Palestinian activists demand probe on Arafat tomb renovation

First of its kind corruption hearing held after $630,000 spent to fix $1.4 million project honoring former leader

Yasser Arafat's burial compound in Ramallah (photo credit: Muhammed Muheisen/AP)
Yasser Arafat's burial compound in Ramallah (photo credit: Muhammed Muheisen/AP)

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Palestinian anti-corruption campaigners on Wednesday called for an investigation of allegedly shoddy work on Yasser Arafat’s mausoleum that they said cost public coffers more than $600,000 at a time of a government cash crunch.

The charges came during a rare public hearing in the West Bank.

The mausoleum marking the late Palestinian leader’s grave in his former West Bank compound was completed in 2008, at a cost of $1.4 million. Cracks and spots were later discovered on most of the stones used in the construction, according to officials in the Yasser Arafat Foundation, the keeper of his legacy. The government has spent an additional $630,000 this year replacing the stones.

The construction was overseen by PECDAR, a quasi-governmental agency.

On Wednesday, former Palestinian legislator Azmi Shuabi, an anti-corruption campaigner, brought those involved to what he said was the first public hearing of its kind in the West Bank.

Hisham Skokani, an engineer at PECDAR, said the flaws were caused by the weather. “The memorial needed maintenance, not a complete overhaul,” he said.

Mansour Tahboub of the Yasser Arafat Foundation countered that the stones were substandard and had to be replaced.

Shuabi said there was suspicion of mismanagement or negligence. He hoped his semi-official probe would lead to a formal criminal investigation. He called on the government to investigate the apparent waste of public funds “at a time when the Palestinian Authority is in desperate need of foreign aid.”

The Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank, was set up nearly two decades ago as part of interim peace deals with Israel.

In its early years under Arafat, it was tainted by allegations of widespread corruption and official mismanagement. In recent years, efforts to clean up public spending have won international praise, though nepotism and other forms of mismanagement are cited by anti-corruption campaigners as ongoing problems.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press

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