Experts say ministry to improve gov't services could be beneficial

Several of the portfolios Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu handed out in establishing the largest cabinet in history have raised eyebrows, including the decision to appoint MK Michael Eitan a minister-without-portfolio in charge of "improving services for citizens." However some experts, including Hebrew University professor and former Civil Service commissioner Yitzhak Galnoor, believe that appointment "could be a positive step as long as the minister does not limit himself to addressing citizens' complaints and esoteric issues." There already are two public bodies that deal with citizens' complaints against alleged inefficiency or arbitrariness by government officials. One is the Knesset Public Petitions Committee, which discusses individual complaints by private citizens. The other is the state comptroller in his capacity as commissioner for public complaints. However, Galnoor emphasized on Thursday that Eitan's job description did not mention citizens' complaints, but the improvement of government services. This would require a comprehensive overhaul of the entire administrative system, he said. "There has never been a reform of the system," Galnoor said, citing two examples of serious reform proposals made over the years. One was a two-volume report published by long-time Interior Ministry director-general Haim Kovarsky in 1984, and a proposal Galnoor himself presented in 1994. The government went so far as to approve the Kovarsky recommendations, but in the end, both proposals were shelved. "Reform can only be carried out from a powerful ministry like the Prime Minister's Office by a minister who devotes himself only to this," Galnoor continued. "He will have to overcome the resistance of the treasury and other ministers who will prefer to leave things as they are." Although Eitan said there would be no overlap between his office and the Knesset Public Petitions Committee, he acknowledged on Thursday that he did not yet have a clear idea of what his work involved. "I don't yet know what my role will be, because there is no existing office that takes care of these activities," he said. But he was certain it would not be the same as the Knesset committee's work. "The committee only deals with public complaints that come to the Knesset," said Eitan. "They don't handle complaints on a general basis. My task is to define general approaches toward the way government offices deal with complaints and appeals against the government. I've only got the title now; no powers of budget have been set, and in the next few weeks I will write a proposal to the prime minister, and after it's approved, I will be able to tell you what my plans are. It's something new, and it will take time." MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu), who was a member of the outgoing Knesset's Public Petitions Committee, said he had no doubt the new portfolio was necessary. "It's about time there is a minister who will be responsible for providing efficient services so the ordinary citizen will get what he deserves," he said. Rotem also rejected the claim that the ministry was unnecessary because of the two existing government institutions that handle the public's complaints. "It's the government's responsibility to provide good and efficient services in the first place," he said. "The job of the Knesset is to oversee the government. The commissioner for public complaints investigates individual complaints, but has no power to make changes."