PM, Lindenstrauss spar over war probe

Both the prime minister and the comptroller use the media to attack one another.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss exchanged gibes via the media on Tuesday over the question of which one of them had instructed the State Comptroller's Office to investigate the the home front's preparedness for the war against Hizbullah. Lindenstrauss went on the attack early in the morning, after having heard Olmert's televised speech in Haifa the previous evening, in which the prime minister announced his intention to ask the comptroller to investigate the matter. In that speech, Olmert said, "The government will ask the state comptroller to conduct an extensive and in-depth examination of the defects that were discovered in the home front's preparedness in the face of the threat of missiles and rockets." Lindenstrauss took offense to the statement, apparently because he had already publicly announced that he had launched such an investigation. "According to the law, the responsibility for auditing in the State of Israel belongs to the state comptroller, and therefore he already has the authority to investigate the war in the north," said Lindenstrauss. "The state comptroller wishes to stress that in fulfilling his role, he is responsible to the Knesset alone, and is not subordinate to the government. The state comptroller, as an absolutely independent body, only functions in accordance with the law. His independence must be maintained." Lindenstrauss also complained that he had heard of Olmert's decision via the media. The prime minister was taken aback by the unexpected attack. In a statement, he said that according to Article 21 of the 1958 State Comptroller Law, "The comptroller shall, if requested to do so by the Knesset, the [Knesset State Audit] Committee or the government, prepare an opinion on any matter within the scope of his functions." Olmert said all of his steps in connection with investigating the conduct of the war had been coordinated with Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz. The prime minister could not resist including a few digs at Lindenstrauss. According to his statement, "Having heard from the media that State Comptroller Lindenstrauss wrote the [earlier] press release himself, we are convinced that he had made an innocent mistake, since it is inconceivable that he would be unfamiliar with the law according to which he functions." The statement also pointed out that Olmert had learned of Lindenstrauss' comments, "from the media, of course." Apparently stung by the insults, and perhaps wishing to save face or to have the last word, Lindenstrauss issued another statement later in the day, saying, "The state comptroller and his office are very familiar with the law." Once again, he pointed out that he had only learned of Olmert's intention to ask him to carry out the investigation from the media. Lindenstrauss continued, "It is too bad that the prime minister, before turning to the media, had not taken the trouble to speak to the state comptroller. Had he done so, he would have known that the state comptroller, in accordance with his legal prerogatives, has been gathering information since the end of the fighting and has visited the damaged areas, and will continue to do so."