Comptroller slams Foreign Ministry

Report highlights failures in administration of manpower and appointments.

livni sits 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
livni sits 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The State Comptroller on Monday issued a special report on the shortcomings in the administration of manpower in the Foreign Ministry and its alleged failure to cope effectively with troubled interpersonal relations at the Israeli embassy in Canada. The State Comptroller suggested that because of the problems in the process of appointing Foreign Ministry employees to job vacancies, it should consider changing the procedure and including in it elements of the regular tender procedure used in all other government offices.
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The Foreign Ministry issued a statement responding to the report, saying that it accepts the recommendations and "will act accordingly to correct the defects." The statement said that a number of the comptroller's recommendations dovetail with what was recommended by an internal ministry committee dealing with manpower reorganization. The ministry's appointment process has been on hold for a number of months, firstly because high level appointments could not be made once new elections were called late last year, and secondly because after the elections in March the ministry wanted see the results of the findings before going ahead with the new appointments. As a result, a slew of ambassadorial and consul-general positions in key locales like Rome, Paris, Moscow, Amman, Athens, Dublin, Boston and Atlanta will be vacant in the summer as the ambassadors and consul-generals there finish their terms and return home. Now that the comptroller has issued his report, the ministry's appointments committee that deals with senior appointments is scheduled to meet Thursday to fill those vacancies, and about a dozen more. The ministry statement said Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has instructed director-general Aharon Abramovitch to immediately implement the comptroller's recommendations. The Foreign Ministry is the only government office that high-level positions abroad assigns employees to vacant positions by an appointments committee. One of the reasons for this is that in most cases, jobs are only open to those who have passed through the cadet training program and not to the public at large. Another reason is the division of manpower into three categories the diplomatic service, the administrative service abroad and the administrative service at home. As a general rule, employees may only apply for a job within the category they belong to. There is a turnover of about 150 jobs per year in the main office in Jerusalem and the legations abroad. The ministry is obliged to publish a forecast of the jobs that will become available during the coming year. However, the State Comptroller found that the forecast did not include key details such as the minimum requirements regarding education, experience, seniority, category of service, and grade. As a result, many candidates lacking the qualifications prescribed in the Foreign Ministry regulations apply for these jobs and are often appointed to them. There are two appointment committees in the Foreign Ministry. The first, known as the Higher Committee, is chaired by the minister and deals with senior appointments. The second is run by the director-general. However, when Binyamin Netanyahu and Silvan Shalom served as Foreign Minister, they chaired both committees. The State Comptroller wrote that the minister should not chair either committee since the political echelon should not be involved in making professional appointments. All of the members of the committee are known to the ministry staff, and are therefore susceptible to pressure from candidates. The State Comptroller found six cases in which job applicants appealed personally to members of the committee. At least three got one of the jobs they asked for. The candidates do not appear before the selection committee and therefore its members cannot obtain a first-hand impression of each one. The candidates are also not informed of any negative reports about them that are presented to the committee and do not have the opportunity to respond to them. The State Comptroller examined the minutes of some appointments committee meetings and found that the deputy director-general in charge of appointments reads out the names of only those candidates he believed were worthy of the job. Even if 20 employees apply for an opening, the committee will only discuss those names mentioned by the deputy director-general, wrote Lindenstraus. In one case for example, nine Foreign Ministry employees applied for the job of ambassador to Austria. The committee considered only three of them, even though four other candidates had served as ambassadors in the past. In some cases, the appointment was made before the committee even met, and some employees were found to be studying the language of the country they were to be assigned to before they were formally chosen. The State Comptroller also found that the committee did not consider the applications according to any objective and formal set of criteria. In a second report, the State Comptroller found that poor interpersonal relations at the Israeli embassy in Canada had impacted on the embassy's relations with the Jewish community and had even been reported in the local media. The State Comptroller charged that the head office in Jerusalem had been passive and ineffective in dealing quickly and forcefully with these problems. One of the problems had to do with the relations between current ambassador Alan Baker and his predecessor, Haim Divon. There was friction between the two men almost from the day Baker was appointed to replace Divon. However, the serious problem between them arose over a summer camp for Israeli and Palestinian youth that the embassy had initiated during Divon's last year in Ottawa. The camp was organized by his wife and daughter under the auspices of the embassy and was highly successful in 2004, its first year. In the meantime, Baker replaced Divon. In December 2004, the ambassador informed the head office in Jerusalem that Divon's wife was in Canada to raise funds for the 2005 summer camp. He asked the head office for the Foreign Ministry's position and complained that it was improper for the wife of the former ambassador to act on her own initiative without coordinating her activities with the embassy. The Foreign Ministry did not respond to Baker's letters. Eventually, the camp was held, former ambassador Divon attended the opening ceremony and his photograph appeared in the Canadian press. Baker felt he had been undermined and that people might have the impression Divon was still the ambassador. Lindentstraus wrote that Divon should not have become involved in Canadian affairs again so soon after the end of his term of office and that the head office in Jerusalem should have intervened and told him so. The other inter-personal problem in the embassy centered around the other two Israeli diplomatic representatives, Roni Gil-Or, the political adviser, and Ophir Gendelman, a cadet who served in a joint administrative-diplomatic capacity. The embassy also employed a security officer. There were poor relations all around. Gil-Or and Gendelman clashed, Baker was dissatisfied with Gendelman's work and there were tensions between Gil-Or and the security officer. In November 2004, the deputy head of the North American division warned that the tensions in the embassy were harming embassy work. A few months later, in June 2005, newspapers in Canada reported that a fistfight had broken out between Gil-Or and the security officer, that the embassy was divided into warring camps and that Baker had accused Divon of interfering in embassy work. During 2004, five delegations from the head office in Jerusalem visited the embassy to try to solve the problems. Two more were sent in 2005 following the media reports. Despite all these visits, no measures were taken. Gendelman remained at his post while Gil-Or was allowed to complete the full term of his assignment. "In the opinion of the State Comptroller," wrote Lindenstraus, "the ministry's handling of the ugly relations that developed in the embassy was not vigorous and decisive. The ministry knew of the events in the embassy as early as the beginning of 2004. The office sent several delegations to examine the situation and they submitted reports including conclusions and recommendations. The top echelon of the ministry also held many meetings and conducted correspondence on the matter, but did not take any practical steps to solve the problem. Instead, it kept trying to put things off." Herb Keinon contributed to this report