Uncivil service

Uncivil service

November 4, 2009 22:23
3 minute read.

State Attorney Moshe Lador hit the headlines this week with a 20-page treatise lashing out against Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman's proposed reforms, which would functionally split up the attorney-general's and state-attorney's all-embracing legal realm. Lador's rambling essay - billed as a "letter" - was first dispatched on Tuesday to employees of the State Attorney's Office. Then it was also released to the press. A later recipient was the nominal addressee - Lador's boss, Neeman. Neeman has long advocated that the attorney-general, who functions as the government's legal adviser, be tasked with civil concerns now under the state attorney's aegis, while the chief prosecutor handle all criminal cases. Nevertheless, Lador accused Neeman of failing to disclose his intentions: "There has not been a single substantial public debate over this across-the-board split in the State Attorney's Office," he charged, "except maybe for show, since the public (including myself) was left unaware of the very significant reform to which we have suddenly been awakened, just as it is submitted for cabinet approval." Neeman rejected Lador's contention, asserting that "the topics to which the letter refers were discussed at length in many meetings between the minister and the state attorney." Certainly, the minister's goals were no secret. In fact his predecessor, Prof. Daniel Friedmann, had already aggressively campaigned for essentially the same objective. In both cases, regardless of the differences in temperament and style of the two ministers, their agendas sparked great controversy. But Lador's "letter" should be weighed on different scales. NEEMAN WAS right to argue that "this is an improper act, in which a public servant publicly criticizes his superiors. It is like a general in the army who criticizes the minister of defense, or a commander in the police force who criticizes the minister of public security. This is not proper conduct, to say the least, for an orderly public administration." Indeed, the textbook notion of government is that the executive branch, headed by the prime minister, formulates policy and calls the shots. The civil servant's job is the responsible and dutiful implementation of such policies. This demarcation must be insisted upon. Strict compliance with regulations is indispensable and cavalier attitudes to protocol are insufferable. The alternative is outright anarchy in which any civil servant, in any ministry and on any issue, might assume he possesses a license to sabotage anything not to his liking or interest. This isn't a theoretical danger. Civil servants often forget what the formal hierarchy decrees, and consider it their right to dictate policy. Earlier this year, for instance, Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, scathingly attacked then-prime minister Ehud Olmert's decision to link opening Gaza's crossings to the fate of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit. As a consequence, Gilad was sacked as lead negotiator with the Egyptians and reinstated only following a humble apology. Similarly, last spring, then-budget director Ram Belinkov castigated Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu because a set of draconian edicts, which the Treasury had drafted ahead of the state budget proposal, was discarded. Had Belinkov not stepped down, he should have been fired. Neeman may be wary of dismissing Lador, lest he fan the smoldering flames of opposition. Yet for the sake of proper administration, Lador should quit or be sent home. Let there be no mistake, Lador is fully entitled to his opinions - and, in this case, there may be credible weight to his arguments. However, a civil servant cannot arrogantly admonish his minister, make that criticism public, and stay in office. If he strongly opposes government policy, he is free first to raise his objections within the relevant hierarchy. And then, if still unsatisfied and unable to continue to serve in good conscience, he is free to leave his position and launch a spirited campaign against whatever riles him. But, the basics must be unfailingly upheld: civil servants, no matter how senior and skilled, are employed to implement policies democratically approved by the people's representatives. The rules of good governance oblige them to keep their opinions to themselves and not tamper with decision-making.

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