Sleaze puts Arafat at risk

Yasser Arafat may soon face his first serious parliamentary test of confidence after the Palestinian Authority took the extraordinary step at the weekend of putting a figure on its own corruption and inefficiency.

Angry opposition MPs were yesterday drafting a motion of censure over an official auditors' report that $323m, almost 40 per cent of the Palestinian Authority budget, was either wasted or misused last year.

Some ministers were also accused of channelling funds from foreign donors into private bank accounts. The member states of the European Union are responsible for 54 per cent of aid to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

One minister alone was said to have run up a $7,000 telephone bill in a single month. As much as $50m from purchase tax on cars that should have gone into the general budget was spent on cars for officials. Senior figures are alleged to have awarded contracts to companies in which they had a personal interest.

Jarar Kidwa, who compiled the 600-page report for Mr Arafat, promised: "All ministers, deputies and directors-general who are behind this waste will be brought to justice. Names and details of the misuse of funds have been given to President Arafat."

Dr Haider Abdel Shafi, a veteran nationalist MP who was among the founders of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said: "We had an inkling that things were bad, but we didn't know they were as bad as this. This performance is far from what the people expected.

"The contrast between the conditions of the majority of our people and the way ministers and high officials live, their big houses and cars, is shameful. If there is a chance that it might pass, I would vote no confidence in the Government."

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