Whistleblower Zelekha to propose anti-corruption legislation

Attorney believes it's time for bill he drafted with man forced out of his job by Olmert.

By DAN IZENBERG
April 27, 2010 09:36
3 minute read.
Yaron Zelekha.

Yaron Zelekha 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Attorney Gilad Barnea believes the time may be ripe for the Knesset to adopt a comprehensive anti-corruption bill that he drafted together with former accountant-general Yaron Zelekha, who was forced out of his job by then-prime minister Ehud Olmert.

“Under normal circumstances, I would not expect the Knesset or the government to approve such legislation,” Barnea – a private lawyer who is also involved in public issues such as the government’s privatization policy –  told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. “But today, there is a chance to have it approved, because elected officials are on the defensive in the wake of the latest corruption scandals, while the public is more worked up and aware for the same reason.”

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The law was born of a report Zelekha wrote while still in office.

“It was based on the experience and knowledge that I accumulated in my position,” Zelekha told the Post. “I was concerned that the weaknesses and flaws in the checks and balances regarding the executive branch of government might increase corruption in the future.”

Zelekha contacted Barnea, and the two translated the accountant-general’s report into legislative wording in the form of two bills. They managed to find a group of MKs in the previous Knesset, including Moshe Kahlon (Likud), Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor), Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) and Arye Eldad (National Union) to sponsor it. However, it was defeated in a parliamentary vote.

Now Barnea intends to try again.

The bill dealing with the structure of government (a second bill deals with budget and manpower needs) is divided into separate sections.

One of the most important sections deals with the civil service, said Barnea. The first article addresses the question of the qualifications of the director-general. This issue had been largely ignored, Barnea said, because the director-general was chosen by the minister on the basis of personal confidence. There was not even a requirement that he had to have an academic education, unlike many junior postings in each ministry.

According to the proposal, directors-general will need to have the appropriate educational background for the position, a minimum number of years of experience and, in the event they have political connections to the minister, special skills beyond the basic requirements for the post.

Another important innovation is the introduction of rotation among senior office-holders, so that no one can hold a position for more than five years.

“The fact that bureaucrats stay in the same position for many years is a cause of corruption and deterioration of the quality of their work,” said Barnea.

Since the drafting of the bill, the state has begun to introduce caps on the number of years certain senior officials may remain in their posts. But this is, for the most part, a new development and still limited in its application. Many key positions remain unrestricted in time.

The bill also calls for drafting conflict-of-interest agreements between senior officials and the government, whereby the officials are barred from dealing with issues in which they were involved as private individuals. Agreements of this sort are already commonplace, but not mandatory.

Barnea and Zelekha also called for these agreements to be published on the Internet and in two newspapers – unlike the situation today, in which they are kept secret from the public.

Other articles call for expanding the requirement to declare one’s wealth to include senior civil service officials: Today, the requirement applies only to MKs and ministers.

Other topics covered by the bill include public expenditures, taxation, structural changes in the civil service, and disciplinary measures and criminal investigations of elected officials. Barnea and Zelekha recommended appointing a special prosecutor to supervise the investigations of elected officials suspected of crimes that call for a prison sentence of at least one year, and to make the decision as to whether to indict such suspects.


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