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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
"The Israeli government is the biggest tax evader. When I started in my post, it turned out that more than 300,000 salary slips and pensions had never been inspected, and for years the most senior officials did not pay taxes," outgoing Treasury Accountant-General Yaron Zelekha said Tuesday evening, in his first public appearance since he announced he would step down next month.
Zelekha was speaking to students at the Ariel University Center of Samaria.
Earlier Tuesday, Zelekha was questioned by the Civil Service Commission on alleged conflicts of interest regarding his involvement in state tenders and during his previous tenure as deputy CFO at Africa Israel, the owner of Derech Eretz Highways, Ltd., which won the state tender to build and operate the Trans-Israel Highway toll road.
"I act according to the law, and I have done so in the past," Zelekha said in response to the probe. "For the past two years, [Prime Minister] Ehud Olmert and his royal gang have been trying to kick me out using all means, but as you can see, I am still here smiling. If the threats against my life did not deter me, then nothing will."
Looking back on his achievements as anti-corruption czar, Zelekha said that judging by the hysteria of the people who were trying to remove him, he had done a good job.
"I have completed my mission in cleaning up the public's finances," he said. "It took me four years, but I can promise you that there is not one shekel in the state budget that I have not turned upside down."
Zelekha added that as a result of the efficiency measures instituted through liberalization, privatization and the implementation of proper tender procedures, the government had saved billions of shekels.
"I stopped counting last year when the figure amounted to NIS 10 billion," he said. "The areas that still need to be cleaned up are the local authorities, the Israel Lands Administration, state companies and public monopolies."
Zelekha also told the students in Ariel that he had also prepared an anti-corruption action program designed to identify failures in the system and to recommend changes. If implemented, the program would close the loopholes in the system for at least the next 40 years.
"We cannot be sure that every time there will be someone willing to pay the price of going against the stream," he said.
One of the recommendations in Zelekha's anti-corruption program is to introduce a compulsory rotation for senior government officials every four to five years.
"The plan has found much 'sympathy' with Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On, but he turned it down, so I can only hope that the program will be turned into anti-corruption legislation," Zelekha said.
He said he had no intention of returning to the political arena.
"I have no political aspirations," he said. "What I want to do is to get back to my private life."â€¢
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