'Simhon's reform may help his family'

Comptroller report details 51 investigations into senior officials.

May 11, 2010 16:06
2 minute read.
Shalom Simhon pose

Shalom Simhon pose 2 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

The 2009 Comptroller’s Report dedicated a full chapter to Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon and his failure to notify the authorities of a conflict of interests in one of his ministry’s undertakings.

According to the report, in 2006, Simhon promoted a reform in the poultry industry, which would see commercial chicken coops removed from residential areas in moshavim and transferred to large-scale industrial coops in non-residential areas. The reform was meant to reduce health risks of avian-borne diseases and also reduce air, noise and odor pollution.

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The reform stood to financially benefit poultry growers, who would receive state subsidies to transfer the coops – especially those in the North, and particularly those living on Moshav Merom Galil, who could transfer their egg quotas to other towns in exchange for grants to start alternative businesses in agriculture or tourism.

Simhon was found to be in conflict of interest, as several of his family members were poultry growers in Merom Galil and he himself, as a second-generation son of the moshav, possessed transferable egg quotas.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss stated that Simhon had been obligated to declare his personal interest in the matter immediately upon dealing with reform, by sending a notification to the state comptroller and the attorney-general.

The report determined that the minister had only sent such a notification in January 2007, despite having been actively involved in promoting the reform for several months.

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“The minister’s notification in hindsight of his connection prevented a proper and timely examination of the conflict of interest and pre-establishing proper arrangements in such a way that would ensure normalcy of procedures and public trust in government actions,” stated the report.

However, Simhon’s spokesman downplayed the comptroller’s findings.

“The state comptroller’s comment is only technical, regarding the timetable of the minister’s notification on conflict of interest,” he said. “The minister and the Agriculture Ministry’s legal advisers do not share the comptroller’s opinion regarding the interpretation of conflict of interest. In their eyes, the state comptroller expanded the interpretation of conflict of interest to such a degree that – absurdly – would not allow a minister who hails from the Moshavim Movement to serve as Agriculture Minister.”

According to the spokesman, “Simhon’s position that he was not in conflict of interest was supported by two successive ministry legal advisers. In light of the legal advisers’ position, whereby the public benefit from Simhon’s involvement was greater than the harm that would be caused by the conflict of interest, Simhon saw no wrong in his actions.”

The spokesman also noted that “the government decision [to approve the reform] is the product of the collaboration between four government ministries: Agriculture, Finance, Interior and Environmental Protection. Is it conceivable that these four ministries would promote a joint bill in order to benefit the family of any minister?”

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