Sderot conference findings depressing [pg. 5]

Over-the-top political corruption, a public growing increasingly ashamed of its nation because of that corruption and a society largely disillusioned with public institutions, including the IDF, are just some of the findings of two surveys published to coincide with the annual Sderot Conference for Society, which begins Tuesday. Conducted by the conference's steering committee and Sapir College in Sderot, the surveys, which measured socio-economic issues (the Social Strength Index) and corruption, found that 73 percent of the public sees levels of government corruption as far too high, with close to 80% claiming that such corruption prevents them from taking pride in the nation. The figures were a slight rise from the previous year. In the socio-economic study, 60% of people questioned said they feared that at some point in the future they would not be able to support their family, a drop from the previous year, while 70% said they did not believe the state allows its citizens to retire with dignity. The surveys used a sample of 1,000 adults. "People feel that we need to have more security in order to live in Israel," conference chairman Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. "But we have to put more sense into this society to raise the quality of life here." Dayan said that the conference, which he established four years ago, is aimed at raising socio-economic issues among politicians and policy-makers. It is touted as the answer to such conferences as Caesarea and Herzliya. The full results of both surveys will be released at the opening evening of the two-day conference. Dayan said he believed that the conference did play a part in influencing government policy and claimed that some of the issues raised at previous conferences had been used by participating political leaders. This year, said Dayan, some of the main themes include a concrete plan for fighting unemployment, suggested reforms for planning the budget, striking a balance between national security and socio-economic issues and ways to improve the cost of living. He also said there will be a session on reforming the electoral system and methods of developing new leaders. "The public is screaming out that there is a serious imbalance between what the country can achieve and what it is actually providing for its people," Dayan said. "We are a strong military state with a good economy, so why is the government failing its people? People today are looking for a leadership with vision." Dayan noted that the significance of holding the conference in Sderot was not lost on him. "Originally I wanted to hold a conference in a place that was not in the center," he said. "I wanted to show that Israel was not only Herzliya or Jerusalem, but that there were other places, like Sderot. I thought that I would move the conference to a different location each year, but now, because of the Kassam rockets, I do not want to feel like we are being driven away." Among those slated to attend the conference are Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson, Education Minister Yuli Tamir, Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Izri and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai, as well as many other MKs, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fisher, civil servants from the various ministries and other policy-makers.