The comptroller revolution no one saw coming - Analysis

12 years ago, Micha Lindenstrauss took the office of the state comptroller from obscurity to prime time.

August 7, 2019 04:06
4 minute read.
The comptroller revolution no one saw coming - Analysis

Head of New Right party Ayelet Shaked . (photo credit: AVRAHAM SASSONI)

Since former justice minister Daniel Friedman took office in 2007, there have been almost regular attempts to foment revolution against the High Court of Justice.

Though former justice minister Ayelet Shaked had some success over four years in appointing additional conservative members of the court, Matanyahu Englman is about to carry out a far more 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 from 12 years ago or whether he is a hired gun to destroy a major piece of the country’s checks and balances against public corruption that was wisely established 12 years ago.

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.

Englman will also be changing the members of the committee, which is the gatekeeper against improper economic activities by public officials. This committee has repeatedly angered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by rejecting his request to have tycoon allies pay his legal defense funds for the public corruption charges against him.

Twelve years ago, Micha Lindenstrauss took the office of the state comptroller from obscurity to primetime.

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 screwups, such as then-interior minister Eli Yishai for poorly responding to the Mount Carmel forest 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 their ability 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 to learn how to improve in the future if they are not under the gun for a current and ongoing controversy.

From good governance advocates and the legal establishment’s perspective, Lindenstrauss’s shift put pressure on government officials to fix mismanagement problems that they might otherwise have gotten away with until it was too late to avoid bigger problems.

Such advocates say that it is exactly the real-time pressure and political consequences that get government officials to respond substantively and even selffix issues that they might otherwise stonewall a weaker comptroller on.

Advocates of reverting the comptroller’s office to its original status say that the Attorney-General’s Office can and does probe corruption, and that it has never made sense for the comptroller to trespass here on the state prosecution’s turf.

But good government advocates note that the comptroller helped break open many high-profile cases that the prosecution had failed to crack on its own, including: one of the Ehud Olmert corruption affairs, the case involving former finance minister Avraham Hirschson, a political appointments affair involving MK Tzachi Hanegbi, and the Harpaz Affair involving the defense establishment.

Shapira has also been criticized and credited for raising the profile on some corruption issues relating to the prime minister and Sara Netanyahu.

Englman’s side claims in the Israel Hayom report that changes to the committee for handling public officials’ monetary activities are about United Torah Judaism official Meir Porush and not making public officials play inordinate fees to a trustee to maintain blind trusts for small amounts of money.

But critics maintain his attack on the committee is to defang it from creating problems for Netanyahu to get tycoon allies to pay his legal defense.

One interesting twist is that some in the legal establishment might support the ending of real-time reports, even as they might reject other aspects of Englman’s revolution.

In any event, Englman has already dismissed the top officials – including spokesman Shlomo Raz – who might get in the way of his revolution, and appointed new officials, such as a former IDF comptroller. But the IDF Comptroller’s Office has far more limited authorities and is generally meant to work more within the system than the comptrollers have the last 12 years.

Good or bad, it is unclear if anyone can stop Englman.

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