Resigned Paz-Pines reflects on unfinished projects

A few hours after Interior Minister Ophir Paz-Pines joined other Labor members of the government in resigning his office Monday, he took a swipe at the new centrist party Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is forming. "It's impossible to build a party like it's a lego," he said in a television interview. "It won't work. There's no stable basis for it. There's nothing real in it." Earlier in the day, at a farewell press conference, Paz-Pines reflected on projects he was leaving unfinished, including a reform of the immigration policy. "To my sorrow, we didn't finish it," he said of the reforms to the Population Registry, adding that the committee charged with recommending a comprehensive immigration law must present something "rational" with a "logical connection" to the legislation of the issue. He also touched on the issue of children of foreign workers, some of whom received citizenship under regulations he shepherded through the government. The stringent guidelines, he noted, mean that though the government is expected to extend status to some 2,500, it seems that far fewer will be eligible. He advocated relaxing the criterion, though he said that in principle, it was important that only those born in Israel be granted status. Before leaving office, he presented a final piece of legislation Monday. It is a proposal to reduce the involvement of the ministry in the running of local authorities. The law would set up four tiers of ministry oversight: virtually none for towns that need no money from the state, only slightly more for those that need government money to meet their expenses but not because of mismanagement, and greater involvement for cities who have deficits and those who are in serious financial trouble. The last category comprises about 50-60 locales according to the ministry, around a fifth of all local authorities. Additional features include hiring committees to fill top city posts according to professional standards for hires; giving cities the ability to share professionals and service contractors to save money and other efficiency measures. The proposal would be considered by the next Knesset. Paz-Pines stressed, however, that "the image of local authorities is worse than what they deserve." At the end of the press conference, he was asked if he would like to be Interior Minister in the future. "Absolutely," he answered. "This is the ministry that is connected to all the aspects of life in this country and serving its citizens."