(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss called for "sharper teeth" in the battle against corruption, in comments earlier this week following a lecture at the Israeli friends of Tel Aviv University's Business-Academic Club, in which researchers presented the first stage of the Israeli Authorities Corruption Index.
TAU researchers have developed a method to gauge the state's moral well-being. Sociology Prof. Efraim Yaar and his team of researchers presented the first stage of the study, which focused on corruption within the local authorities. Yaar said he chose to begin there, because it was the level of government with which citizens came into the most direct contact.
The researchers studied four main sources of information to formulate the index.
Initially, the study tracked news coverage of local corruption cases. The team found a dramatic increase in reporting between 2002 and 2007 - a finding that in itself didn't necessarily indicate increased corruption, but for Yaar proved that it was a topic of great public concern.
Research assistant Eyal Shapiro said that while they discovered increased reporting on corruption in the major urban centers, other sources indicated that it was the smaller municipalities and regional councils which actually had more corruption.
The second source of information employed was court case histories. The study found a 150 percent increase in court cases that featured local authorities and a similar increase in verdicts that dealt with corruption in those authorities. Yaar said that the finding represented "only the tip of the iceberg," and that many cases never even get to court because they are so hard to prove.
The third source were grievances filed in the State Ombudsman's database. There, the team found that the local authorities from the periphery were disproportionately over-represented. The study shows that 40 percent of all grievances are directed at municipal bodies.
Here too, Shapiro said that the facts underscore the problem. "In more places than we'd like to believe, people are afraid to complain because they fear the authorities will try and get back at them," sad Shapiro.
Public opinion surveys that the researchers conducted among a representative sample of the public were used as the final source for formulating the index. The findings revealed a large proportion of the public (70 percent) view battling corruption as vital to the continued existence of society.
The survey found that while large segments of the population don't trust government authorities in general and local authorities in particular, people tend to trust their own local authority more than those of other places.
The survey also found that 52 percent of respondents had either experienced corruption first hand or heard about it from a person they trust.
In the survey, the team identified three types of corruption: bribery, institutional favoritism (protektzia) and power brokering (machers). Out of 1,000 people surveyed, 340 reported cases of bribery, 560 reported on power brokering and 912 on institutional favoritism.
Roughly five percent of those asked reported they personally employed one or more of the tactics themselves. Translated into general population numbers, this indicates that 200,000 Israelis admit to practicing corruption.
Following the presentation, Lindenstrauss confirmed the findings of the research team and called for the government to provide his office with better tools with which to fight such corruption.
Lindenstrauss said that public servants and officials often aren't bothered by his negative reports.
"They know that there will be pressure for several days following the report, but that all will be forgotten after a short while," he said. Lindenstrauss added that while there was hesitancy to punish offenders by cutting their budgets, because it might cause harm to the citizens, financial sanctions are the only tools that were effective.