The UK Department for International Development (DFID) has now released to UK Lawyers to Israel (UKLFI) audit reports relating to funds used by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in its “pay for slay” policy and terms of reference under which they were prepared.
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 PA’s Central Treasury Account. Funds from this account were then used to pay salaries of convicted Palestinian terrorists, rewarding them for their crimes, as shown by Palestinian Media Watch (PMW).
On 26 July 2019, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) ordered DFID to disclose to UKLFI within 35 days the audit reports and terms of reference of external auditors of the PRDP-MDTF and/or any accounts into which its funds were disbursed between 2010 and 2015. The ICO concluded that there was a significant public interest in the disclosure of the information, which outweighed any harm that might be done to diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority. The documents should have been released by 30 August 2019.
DFID had originally completed a Notice of Appeal on 19 August 2019, and said that it intended to dispute the release of the documents. However, it subsequently abandoned the main part of its appeal and said it would release the documents.
The release of the documents is the culmination of UKLFI’s attempts to obtain these audit reports and terms of reference, that began with a Freedom of Information Act request to DFID on 5 July 2018.
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. PMW has shown that the PA now 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.
When questions about payments of salaries to terrorists were raised in Parliament, British Ministers insisted that no British grant aid to the PA was paid to terrorists and that “The entire process is independently audited, which ensures we know exactly where and how our money is being spent.”
However, the audit reports failed to flag the fact that large sums of money were transferred from the PA’s Central Treasury Account to the Department which pays the terrorists’ generous salaries.
The only terms of reference disclosed by DFID are titled “Terms of Reference for the Audit of DFID Financial Development Assistance to the PA for the 2013/14 Financial Year”. These provide that “the [PA] Ministry of Finance will draw up a list of civil servants who meet agreed eligibility criteria and whose salary payments for the months of 2013 equal to total the DFID funding. The Ministry of Finance will then ensure that the salaries of those listed civil servants are paid from the PA’s general Shekel account.”
However, the Overseas Development Institute observed in a Report of November 2015, “DFID funds continue to be paid into the general treasury fund, and an accounting exercise is undertaken ex post to show that DFID funds are less than the outstanding amount needed to fund salaries of PEGASE-approved PA employees. This is of questionable robustness, as this kind of notional earmarking provides few fiduciary assurances.”