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Although State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss has been in office for less than a year, he has already attracted more attention and generated more controversy than most of his predecessors in all their years in the job.
[To read 2006 State Comptroller report, click here]
The question is, is this a good thing or a bad thing? In other words, will Lindenstrauss' methodology and style do more to achieve the aims of the State Comptroller's Office than those of his predecessors or will they backfire and cast doubt on the credibility and dignity of the institution he leads?
But this question leads to a more fundamental question: What exactly is the State Comptroller supposed to do? What is his job description?
Until now, most State Comptrollers have emphasized two aspects of their job. They have tried to uncover faulty and inefficient administrative practices and wastes of money and other resources by public institutions under their scrutiny. In the grand scheme of things, these are essentially boring but not unimportant pursuits, since they can save the Israeli taxpayer large sums of money.
But they are certainly not the stuff of headlines or front-page stories, except in unusual circumstances where the State Comptroller's report leads to a criminal investigation of some wellknown personality.
Before Lindenstrauss, the only exception to this rule was State Comptroller Miriam Ben-Porat, who took on several well-publicized issues such as the effectiveness of the army-issued gas masks during the 1990 Gulf War.
But no one until Lindenstrauss has systematically and publicly redefined the job to address front-page issues involving public corruption in real time. For many Israelis, who have been sickened by the epidemic of corruption by politicians and other public officials in recent years, Lindenstrauss' policy comes as a breath of badly needed fresh air.
Lindenstrauss has vowed to give his office "teeth" and to make it relevant to the Israeli public. His aim, he says, is to deter politicians and others from perpetrating corrupt acts. So far, he has kept his promise by issuing a stream, if not a flood, of reports on current issues including the suspicions regarding the sale of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's former home, the sale of Ascot Sakhalin to former MK Abraham Burg, allegedly high salaries at the Bank of Israel and alleged nepotism among managers and union leaders at the Israel Airports Authority.
In doing so, however, Lindenstrauss is treading on dangerous ground. If the harshest criticism of the State Comptroller's Office in the past has been its slow and plodding investigations, its greatest strength, coincidentally, has been the thoroughness and depth of these same investigations.
Lindenstrauss has conducted several hasty examinations so far and is flirting with danger. He boasts about his talented and dedicated staff, but he is also asking much more of them than his predecessors - perhaps too much more.
Lindenstrauss cannot afford to err in his investigations. Like the courts of law, his only real power lies in the public's confidence.
Perhaps his predecessors have erred on the side of caution, though in their defense it should be added that the issue of corruption in the public sphere has only become acute in recent years. Lindenstrauss has decided to invest most of his energy in this realm. This means, almost by definition, that the media is interested in what he does and he has increasingly become a public figure.
But it is hard to be a public figure without becoming a political figure, not in the sense of becoming a party man but in the sense of becoming a party to disputes and controversies. His predecessors felt they could be more effective by remaining above the fray.
If he can handle the challenge he has taken on in a dignified and effective manner, he could make a profound contribution to Israeli society. Yediot Aharonot investigative reporter Mordechai Gilat, no friend of the establishment, believes that Lindenstrauss may save Israel from itself.
But it will take a very special person to pull off what Lindenstrauss wants to achieve. If he fails, if his reports are incomplete, inaccurate or sloppy, if he antagonizes too many good people, if he does not choose his battles carefully, he will do more harm than good.
Lindenstrauss' should remember that the fact that the State Comptroller's Office hadn't made waves in the public over the years does not mean it hadn't done good work. Those who argue that if it had really been effective over the years there would no longer be a need for it are na ve. As long as there is a bureaucracy, there will always be new improprieties, new waste and new inefficiencies to uncover. Supervision is an element in the system, not the be-all of it.
Lindenstrauss is taking a risk by changing the character of this staid institution. It is still too early to say whether he is the right man for such a job.
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