Comptroller slams PM for report delays

Hearing on IDF petition against Home Front management report postponed.

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State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss and Knesset State Control Committee Chairman Zevulun Orlev are still bent on disclosing preliminary findings and general recommendations from Lindenstrauss's draft report on the state of the home front during the war in Lebanon, officials said Tuesday. At the end of a tense, two-hour committee meeting to hear an update on Lindenstrauss's investigation over the past seven months, Orlev announced that the committee would hold more meetings to hear the details of the seven-page report that the state comptroller had prepared for Tuesday's meeting but was barred from presenting.
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  • Analysis: Lindenstrauss criticism based on misunderstanding Lindenstrauss was unable to present the report because of an interim High Court decision on a petition filed by the chief defense attorney of the Army Adjutant-General's Department and the head of the Home Front Command, Maj.-Gen. Yitzhak Gershon, handed down earlier in the morning prohibiting the state comptroller from doing so. The petitioners had demanded that Lindenstrauss refrain from presenting findings from the investigation or recommendations regarding individuals and institutions until those who stood to be singled out for criticism had time to read over the interim report and respond to its allegations. The petition was aimed at Lindenstrauss, Orlev and Orlev's committee. On Tuesday morning, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz informed the court that he agreed with the petition and refused to represent Lindenstrauss. As a result, the state comptroller asked the court to postpone the hearing and give him time to hire a private lawyer. In return, he promised not to divulge any information from the investigation that was the subject of the dispute between the petitioners and him. The court turned his promise into a formal decision. At the beginning of the committee meeting, Orlev read out the court's decision restricting what Lindenstrauss could say. Later in the day, Shlomo Gur, the director-general of the State Comptroller's Office, told The Jerusalem Post that Lindenstrauss still intended to contest the petition. "The question is whose interpretation of the State Comptroller's Law is correct and that is what the High Court will have to decide," he said. He also emphasized that Lindenstrauss's prepared report to the Knesset State Control Committee had at no point mentioned names. "Findings against individuals were never included in the report," said Gur. "Criticism of individuals will only appear in the final report after each of those investigated has had the chance to respond to the interim findings." During the committee meeting itself, Lindenstrauss took aim at Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the quickly escalating showdown between the two over the state comptroller's investigation. Lindenstrauss slammed Olmert for failing to disclose information needed to complete the report, and warned that it would be "incisive" and would "anger many people." In his testimony, Lindenstrauss gave a time line of his office's handling of the report, and said 12 questions had been directed at the prime minister. "Unfortunately, we received a message from the prime minister that we should provide him with a written questionnaire and so we sent him the dozen questions. It took two months and we only received partial answers. To this day we are still waiting," said Lindenstrauss. He added that the prime minister had asked that the State Comptroller's Office give him special treatment all along, and that every other cabinet minister, IDF officer, and government official testified in person, and on the first request. Sources in the Prime Minister's Office heaved a sigh of relief Tuesday night and said the damage could have been "much worse." "He wanted to roar a lot louder than he did," one official said of Lindenstrauss. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister's Office was still in attack mode, with sources in the office saying that they were "saddened" that Lindenstrauss misled the Knesset committee, and that his appearance in the committee didn't "honor" either his office or the Knesset. In the opinion of the Prime Minister's Office, Lindenstrauss's testimony was full of contradictions and inaccuracies. For instance, Lindenstrauss said that information he asked for on another probe involving Olmert - having to do with the Investments Center when Olmert was minister of industry and trade - never arrived, when according to the Prime Minister's Office it arrived on Monday. The Prime Minister's Office would not spell out what 12 questions Lindenstrauss asked of the prime minister on December 25 (which Olmert has said he would provide by the end of this month), other than to say that they covered a time period going back to 2000, and which necessitated looking at minutes from meetings going back to that period. One of the 12 questions that Lindenstrauss asked was whether Olmert, in his capacity as Knesset member or cabinet minister in Ariel Sharon's government, was ever made aware of the poor state of the bomb shelters in the North. Answering this question, according to government sources, necessitated going through minutes from numerous meetings Olmert attended to see if the issue had come up. Sources in the Prime Minister's Office downplayed concern that the whole issue had tarnished Olmert's public standing, saying that Lindenstrauss is the person who should be concerned that the status of the comptroller had been impaired. The sources were careful to refrain from saying that Lindenstrauss was "gunning" for the prime minister, and rather said he was motivated by a desire to be the first to "sound the alarm" and a huge appetite for publicity. While Olmert on Tuesday refrained from publicly relating to the saga, his ally Pensioners Minister Rafi Eitan sent Lindenstrauss a sharply-worded letter saying that he was diverting the public's attention to marginal issues and paralyzing the government, and that the prime minister, not Lindenstrauss, was elected to run the country. "Your behavior is diverting the public's attention to marginal and unimportant issues," wrote Eitan. "You are terrorizing the prime minister, ministers and government workers and are paralyzing the government's work. The prime minister was elected to run the state, not you. Stop trying to bother him." Lindenstrauss was attacked several times during the committee meeting, often by Kadima MKs Menahem Ben-Sasson and Yoel Hasson, who claimed the state comptroller had become the "mouthpiece" of the opposition. Lindenstrauss was permitted to tell the Knesset committee how he gathered the information for the report, but could not give any details of the report itself. Lindenstrauss said 10 percent of his office had been working on the report since the investigation began on August 14. Over the past seven months, the investigators had compiled "thousands of pages which draw a precise and significant portrait of the state of the home front at the time of the war in the North." In a related development, the rift between Orlev and Elstein, the Knesset legal adviser, grew deeper on Tuesday, when Orlev told her not to bother showing up to address the committee at the beginning of the meeting and explain the High Court's decision to restrict Lindenstrauss's report. The rift between the two began when Elstein refused to defend Orlev's decision to convene the committee to hear the state comptroller's report before the High Court, and Orlev hired private attorney Ilan Bombach to represent him instead. Bombach told the court Orlev would refuse to promise the court to restrict himself in any way since the Knesset was sovereign and did not take orders from the court. After a short recess, Elstein announced to the panel of three justices that she and Bombach had reached a compromise whereby she would explain to the committee the court's restrictions on the hearing before the discussion began. However, Elstein did not show up for the meeting. Orlev told The Jerusalem Post he had instructed her not to come and that he could explain the restrictions himself. He said he did not need a "kindergarten teacher." Elstein refused to speak to reporters after the incident. As for the report itself, IDF sources rejected criticism laid out in it and claimed that decisions concerning the delegation of authorities during the Lebanon war this past summer were necessary as a result of the home front's "extremely severe situation." One of the main points of criticism in the report claims that the Home Front Command broke the law when transferring some of its authorities and powers to the Northern District of the Israel Police. OC Home Front Command Maj.-Gen. Yitzhak Gershon has tried since his appointment in 2005 to create a National Disaster Administration that would integrate rescue and emergency work between all of the different agencies - Israel Police, Magen David Adom and the Fire and Rescue Service. Gershon has held numerous meetings with Israel Police officers - including outgoing Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi - as well as Internal Security Ministry and Defense Ministry officials on the creation of the administration but its establishment has so far been held up due to political constraints. The administration, if established, would allow for the transfer of authorities and powers from one emergency agency to another at a time of a national disaster or a war. During the Lebanon war however, the Home Front Command apparently transferred some of its authorities to the police's Northern District, led by Cmdr. Dan Ronen, even though the establishment of the National Disaster Administration had not yet gone through the necessary legislative process. Military sources defended the decision that was made during the war to transfer authorities to the police, a larger emergency service than the Home Front Command which they said was therefore more capable of providing the necessary services to the public more effectively. "There is a limit to what the IDF is capable of doing," one officer said. Ya'akov Katz contributed to this report.