Rivlin: State Comptroller’s Office should be considered fourth branch of government

The meeting was attended by State Comptroller Joseph Shapira.

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN (center right) hosts State Comptroller Joseph Shapira and European state comptrollers in Jerusalem at the President’s Residence (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN (center right) hosts State Comptroller Joseph Shapira and European state comptrollers in Jerusalem at the President’s Residence
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin met on Wednesday with European state comptrollers attending a conference in Jerusalem for young leaders of the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions, presided over by Dutch State Comptroller Arno Visser.
The meeting was attended by State Comptroller Joseph Shapira.
Rivlin said that when he was speaker of the Knesset, the State Comptroller’s Office had become independent and functioned as the fourth branch of government, alongside the High Court of Justice, the government and the parliament.
In 1988, he said, he had been a member of the Knesset Comptroller’s Committee which had debated at what juncture the state comptroller should run an audit – during the course of activity or only at its completion.
The decision, which has been the guiding policy of the State Comptroller’s Office ever since it was determined by the late Miriam Ben-Porat – Israel’s first and only woman state comptroller – was that the audit must be done in real time.
Rivlin quoted the case of the gas masks distributed to civilians by the IDF during the Gulf War in 1990-1991.
It came to Ben-Porat’s attention that the gas masks were flawed and useless.
The army thought otherwise and argued that an elderly woman who had never served in the army was not in a position to judge the effectiveness of the gas masks. But Ben-Porat was a highly principled individual who conducted in-depth, detailed investigations, and remained convinced that distribution of the gas masks should cease.
Eventually, Rivlin said, she was proved correct on this and other controversial issues.
Ben-Porat’s stand on the faulty gas masks was a turning point in determining what the State Comptroller’s Office should be doing, Rivlin said.
Shapira, who is a childhood friend of Rivlin and grew up on the same street as him, is no less attached to Jerusalem than Rivlin is. Shapira was proud to tell him that despite the violence and terrorist attacks in the city, none of the people who registered for the conference had dropped out.
According to Visser, more than 40 countries are represented at the conference.
In each of the member countries of the Supreme Audit Institutions, he said, the comptroller’s office is the only organization doing this kind of work.
“It’s unique and a little lonely,” he said, which is why SAI was formed.
The organization enables comptrollers from different countries to share knowledge and to discuss mutual problems and solutions.
“We all scrutinize the government and look after the taxpayers’ money,” Visser said. The comptrollers critique themselves as well, he continued, “because we have to set an example.”
The most important thing for a state comptroller “is earning the trust of the people, because that’s what influences governments,” Rivlin said.
The president also emphasized that “it is not the right of the government to rule the country, but the duty. In a democracy, you are not elected to do what you like, but what is best for the people.”
Miloslav Kara of the Czech Republic agreed with Rivlin and said that all civil servants need the trust of society.
When he and his colleagues audited the Czech President’s Office three years ago, “it was not a happy relationship.”
But in the final analysis it did increase public trust, and today President Milos Zeman is quite glad the audit was done, said Kara.
Noting the speed of the media and that rumors that are published quickly become perceived as fact, Rivlin said a time-out should be imposed until a report is published by the state comptroller. “This is very important for democracy,” he stated.
Rivlin is scheduled to leave for the US in early December to meet with President Barack Obama in Washington.
He is also scheduled to visit Spain in the not too distant future.
On bidding farewell to the Spanish conference delegates, Rivlin told them he would be in Spain very soon, at the invitation of King Felipe.
“When a king invites you, you can’t refuse,” he said.