RAMALLAH: The Palestinian finance minister (FM) in the West Bank has announced his resignation in a show of frustration over the government’s widening budget deficit.
Nabil Qassis told reporters on Sunday that the Palestinian National Authority’s (PNA) 2013 budget deficit is expected to reach $1.4 billion.
He says he decided to step down after politicians and labour unions objected to a number of proposed austerity measures.
Palestinian National Authority, the self-rule government in the West Bank, has been struggling with a financial crisis in recent years due to cuts in aid from the United States, Israeli delays in transferring tax payments and the failure by Arab allies to deliver hundreds of millions of dollars in promised assistance.
Qassis submitted his official resignation to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who accepted his decision.
The finance minister decided to leave office following a wave of criticism by trade unions after remarks calling for a reduction in public sector bonuses if the financial crisis continued, official sources said.
President Mahmoud Abbas, however, has rejected the resignation, secretary-general of the president’s office At-Tayyib Abdul-Rahim said, adding that he will meet with Qassis on Sunday to discuss the matter further.
In February, Qassis announced a draft budget plan containing a number of measures to try to reduce the PNA’s budget deficit and increase revenues.
The PNA ministry of finance has come under increased pressure in recent months, with PNA employees, health workers and teachers all launching strike action in protest against the late payment of salaries.
Full salaries for public sector workers have not been paid in almost five months and government initiatives to increase revenue by collecting years worth of electricity and water bills from the public have been hampered by street protests.
In December, Israel began withholding $100 million it collects in duties every month for the PNA, exacerbating a financial crisis and undermining the PNA’s ability to pay public sector salaries.
Qassis replaced Salam Fayyad as finance minister in May 2012 in a government reshuffle ordered by Abbas.