New comptroller changes makeup of committee ruling on PM legal fees

Previous c’tee rejected Netanyahu’s request to finance defense with tycoon donations.

Matanyahu Englman (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Matanyahu Englman
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
New State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman changed the makeup of a key committee on Monday that decides how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can finance his legal defense against public corruption charges, as well as other monetary questions relating to public servants.
The previous committee rejected Netanyahu’s request to finance his legal defense with donations from tycoons, but several former members who had voted against the prime minister on that issue have recently been fired or resigned.
The members themselves have leaked that they resigned, while a senior official defending Englman told The Jerusalem Post that before they announced their resignations, the new comptroller had informed them that their already expiring terms would not be extended.
Englman’s statement on Monday said that he has increased the number of committee members to eight and that, for the first time, it will include an Ethiopian and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) members to promote diversity. The statement also noted that two female judges would serve on the committee.
Responding to the new comptroller’s decision, The Blue and White Party slammed the announcement saying, “instead of combating corruption, Englman is opening the door to profiteering,” adding that the committee’s power to restrain Netanyahu from improperly receiving donations for his legal defense was “being castrated.”
The Movement for Quality Government in Israel warned the comptroller, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and other relevant legal officials that Netanyahu was ordered to return $300,000 in donations he received without the committee’s permission.
It added that the committee’s identity should not shift from being a gatekeeper of ethics for public servants to being the “close confidants committee” of political officials.
The senior official told the Post that the new committee members were independent actors and that, going forward, they could take any decision regarding Netanyahu or any other matter they believed was correct according to the relevant law. Furthermore, a letter from comptroller lawyer Yuval Rabin said that media coverage has distorted Englman’s principled disagreements with some of the outgoing members regarding economic issues relevant to UTJ official Meir Porush into being connected to Netanyahu. A source close to Mandelblit indicated to the Post that he would not be weighing heavily into the dispute at the present time.
Channel 12 reported late Monday that a majority of the new members of the committee were either on-record Likud activists, had made statements supporting Netanyahu in the face of public corruption charges or had other strong Likud connections.

THE NEW comptroller is in the process of carrying out a massive revolution in a period of only weeks.
The big question is whether Englman’s revolution is to restore the State Comptroller’s Office to its “intended role” of increasing government efficiency which it had 12 years ago, or whether he is a hired gun to destroy a major piece of Israeli checks and balances against public corruption that was wisely established then.
Besides changing the makeup of this key committee, it has been made clear – in a recent story attacking Englman in Haaretz and one praising him on Monday in Israel Hayom – that he will be eliminating the comptroller section that probes corruption and eliminating reports in real time, such that public controversies will only be probed after they have concluded.
12 years ago, Micha Lindenstrauss brought the state comptroller’s office from obscurity to prime time.
He started to publish reports on controversial public policy and corruption issues, and started to do so in real time.
Lindenstrauss also named and blamed specific ministers responsible for screw ups, such as then interior minister Eli Yishai for poorly responding to the Carmel fire crisis.
While Joseph Shapira, who followed Lindenstrauss and stepped down just last month, tried hard to be less publicly combative than his predecessor, ultimately his reports on corruption, the Hamas tunnels, African migrants and other issues ruined his initially strong relationship with Netanyahu and the governing coalition.
From the perspective of many in the political class, especially on the Right, this shift represented an unelected official grabbing new powers and interfering with the ability of the comptroller staff to do their jobs, due to having to look over their shoulder.
Englman, or supporters of his, argued in the Israel Hayom article that he will also get more honest and substantive answers from government officials in order to learn how to improve in the future – if they are not under the gun for a current and ongoing controversy.
From the perspective of good governance advocates and the legal establishment, Lindenstrauss’ shift put pressure on government officials to fix mismanagement problems, which they might otherwise have gotten away with until it was too late to avoid bigger problems.
They say that it is exactly the pressure of real-time pressure and political consequences that get government officials to respond substantively and even self-fix issues, about which they might otherwise stonewall a weaker comptroller.