It's difficult to change political culture, Megidor says

The first steps toward changing the system of government were set into motion on Monday when Prof. Menahem Megidor, head of the Presidential Commission for the Examination of the Structure of Government, presented the commission's recommendations to President Moshe Katsav. The 73-member commission appointed 15 months ago had invested a great deal of thought and effort in researching problems and coming up with possible solutions, said Megidor. Reform is not a magic panacea, he said. "It's very difficult to change a political culture even if you change the laws and the system." Katsav had given expression to the need for an in-depth probe into the structure of government with the appointment of the commission, the first of its kind in Israel, said Megidor. It was the first public commission ever appointed by a president of the state. The work of the commission was divided among six subcommittees: reform of the parliamentary system, headed by Prof. Naomi Hazan; political party representation in presidential systems, headed by Prof. Gideon Doron; different systems of elections and reciprocal relations among the various authorities, headed by Prof. Shimon Sheetrit; the structure and function of government in the socioeconomic sphere, headed by Ya'acov Lifshitz; evaluation of the political realities in Israel, headed by Prof. Arye Naor; and democracy in the shadow of the threat to its existence, headed by Prof. Gabi Sheffer. In the course of discussions, it was realized that there was an urgent need to investigate the structure of local government, said Megidor. For this reason, an additional subcommittee was set up under the leadership of Yehezkel Harmelech. Because it was established late in the day, this committee has not yet completed its work; but, according to Harmelech, it has received the blessing of the Union of Local Authorities. The 46-page booklet of recommendations that was presented to Katsav was an abridgment of all the subject matter that had been thoroughly researched, said Megidor. The more extensive version covering "hundreds of pages" will be published and distributed in the near future. Meanwhile, at Katsav's urging, Megidor will distribute the commission's recommendations to each of the 120 MKs, as well as to local authorities and other relevant bodies. The commission's steering committee did not accept all the proposals put forward by the subcommittees, he said. Basically the proposals that were accepted and subsequently discussed by the plenary were ones that could be implemented. Megidor said a presidential system of government had been hotly debated, with some of the discussants arguing that it unsuitable for Israel, others were avidly in favor. But the consensus was that under the current circumstances, this was not the right time to introduce a presidential system. The idea of having mixed regional and national elections was to pave the way for accountability, he said. If 60 MKs were elected on a regional basis, they would be aware that if they don't fulfill their promises to their voters, their political careers will be in jeopardy. The commission has also recommended the adoption of the Norwegian Law, whereby MKs who are appointed as ministers in the cabinet will have to relinquish their Knesset seats. The reason for this, explained Megidor, is that when all the ministers are also MKs, they are too busy with their roles in government to do their jobs as legislators. Reminded by a reporter of numerous ministerial-appointed committees that had worked diligently and had come up with good ideas only to have them shelved indefinitely, Katsav was confident that this would not be the case now. "There is much more openness to reforms than there was in the past," he said. "I hope the Knesset will give this report its serious consideration and that it will eventually adopt it." Asked by another reporter whether the sex scandal surrounding Katsav had not affected the status of the commission and thereby the public's confidence in its integrity and its findings, Megidor said only that the president is the highest citizen in the land, and a presidential commission is of the highest status. There was a spontaneous burst of applause from the members of the commission as he spoke. Katsav, as he has done in the past, asked that due legal process be allowed to take its course, urging the public not to be too hasty in passing judgment on him.