Various international NGOs working in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) have questioned a demand by the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip to audit their books, saying the move could jeorpardize vital operations.It is now past the deadline, but I have not heard anything.
“We have nothing to hide but obviously there are concerns about what other information they may want to look at or have access to, including beneficiary lists and contact details for staff, which are normally kept in HR folders,” said one aid agency employee who requested anonymity.
According to aid workers, the motives behind the audit are unclear, particularly as the suspension of several major agencies in Gaza would place greater humanitarian responsibility on the shoulders of the Hamas authorities.
Some suspect the demand could be a pre-emptive move by Hamas to begin collecting income tax from agency staff in Gaza. Currently, under a presidential decree from Ramallah, Gaza humanitarian staff do not pay income tax.
Aid workers also say agreeing to the request would break the “no contact” policy held by some NGOs funded by governments, including the US, that list Hamas as a “terrorist” organization.
Should a compromise fail to be reached by 25 July, when the audit of many offices is scheduled to take place, at least 18 aid agencies are preparing to suspend their activities in the Gaza Strip, cutting off more than US$135million per year in aid, well-placed sources told IRIN.
At least 80 international agencies operate in Gaza, but due to the sensitivity of the situation, few will publicly disclose whether they have agreed to the audit or not.