State Comptroller Joseph Shapira published a report Tuesday on public complaints, focusing on the mistreatment of prisoners and suspects by the police and Israel Prisons Service (IPS), problems with the government’s treatment of the elderly and of public corruption, and a myriad of other issues.
The report, which Shapira presented to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, said that 2013 broke records in many statistical areas, with a 16.2 percent relative spike in complaints being found to be valid – a quantitative rise from 27.2% in 2012 to 31.6% in 2013.
Regarding these numbers, the comptroller noted that the percentage of valid complaints was probably far higher, since the statistics did not include complaints that were resolved upon their submission.
He added that many complaints would not have been resolved properly by the designated authority, and were only resolved upon his office’s intervention.
Despite this statistic, the overall number of complaints shrank from 15,123 in 2012 to 14,637 in 2013 – though the number of complaints was still significantly higher than in 2010 and in prior years.
The National Insurance Institute received the most complaints at 1,317, with the police in second at 713. The Prime Minister’s Office, Transportation Ministry and Education Ministry had the highest percentage of complaints found to be valid – 51.7%, 49.4% and 46.6% respectively.
“It is obvious that for many citizens, filing a complaint is no easy matter,” Edelstein said at a press conference on Tuesday. “I must praise the sensitive and proper way that the state comptroller has handled the complaints, and with an eye on finding solutions.”
At the same conference, Shapira said, “there was not a higher number of complaints this year, but there was definitely a higher number of complaints found to be valid.”
He added that on one hand the higher number of valid complaints should “set off a red light,” but that on the other hand it shows that many individual inspectors within public bodies “are internalizing the complaints and learning lessons.”
Also at the press conference, Edelstein revealed that Shapira was recently chosen by the European Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (EUROSAI) as its comptroller.
EUROSAI includes 50 UN member-states and is part of a broader group that includes almost all UN member states.
Asked at the press conference if he had received complaints about the police’s delayed handling of the telephone call for help from one of the three recently kidnapped boys, Shapira confirmed that he was performing an initial review of the issue.
Regarding mistreatment of suspects and prisoners, at a time when the hitchhiking phenomenon is being scrutinized, a man under arrest at a police station in the West Bank was released without the means to get home, at night, with few options for getting home other than hitchhiking, according to the report.
The forced-hitchhiking complaint was issued by MK Orit Struck (Bayit Yehudi) who at the time was the head of the Human Rights Organization of Judea and Samaria.
The report also addressed numerous incidents in which elderly people’s rights were ignored or dismissed.
According to the report, the extended life span and waves of aliya have brought about a dramatic increase in the number of senior citizens living in Israel, who comprise some 10% of the population. Of these elderly people, some 20% live in “miserable conditions” and depend on aid received from the state to survive.
Shapira divided the responsibility for providing services to the elderly between the authorities, mainly the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, the Health Ministry, and the Senior Citizens Ministry, as well as the National Insurance Institute and local municipalities.
The report outlined five cases in which the public complaints office assisted elderly people, including an incident whereby a blind Holocaust survivor was charged a fee for mail delivery by the Israel Postal Company despite being exempt from such charges.
The report discussed in detail the importance of fighting public corruption and Shapira’s office increased efforts to provide protective orders for whistle- blowers on public corruption so that they would not be fired in retaliation for exposing their bosses.
Hillel Shamgar, a top official in the comptroller’s office, said that in the last year, nine protective orders were issued for whistle-blowers, orders that Knesset State Control Committee chairman Amnon Cohen said help “the gatekeepers, those who uncover corruption.”
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