The Knesset building.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The cabinet on Sunday authorized a controversial proposal that would allow deputy directors-general of ministries to be political appointees in a move meant to make it easier for the government to make changes and implement the policies for which it was elected.
Critics argue, however, that it will undermine professionalism in the civil service and waste government funds.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin pushed the change, which would impact any ministry with more than 150 employees. The deputy directors-general will be paid from each ministry’s existing budget.
According to the initiative, the appointees will require six to seven years of experience in the ministry’s area of jurisdiction, of which four to five must be in senior management.
The criteria were recommended by a subcommittee in the Civil Service Commission. Deputy directors-general are currently hired through a tender process and are vetted by a search committee.
The cabinet also voted to reduce the size of the search committees for 130 senior civil- service positions to three members from five to quicken decisions that often were delayed because members had trouble coordinating times to meet. The committees will consist of the relevant ministry’s director-general, the Civil Service Commissioner and a mutually agreed upon third person.
“These decisions prove that governance and professionalism are not a contradiction,” Shaked said. “We can bring professional people to the civil service and allow elected officials to lead the policies for which they were elected… The missions of government ministries have grown in recent years and there is a need to create a larger management corps.”
Levin said the proposal will “strengthen governance and put an end to the absurd situation in which the policies chosen by ministers are not implemented.”
He added that the necessary balance will be kept “between the ministers’ need to work with people committed to their policies and the desire to make sure that senior positions are filled with knowledgeable people with appropriate talents.”
Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay came out against the bill, however, saying it shows that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not care about the public interest or rule of law.
“A direct line connects his wild attacks on the rule of law with the authorization of the political jobs bill. Both are the same side of a coin – the side that tramples the professionalism by which the government is meant to be run,” he said.
Gabbay also argued that the bill would cost “millions [of shekels] in unnecessary jobs for political cronies,” while Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said no one needs more political jobs.
“Each job is another NIS 2 million,” he said. “Altogether, what they authorized today for their cronies is NIS 40m. This money could have been used to cover the cost of after-school care. But it will be used for one purpose only, for the ministers to give jobs to the people close to them at the expense of Israeli citizens.”
Israel Democracy Institute President Yohanan Plesner said the initiative will bring untrained workers who are politically biased to the civil service while discouraging talented people from entering it.
“By waving away the need for better governance, the ministers want to surround themselves with yes-men who care about the here and now with zero incentive or mandate to outline what will happen on the day after when they won’t be in the minister’s seat anymore,” he said. “The two moves authorized today… will make it difficult to promote real reforms needed to increase flexibility and efficiency and professionalism in human resources in the civil service.”
The Movement for Governance and Democracy, however, favored the new policy, calling it “an important step that will benefit the public… putting an end to a phenomenon in which ministers served as a rubber stamp in the appointment of senior officials in many civil service positions.
“Promoting the policies of the elected government and minister must be the chief mission of the civil service and, therefore, the number of political appointees must be increased even more so the public will enjoy more efficient services,” it said.
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