Legal Affairs: Putting the government on high alert

The comptroller raised hell this week by intimating that heads will spin, if not roll, when his report on the handling of the home front during the war is finally released.

Lindenstrauss AJ 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Lindenstrauss AJ 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The furor that erupted this week over State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss's investigation into the state's management of the home front during the second Lebanese war is a harbinger of the hell that will break loose when the final report is published in four months. It is likely that by the time the report appears, the public will already be embroiled in hysterical debate over the interim findings of the government-appointed Winograd Committee of Examination into the government's handling of the war itself. Nonetheless, as Lindenstrauss emphasized during his appearance before the Knesset State Control Committee this week, his report deals with different issues from those covered by the Winograd Committee. Thus, the apparently long list of culprits found responsible for the failures that he has allegedly uncovered will include many names and institutions not mentioned in Winograd's investigation. Lindenstrauss pulled no punches during the committee meeting. Although he was prohibited by the High Court from divulging any of the preliminary findings of his investigation, he warned that the report would be "very sharp and likely to anger many." It already has, the most prominent among them being Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. In an unprecedented letter of complaint to Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik on Sunday, Olmert wrote, "Regretfully, in his handling of the report on the preparedness of the home front, State Comptroller Lindenstrauss has established a new record for cynicism, gross violation of regulations and fundamental obstruction of the principles of the work of oversight, and is acting against what has been normative and customary in Israel since its establishment." He also wrote that the police or the Knesset State Control Committee should investigate leaks from the report that have been emanating from the State Comptroller's Office before any of those mentioned in it have had the chance to respond to the criticism. OF ALL the allegations included in the prime minister's letter, the most, if not the only, convincing one was the issue of the leaks. Lindenstrauss acknowledged to the State Control Committee that the head of the investigating team, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Ya'acov (Mandy) Or, had briefed several reporters who specialize in security matters on the contents of the draft report. It was common practice, he added, for the State Comptroller's Office to do so. What he neglected to say, however, was that such briefings were always given before the final report was published, not many months beforehand, and not before those mentioned in the report had seen it themselves. This is not a minor matter. Lindenstrauss is a controversial state comptroller, because he has deliberately placed himself in the limelight and brought his office into the heart of public discourse. In doing so, he has taken the risk of cheapening the office. The payoff, he believes, is that he will be able to fight public corruption and mismanagement more effectively than his predecessors. Even if his policy is perfectly legitimate, he must be particularly careful not to overstep the natural boundaries of fairness and decency, precisely because he is such a controversial figure. Nevertheless, as important as it is, the state comptroller's premature media briefings are not the crucial issue. As some reporters and commentators have been painstakingly trying to impress upon the public, the crucial issue is what was wrong with the state's management of the home front during the war and what should be done about it now. In that sense, it is a foregone conclusion that the state comptroller's report will be harsh. The public already knows that there were serious failures during the war - nearly 40 civilians were killed by Katyusha rockets. Bomb shelters were unprepared; the government and municipal authorities had to rely on charity to provide food; municipalities relied on the army to do their job; there was no organized evacuation of northern residents and no state provisions for housing those who left. Arab towns and cities had virtually no shelters or organized food supplies. It is not the factual findings of the report that will be controversial, but the assignment of responsibility for these grim facts, most of which we already know. The public and even the government may be less interested in the comptroller's recommendations for correcting the problems that were discovered. Lindenstrauss and the chairman of the Knesset State Control Committee, Zevulun Orlev (National Union-NRP), insist that time is of the essence, and therefore they want to publish the report's general recommendations - those not related to individual office-holders - immediately. The High Court will decide whether the law entitles them to do this. Whatever happens in the short-run, the genuine issues involved in the investigation will only emerge four months from now, when the final draft of the report is released. Those involved in fighting the current battles over the report, and the public which is watching these battle with great interest, ought to save some of their energy for the real thing, which is how to make certain the dangers and suffering sustained by 1 million residents of the North last summer will not recur.