measurement scales to assess the level of accountability and transparency of local government bodies, the project culminated with a general conference in the middle of 2005 to propose recommendations for development and improved performance. One of the most important outcomes of the project in 2004 was the formation of a team committed to following up on the implementation of the project s recommendations. The team consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Local Government and the Palestinian Association for Local Authorities (APLA) including: Hussein Araj, Salih Hamdan, Yasser Jaradat, Issam Aqil, and Mahir Zahaika. Additionally, a manual titled "Guidelines for Accountable Palestinian Local Government" was produced.
The manual includes 14 scales to measure performance:
Basics and References
Planning and Follow-up
Abidance by Cost and Quality Standards
Need for Service
Cultural and Entertainment Interests
Participation in Providing Social Security
Six local councils were chosen from targeted municipalities for evaluation. Population size, geographical distribution, municipality size, and range of services offered were taken into consideration during the selection process. The localities selected were Tulkarem and El Bireh (large municipalities), Qabatya and Dhahriya (average size towns), and Zababdeh and Taffuh (small towns). Three questionnaires were developed to research the de facto situations of the selected councils so as to prepare a comprehensive report. The questionnaires targeted heads and members of the local councils, heads of departments, and local citizens. A report titled Performance of the Palestinian Local Government was produced. On 10th August, 2004 a workshop was held bringing together experts and decision-makers including: the Minister of Local Government, Jamal Shobaki; Deputy Minister, Hussein Araj; PLC Secretary of the Internal Committee and Local Government, Burhan Jarar; Deputy of APLA, Ma ruf Zahran; the Executive Manager of the union and its administrative team; a team of specialized personnel, such as General Directors in various ministries; and heads of 140 local councils. An Integrity Index was formulated based on levels of transparency, accountability and limited authority. More specific components of the index are:
Handling Classified Information
Clash of Interests
Designations and Appointments of Personnel
Management of Financial Resources
Sponsorship of Activities
The index also identified the main rules and regulations to be adopted as performance criteria. Discussion and development of the index was conducted during an expanded meeting held on 4th October, 2004, with the participation of representatives from the Ministry of Local Government, Palestinian Legislative Council, APLA and a number of relevant non-governmental organizations.
The work of local governance institutions directly affects the quality of life of its citizens. It is at this level where elements of corruption, real and perceived, are most damaging. Accordingly, the initiative and strategy of the project focused on this arena, with the aim of developing a model to evaluate and monitor accountability and transparency of local governments in order to protect their integrity and secure public confidence.
Due to the nature of services they provide, municipalities and local councils are in constant and direct extensive daily contact with citizens. Therefore, the public is more apt to form a positive or negative opinion of management and decision-making in local government institutions compared to a higher government framework that is less accessible to public scrutiny. Such a condition allows for a process of monitoring at the base and can result in local government institutions becoming more efficient. However, this bottom-up process of monitoring can only work if accompanied by the possibility of direct elections to give citizens the power to reward or punish, and thereby have a direct influence on decision-making.
In Palestine, there has not been a municipal election since 1976. In late 2004 a process for local elections started and was expected to be finalized before the end of 2005. Until then all mayors and council members were appointed. As a result, local governments were more dependent upon and accountable to a higher level of government rather than constituents. In the interim, various evaluative studies revealed that the Palestinian National Authority had taken steps towards raising the standards of local governments. These steps began with establishing the Ministry for Local Government in 1995 and included: transforming the status of around 80 villages and local councils to municipalities with the intention of granting them wider authority and increasing their ability to provide higher calibre services to their citizens; encouraging the participation and appointment of women in local councils; and capacity building initiatives such as specialized training workshops.
However, despite these improvements, there was still a need for a system that would evaluate, monitor and influence progress towards the achievement of democracy, transparency and accountability in local government, and reflect public issues and encourag participation.