Shapira: Comptroller's oversight powers over ministers must be preserved

State Comptroller's statement came as part of a hearing on solidifying new ethics guidelines for ministers.

November 5, 2013 19:14
2 minute read.
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)


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At a Knesset State Control Committee hearing on Tuesday, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira said that regardless of any new proposed ethics guidelines for members of the cabinet, it was crucial for the public good to preserve his office’s oversight over ministers.

Shapira’s statement came as part of a hearing on solidifying new ethics guidelines for ministers, which, though possibly sounding harmless, has had many up in arms.

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He voiced concern that new guidelines and the possible committee to oversee them could be politicized by the ministers themselves.

However, he expressed cautious confidence that Justice Minister Tzipi Livni would be careful about such issues as ministers picking those who oversee them so that “the cat is not guarding the milk.”

Seconding Shapira’s caution on the issue, committee chairman Amnon Cohen (Shas) called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to leave the comptroller’s powers as they are, saying it was “forbidden” to erode his powers.

“Criticism, investigation and evaluation must be done independently, transparently and in a way that upholds public scrutiny,” Cohen said.

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel also jumped into the fray, saying a major concern was that a ministerial committee led by former justice minister Yaakov Neeman had in 2011 tampered with an earlier, more serious and comprehensive treatment of ethics issues by a panel headed by former Supreme Court president Moshe Shamgar.

The main issue right now, the movement said, was that the Neeman committee’s proposals had been withheld despite requests for their publication. Once they are made known, it added, the public can make an informed opinion on ethics issues, such as whether to have a new oversight committee in parallel to the state comptroller, and under what circumstances, if at all, such a committee could dilute the comptroller’s powers.

Neeman himself attended the hearing and said it was “not desirable to create tools that cannot be used or which will cover up the primary problem,” signaling his concern that too much criticism and delay, and too many suggestions for changing his committee’s proposals could diminish them and leave the country without any new ethics guidelines at all.

A spokesman for Livni said the justice minister would be guided by the principle of not giving cabinet ministers power over their overseers, and that her current goal was to flesh out the Neeman proposals and bring them back to the Knesset.

A representative from the Justice Ministry said that after such a lengthy delay, it was hoped that the proposals would be brought for public discussion in the coming weeks.

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