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Benchmark News

Benchmark continues to grow and build its international reputation by commencing in September 2008 a European Commission funded project in West Gaza, Palestine National Authority (PNA). The project is involves working with the State Audit & Administrative Control Bureau (SAACB) to assist SAACB with transforming the new institution, and to enable it to operate according to the leading international auditing standards. SAACB is a member of Arab Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions (ARABOSAI) and is working towards becoming a member of INTOSAI. Further it has been working on developing close bi-lateral relationships and has signed two bi-lateral agreements with Jordan and Kuwait that provide for assistance with staff training.

After un-official closure (due to military conflict), SAACB was effectively re-established in 2006 with the appointment of the Bureau President Dr. Mahmoud AbuAlrub. The Bureau officially has two headquarters (Ramallah and Gaza) and an office in Nablus. Currently the Gaza office is closed and SAACB does not carry out activities in Gaza. In Ramallah there are 134 staff with 60 additional staff to be hired this year (2008). On the basis that both offices become operational, the projected staff numbers are expected to increase to 500 with 60% (300) in Ramallah and 40% (200) in Gaza. To this end, the project will include capacity building and institutional improvements when Gaza re-opens meanwhile the focus will remain on West Bank.

By way of brief background, Palestine as we know it no longer exists and is now known as the Palestine National Authority (PNA) occupied by Israel. The economic and humanitarian situation in PNA and particularly in Gaza continues to deteriorate. Higher rates of poverty and unemployment are evident in the Gaza Strip compared to the West Bank. The impoverished population has seen its income decrease and the vast majority of the population live below the poverty line. The results of the closure have been widespread. Gaza hospitals have suspended all non-emergency interventions due to the power cuts and fuel shortages. Numerous water wells are lacking fuel to operate, causing 15 to 20% of the population of Gaza to receive only 3-5 hours of water every four days. Sewage treatment has been halted and raw sewage is currently being dumped in the sea.

Movement restrictions have increased, despite the re-launch of peace negotiations in Annapolis. While there were expectations, following the Paris International Donor Conference that checkpoints and barriers would be reduced, they actually increased. Obstacles and roadblocks in the West Bank alone increased to 580 during the month of February 2008, up from a monthly average of 552 in the previous year. The closure imposed on the region by the Government of Israel (GOI) is the leading reason for the continued economic and humanitarian situation within the Gaza Strip. The GOI continues to support the establishment of hundreds of illegal housing units and construction bids are ongoing despite pressure from the international community to stop these illegal practices that undermine peace negotiations and unlawfully confiscate Palestinian lands and resources and are the key reasons for imposing most restrictions on movement and access. Furthermore, recurrent Israeli military incursions severely erode the credibility of the PNA’s security forces and the government’s efforts to restore rule of law and protection of civilians.

Whilst it is a tough environment to work in the life for the SAACB’s staff is even more difficult with constant checks and lack of freedom of movement that puts additional strain on their daily lives. Despite these hardships, they go on and still able to joke and smile. What other options have they got?

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