Make it easier to get things done

Streamline the bureaucratic process so Israel can thrive in a globalized world.

rubber stamper 88 (photo credit: )
rubber stamper 88
(photo credit: )
The new government, headed by Ehud Olmert, will be charged with numerous weighty and important tasks, foremost among them being to ensure Israel's physical security. In addition, however, the next government must resolve the many internal stumbling blocks that undermine Israel's quality of life and detract from its standard of living. I am referring to the country's cumbersome bureaucracy, those rubber-stamp-wielding public officials and clerks without whom no Israeli can exercise his or her rights as the citizen of a free country. The power of the folks with the stamps is almost unlimited, and the bane of our existence. It is also easy to demonstrate the damage these bureaucrats cause: Ask any citizen who has been waiting for years on end for a simple, routine decision to be made; any developer or investor who has taken his investments elsewhere in order to get away from the red-tape nightmare; the minister of transportation, who protests that plans to build grade-separated railway crossings that would save lives were placed before the planning authorities years ago without any decision being made - and for no good reason; any potential foreign investor who has heard the horror stories about Israeli red tape. Ask the prime minister himself about the wall of bureaucracy and how it prevents governmental decisions being translated into action. WE HAVE managed to establish a governmental mechanism that refuses to carry out its function to make decisions and execute them. Some of the Knesset's laws encourage this process by granting too much authority to anyone who expresses opposition to or appeals a decision. Government ministers have their own horror stories about the system of officials and advisers - representatives of the attorney-general, of the budget division, of the state comptroller - who hold up the making and carrying out of vital decisions. When I was appointed minister of communications I was unable to understand how any letter reached its destination (even with the delay common in the 1980s), or how new telephone booths could be installed. (The answer: They weren't). SO WHAT is needed today is a major overhaul. The principles of such a reform should be translated into the language of a Basic Law and thus take priority over all the other laws. This overhaul must address three basic questions: • For each specific area: Is government intervention needed? • Does this intervention need to be carried out by a governmental ministry? • If the answer to the two previous questions is yes, how should this intervention best be carried out? In the context of the first question, let's take the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) as an example. To one extent or another, the ILA controls the property of most Israelis. The laws of the Knesset that govern the ILA proceed from the assumption that the state must remain the owner of the majority of state lands and that the state, by means of the ILA, should hold, manage and lease them. This is the outlook that once prevailed in Israel and which is today current in only a few countries with vestiges of communist rule. It is not difficult to imagine an entirely different solution: State lands would be divided into three parts; one part would remain in the hands of the state (infrastructures, nature reserves, parks, land reserves for settlement) via a small unit like a "Governmental Housing Administration;" part would be sold without any additional planning to the public by means of public tenders; part would be deposited with a planning body and, after the planning has been completed, the land would be sold to the public by means of public tenders. AN EXAMPLE that relates to the second question concerns the planning system, a bureaucratic monster whose very name is enough to paralyze all those who draw near. In this case, it is clear that the role should be assigned to the government, because it is the government that must safeguard the public's interests. The question relates to a different aspect: Is the current division of authority between the local committee, the regional committee, the appeals committees, the agricultural land committee, the beaches committee, the national planning councils and two or more appeals institutions the right solution? Or is it, perhaps, a madman's nightmare that the Knesset translated into law? A single body needs to be formed made up of representatives of local and national governments; there should also be only one appeals process to this body's decisions. And on the third question - how intervention should best be carried out - it needs to be done within a reasonable period of time. The Knesset has already determined time limits for the making of various decisions. And here is where the government must introduce far-reaching changes. When these time limits are not adhered to there must be a response that depends on the circumstances and subject. When a decision of a clear legal nature is not involved, the decision on authority should be transferred to the minister in charge. When the function does not involve two parties, but rather is a request for a license or permit, it should be decided that the request will receive an automatic favorable response unless the authority can prove that granting the license or permit will cause damage to the public. In any case, citizens, who are the victims of illegal red tape and foot-dragging, must be given the right to sue - not the state, but rather those individuals who actually caused the unnecessary delay. In this age of globalization Israel must adapt itself to the accepted standards in developed countries. Otherwise, it will be twice penalized; its ability to compete in world markets will be undermined, and its citizenry irreparably harmed. The writer is president of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.