PA gov't salaries fail to reach banks

Chaos looms as banks say Hamas gov't hasn't transferred funds.

pals with shekels, happy (photo credit: AP [file])
pals with shekels, happy
(photo credit: AP [file])
The cash-starved Hamas government's promise to begin paying overdue salaries to civil servants generated widespread confusion throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Monday after money didn't reach banks. Angry workers stormed one bank branch, and tempers flared in many areas. Banks said the government hadn't transferred funds, but they decided to advance money to help calm the situation. "These are people who don't have money to buy milk," said policeman Raed Abu Ghoneima, one of the protesters who stormed a Gaza City branch of the Arab Bank. "It has nothing to do with politics; it's about wages." Hamas has been left unable to pay 165,000 government workers since March, threatening the stability of its government. The salaries provide for one-third of the people in the West Bank and Gaza. Over the weekend, Finance Minister Omar Abdel Razek of Hamas said the government would deposit one month's overdue pay on Monday into the bank accounts of the lowest-paid civil servants, who earn up to 1,500 shekels ($330, €260) a month. He said remaining workers would be paid later because the government doesn't have money to pay them now. A senior banking official said Monday, however, that the government still didn't have the money to cover the promised payments but had persuaded some banks to advance the money. The government, he said, gave assurances to reimburse the banks at an unspecified time. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because talks were private. The Finance Ministry had no immediate comment on his claim. The Palestinian banking association published an advertisement in local papers on Monday saying banks still had not received money from the government. The one exception was the Bank of Palestine, where about 10,300 civil servants hold accounts. Using tax revenues deposited with the bank, it started paying partial salary payments Sunday night. About 30 people burst into the main branch of The Arab Bank on Monday, demanding the promised wages. They screamed at the bank manager and threw water on his desk. Bank officials alerted police to remove the protesters, and the branch was shut down. One of the protesters, policeman Talal Bustan, said he went to a post office to draw his salary, but was told there to go to the bank, which told him to go to the post office. "No one is truthful in this country," Bustan said. Some of those who did get paid wondered which of their creditors to pay first as their meager wages began trickling in for the first time in months. The decision to pay only the lowest-income earners generated resentment among those who earn more and were given nothing. In the West Bank town of Nablus, policeman Mahmoud Hanain, 28, was disqualified from receiving partial payment of his wages because he makes 1,509 shekels a month, or $2 (€1.6) above the cutoff line. "They can take the 9 shekels, I don't need them," Hanain said. "Just give me the money."