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(photo credit: AP [file])
Mahmoud Abbas has become the fist chairman of the Palestinian Authority to receive a monthly salary. His predecessor, Yasser Arafat, never received a salary because he was effectively in charge of all the money belonging to the PLO and PA.
A bill approved by the Palestinian Legislative Council this week sets the PA chairman's monthly salary at $10,000 - the highest salary paid to a public servant. According to the bill, presented by Sa'di al-Krunz, chairman of the financial committee of the legislative council, the salary will be paid to the PA chairman from the day he is sworn in and until the end of his term.
The bill also states that the PA chairman is entitled to receive up to 80 percent of his salary after retirement. His family is entitled to continue receiving the monthly payment even after his death.
In addition, the PA chairman will receive a one-time payment of $50,000 for "improving living conditions."
The decision to pay Abbas a monthly salary of $10,000 drew criticism from some legislators who complained that the sum was too high in light of the economic hardships in PA-ruled areas.
"This is even more than what the Israeli prime minister gets," one told The Jerusalem Post. "It's completely unjustified."
Another said: "Abu Mazen [Abbas] is not setting a good example. How can he receive a monthly salary of $10,000 when most Palestinians earn less than $500?"
The World Bank recently warned that donor countries might not disburse the next portion of about $350 million a year in aid because the PA had broken its promises not to raise wages beyond its ability to pay. The PA's wage bill now stands at $1 billion a year - almost equal to its income.
According to figures released by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the median monthly income in the Palestinian territories has decreased from 2,500 Shekels before 2000 to 1,200 in the last three years.
This decrease varies by region; the median monthly income decreased in the West Bank from 3,000 to 1,500 Shekels, while in the Gaza Strip it decreased from 2,000 to 883 Shekels.
Earlier this week PA Finance Minister Salam Fayyad reportedly threatened to resign because he was unhappy with the way Abbas was handling the economy. Sources close to Fayyad said he was angry at Abbas for having instructed the PA to take $180 million from the Palestinian Investment Council [which is headed by Fayyad] without his knowledge.
Abbas is believed to have taken the money to pay salaries to the PA security forces and members of his ruling Fatah party to secure their support ahead of next January's parliamentary elections. The move is also seen as an attempt to buy loyalty on the eve of primary elections in Fatah.