State Comptroller Joseph Shapira .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The State Comptroller’s Office on Tuesday issued a rare rebuke of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, attacking his proposal to scrap the nonpartisan committees of professionals that have assisted in appointing senior non-political officials, such as the attorney-general or top antitrust officials.
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira never mentioned Netanyahu by name, but the prime minister made headlines February 8 when he blasted the current system of using vetting committees to do a lot of the selection work for such positions.
With support from Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, and reportedly Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Netanyahu said ministers should make the selections since they have legitimacy from the electorate and, if they make bad choices, they will pay for them in future election.
Shapira objected to Netanyahu’s proposed change, “warning about the trend of increasing the number of senior public service positions that are exempt from a competitive process, and eliminating, according to reports, the appointment committees.”
He continued: “A substantial increase… could undermine the foundations that the public service sector in Israel was built on and could alter the nonpolitical and professional character, leaving political connections.”
Following push back from a number of officials, however, Netanyahu may be softening his position on the issue.
Shapira made his comments as he signed his annual report and sent it off to Netanyahu for review and comment. The comptroller said he would publish the report, including his final conclusions on the “Bibi Tours” Affair, in May.
In mid-January, Shapira held an unusual special session to question Netanyahu about the affair, referring to the prime minister’s allegedly problematic flights funded by wealthy associates from the late 1990s to the early 2000s.
The questioning was unusual in that Shapira conducted it personally and that it took place on Netanyahu’s turf at his residence rather than the comptroller’s office. It was not a criminal questioning since Shapira does not have the authority to run criminal investigations and then attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein had closed a parallel criminal investigation into the prime minister’s actions in September 2014, having determined that there was little chance of it leading to an indictment.
However, the questioning highlighted the fact that Weinstein had closed the investigation before Shapira completed his report, potentially prematurely, and signaled that, whether the issue remains only as a political issue or leads to a reopening of the criminal investigation, it has not disappeared from the public agenda.
The investigation had focused on a limited number of accusations of double-billing for reimbursements or forged receipts, such as for an August 2006 flight to London and a September 2006 flight to New York.