State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Recent surveys by Transparency International show that corruption has become a
problem in Israeli society.
Last week Transparency International
published its annual Corruption Perception Index (CPI). This time Israel ranked
36 among 175 countries.
It’s hardly a comfort that the ranking improved
somewhat compared with last year since the score is about the same – 61 on a
scale from 0 to 100. A score under 50 indicates a serious problem. About 10
years ago Israel used to rank among the 20 countries with the lowest corruption
and was comparable with US and Western European countries. No
It’s true that the validity of the ranking for a certain year and
country can be put into question. However, changes over time do give rise to a
useful debate on underlying casual factors and actual corruption
In Israel the trend is unfortunately downwards and should raise an
The perception index cannot easily be dismissed as
subjective. The index is based on several assessments made by banks and rating
institutes. We know that perception matters. If a government or public
administration is perceived as corrupt, citizens will have less trust in them
and foreign investors may stay away.
If we want more detailed information
on the extent of corruption in different areas of the public administration, we
can ask respondents in sample surveys whether they have been victims of
corruption and have paid bribes. If conducted according to methodological
standards, such surveys can produce useful information on corrupt
Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer is a
survey based on about 1,000 respondents in each country and is suitable for
policy making purposes.
The most recent one was published last
The survey showed that 12 percent of Israelis have paid a bribe
during the past year to various public services with which they have come into
Furthermore, their perception of Israeli institutions with which
they don’t interact directly is often very negative, especially of political
parties, religious bodies, private business sector, parliament and
What is striking is that institutions that we normally don’t link
to corruption – such as religious bodies – are also thought to be corrupt. This
perception is of course not without basis and cannot be dismissed as the
invention of zealous prosecutors.
Knesset members and ministers belonging
to all parties have been indicted for bribery, breach of trust, embezzlement,
fraud and irregular budget transfers to affiliated party institutions. If they
have been acquitted it was not because they were found innocent but because of
loopholes in the legislation or a lenient interpretation of the facts by the
The courts often find the behavior of politicians from all
parties in appointing party members or awarding favors to their business friends
inappropriate and reprehensible.
However, in Israel such behavior seems
to happen in a gray zone between crime and immorality.
Integrity is a
principle which is the backbone of much of the legal framework to prevent
corruption, such as the laws on conflict of interest, immunity, political party
funding, etc. Civil servants and politicians shouldn’t breach the trust they owe
to public interest by abusing their position for personal gain or the benefit of
This obligation continues after leaving office.
former state cvmptroller, Judge Micha Lindenstrauss, rightly put the fight
against corruption high on the agenda of his office.
comptroller’s office plays an important role in the fight against corruption by
identifying indications of fraud and irregularities in audited activities such
as procurements, privatization, political appointments and party
There has always been petty corruption in Israel but the trend
in recent years is worrying.
Public interests risk being captured by
private corporations and political parties.
The political system with
coalition governments results in ministries becoming the personal fiefdoms of
This dire situation calls for the opposite of a complacent
attitude. Corruption is an illness in society and must be uprooted by a
comprehensive anti-corruption strategy, based on awareness, prevention and legal
enforcement. This is even more important in Israel as a country which is
dependent on trade and foreign investments and wants to attract Jewish
immigrants while reducing social gaps.
The author is a former official in
the European Commission where he coordinated support to public administration
reform in the candidate countries.