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In a scathing special report criticizing political and inappropriate appointments to Magen David Adom by former health minister Dan Naveh, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss called for immediate action that would make possible the appointment of qualified personnel to lead the first-aid, ambulance and blood-supply organization.
In the 19-page report, released for publication on Wednesday, the comptroller takes a giant step in favor of transparency and quick action, naming those he criticized, unlike his predecessors who avoided identifying those found by the state comptroller's investigators to have performed badly or broken the rules. In addition, the report was issued quickly after the investigation of MDA officials in October and November 2005.
The findings of this "professional and thorough investigation requires an immediate reaction - serious as it has to be, in order to preserve the purity of [MDA] and of its leaders and the legality of its actions. The report speaks for itself," wrote the comptroller in the introduction.
MDA spokesman Yeruham Mandola commented in a terse, one-sentence reaction that the comptroller's report "was received on Tuesday and that in the near future, it would be sent to MDA's institutions, which will hold discussions and formulate the necessary paths of action."
Much of the criticism results from Naveh's intentional decision not to recommend a new MDA president to fill a vacancy that opened in January 2003. During the three years that there was no president, there were disputes between the MDA council and its executive committee, and these even reached the court and required arbitration by retired Supreme Court justice Yitzhak Zamir.
The health minister is responsible for carrying out the MDA law, thus he is charged with recommending candidates for the organization's presidency to the president of Israel. But despite requests by the state comptroller and Zamir's rulings, as well as repeated requests from inside MDA due to disruptions in the organization's functioning, Naveh (now a Likud MK) left the presidency vacant.
Instead, he made it possible for Dr. Noam Yifrach to serve as "acting president" without receiving approval from the public committee that checks on appointments to government companies and nonprofit agencies like MDA.
Only in November 2004 did Naveh, who held office for three years until a few months ago, recommend that acting chairman of the executive board Yohanan Gur, who resigned from this post, be named MDA president. "But this was done as part of involvement by the health minister's office in creating suitable conditions that would make it possible for Dr. Yifrach to be chosen chairman of the executive committee," Lindenstrauss wrote.
He added that he viewed as "very serious" Naveh's "failure to carry out his responsibility and to ignore the distress in MDA that resulted from three years without a president."
Gur was promised the presidency of MDA in exchange for resigning from his position as acting chairman of the executive board, and the minister's office was a "central partner in wording the documents involved and in carrying out the deal."
Yifrach was the lone candidate to be named vice president of MDA - a post created without precedent and not requiring that the candidate meet strict professional criteria. Yifrach previously was a personally appointed senior medical adviser to then-Likud MK and health minister Tzahi Hanegbi. Subsequently he was made acting deputy directorgeneral in the ministry for "special assignment." In both positions he was a Health Ministry employee.
Nevertheless, Yifrach took an active part in the meeting that chose the MDA chairman - a post for which he was the sole candidate - the comptroller said, thus presenting a "conflict of interest."
The involvement of Naveh and his office to facilitate Yifrach's choice after Gur's resignation was a "gross trampling of public norms."
The report adds that political considerations were involved in the appointment of MDA's director-general as well. Eli Bin was named to this post by the executive board, even though his candidacy had not been brought for approval by the government committee on appointments. Bin's qualifications were lower than those demanded by the government companies law, and he was approved even though he does not speak fluent English and did not have a university degree. Instead, the demands were reduced to having eight years of management experience and "knowledge of another language, English preferred."
Bin, who was affiliated with the Likud, participated in the meetings that defined qualifications for his job, even though he was well aware that it affected his candidacy for director-general, the comptroller wrote. As a result of the investigation, before the Likud left the coalition and Naveh resigned, he asked the acting MDA president for documents relating to Bin's candidacy, but when Lindenstrauss's report was written, these documents had yet to be transferred to the appointments committee for approval.
The comptroller notes that while Naveh's personal bureau chief, Omer Zohar, claimed that the then-health minister "does not appoint the chairman of the executive board," in fact he acted to hand-pick MDA's top officials.
Lindenstrauss concluded that the choice of Yifrach to the post of chairman of the executive committee was seriously defective and was carried out even though MDA officials were aware of the comptroller's recommendations against this process. Instead, the MDA Council should have established an independent search committee to choose a chairman, he said.
The comptroller urged that before the next elections of MDA institutions, the MDA Council set up a search committee to find a suitable person to serve as chairman with no political involvement by the minister or anyone else. In January, the new Health Minister, Ya'acov Edri, asked the acting MDA president to do so.