The Department for International Development (DFID) will release documents to UK Lawyers to Israel, (UKLFI) having abandoned part of its appeal of the Information Commissioner ’s decision. The Commissioner ordered DFID to release to UKLFI audits of accounts into which British grant aid was transferred and then used to pay salaries to convicted Palestinian terrorists.
Various countries, including the UK, paid large sums of money into the World Bank’s Palestinian Recovery and Development Program Multi donor trust fund (PRDP-MDTF), which were then transferred to the Palestinian Authority’s Central Treasury Account. This is the account from which payments were made to convicted terrorists, rewarding them for their crimes.
On 26 July 2019, the Commissioner ordered DFID to disclose the audit reports of the PRDP-MDTF. The Commissioner concluded that there was a significant public interest in the disclosure of the information, which outweighed any harm that may be done to diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority.
DFID had completed a Notice of Appeal on 19 August 2019, and said that it intended to appeal the release of the documents, on the grounds that it opposed the public interest argument, and it also opposed the IC’s conclusion that the Palestinian Authority was not a state, for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act.
But when DFID filed its Grounds of Appeal on 24 September 2019 (yesterday), it withdrew its appeal in relation to the “public interest” benefit of releasing the documents stating: “While DFID considers that the IC’s assessment of the public interest was wrong, it does not seek to appeal it. The IC gave insufficient weight to DFID’s reasons for withholding the materials, but since the time of the request there has been further engagement on this issue. While that does not vitiate DFID’s original decision, it does mean that DFID would not seek to withhold the information if a new request were made, and it therefore will provide the information…”
UKLFI argued that the public interest in disclosure of the documents was extremely strong in this case since false information provided by DFID appears to have facilitated the continuation of a policy under which large sums of British public money have been used to reward and encourage murder.
The Commissioner said that the fact that concerns about the auditing of the account had been raised in Parliament was a significant factor in her decision, and that the severity of the allegations increased the public interest in the disclosure of information.
The Commissioner concluded on balance that the public interest in disclosure outweighed the public interest in not disclosing the information to avoid prejudicing the interests of the UK abroad. Accordingly, she ordered disclosure.
This is the latest twist in the story of attempts by UKLFI to obtain these audit reports. UKLFI submitted a Freedom of Information request to DFID on 5 July 2018, for copies of audit reports for the PRDP MDTF for the years 2010 to 2015, along with the terms of reference for these audits and audits of any accounts into which the funds were sent. This was refused by DFID and then refused again upon review, so UKLFI appealed to the Information Commissioner. On 26 July 2019, the Information Commissioner ordered DFID to produce the documents within 35 days, unless they appealed.
In the period 2008 to 2015 Britain paid grant aid to the PA totalling £430.5 million, via the World Bank’s trust fund, untied and not earmarked, to the PA Central Treasury. Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) disclosed documents which showed that the PA pays over 8% of its total budget to fund salaries for convicted terrorists, which serve to reward and encourage terrorism. The funds to pay these salaries came out of the PA’s Central Treasury account.
UKLFI had noted that when questions about payments of salaries to terrorists were raised in Parliament, British Ministers had claimed that the payments were not salaries but welfare payments. However, the PMW material had shown that these claims were false. UKLFI demonstrated that British Ministers have repeated claims that the payments were for welfare long after the PMW reports showed that this was untrue.
DFID now argues that it wants to go ahead with an appeal on the academic question of whether the Palestinian Authorities should be treated as a State for the purposes of s27 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. DFID argues that a number of territorial units are not States in international law, and the IC’s new interpretation raises difficulties, or has the potential to raise difficulties not only in relation to the occupied Palestinian territories, but also the British Overseas Territories.
UKLFI had successfully argued in its submissions to the Information Commissioner, that the PA was not a State: the UK had not recognised the PA as a State, it did not meet the criteria for the existence of a State, and to recognise it as such would conflict with the Oslo Accords.
The full decision of the Information Commissioner is available HERE: Decision of ICO re DFID