Analysis: How many probes are enough?

Could Lindenstrauss's activism be coming at the expense of fewer but deeper investigations?

lindenstrauss 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
lindenstrauss 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Although State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss hasn't been in the news very much of late, behind the scenes he is as active as ever. Since November 11, the state comptroller has agreed to requests by the Knesset State Control Committee to issue three opinions regarding complex matters that will take much time and effort on the part of his staff. The first concerns the aliya of the Falash Mura and the government's decision not to process an additional 8,500 Ethiopians beyond the original number it undertook to absorb. These 8,500 villagers say they are Falash Mura and therefore have the right to immigrate. The second has to do with the government's handling of the dispute over a building located on Worshipers' Way in Hebron, which the Tal Construction and Investment Company and the Society for the Renewal of the Jewish Community in Hebron claim they own. The dispute has dragged on for more than nine months. The latest matter involves the failure of the government's efforts to obtain the release of convicted American spy Jonathan Pollard, who was sentenced to life in prison for stealing classified US military documents on Israel's behalf. According to the State Comptroller Law, the comptroller must accede to a committee request to prepare an opinion on any matter involving any body that is under his scrutiny. Nevertheless, an expert who has observed the State Comptroller's Office for many years told The Jerusalem Post that Lindenstrauss's predecessors frequently declined to respond to similar requests by the Knesset State Control Committee and decided for themselves whether to prepare a serious opinion. Lindenstrauss's communications adviser, Shlomo Raz, told the Post the law was explicit and the state comptroller had no choice. At any rate, it seems that the committee is anxious to activate the state comptroller and the state comptroller is happy to comply. In two of three matters regarding which the committee has turned to Lindenstrauss since November 11, he promised to "examine the subject and give it high priority." He did not attend the meeting on the disputed building in Hebron. Immediately after his appointment, Lindenstrauss promised that in addition to the annual report, which deals mainly with the proper and efficient running - or lack thereof - of the government and the country's public institutions, he would publish many short reports addressing current matters of public concern. Despite vocal criticism from foes who accuse him of being a publicity hound and sensation-monger, Lindenstrauss has kept his word. In 2007, in addition to the annual State Comptroller's Report and traditional reports on party financing, the 2006 national election and the local authorities, he has also published special reports on allegations of conflicts of interest on the part of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert; aspects of the Wisconsin welfare-to-work plan; the blockbuster report on the government's preparations for and protection of the home front during the Second Lebanon War and a report on aid to Holocaust survivors. He has also published an opinion on whistle-blowers. The question is, how much can Lindenstrauss - or the State Control Committee - demand of his 600 employees? Although perhaps no one knows the answer better than he, it is also possible that his activism may be coming at the expense of fewer but deeper and more comprehensive investigations. It should also be remembered that the State Control Committee is an "opposition" committee, in the sense that the committee chairman and a majority of its members are picked from the opposition benches. This is done deliberately so that the committee will be motivated to take the job of criticizing the government seriously. But Lindenstrauss must not forget that it is first and foremost a political committee whose members are likely to be more concerned with immediate political gain than improving standards of government decision-making and implementation. On the other hand, there recently has been talk of a trade-off between the Knesset and the government. In return for the Knesset cutting down on the enormous number of private members' bills it churns out (more than 3,000 so far in the current Knesset), the government will cooperate to make it easier for the Knesset to supervise the government's conduct. If such a deal is worked out, the state comptroller has the wherewithal - in terms of both staff and experience - to play a key role in the new arrangement.