Comptroller: Grave faults in state health, defense

At end of seven-year term, State Comptroller Lindenstrauss says civil servants' personal liability "at the heart of good governance."

311_Micha Lindenstrauss (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
311_Micha Lindenstrauss
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss presented his annual report to the Knesset on Tuesday, the final one of its kind before he retires from office in July.
Lindenstrauss said the 64-chapter report, which includes detailed sections on all government ministries as well as the IDF and other state-run bodies, was his largest ever in terms of scope.
The state comptroller noted that his final annual report places “special emphasis” on health issues. The report includes a particularly scathing chapter slamming the Health Ministry for wasting huge sums of public money.
The Defense Ministry also came under fire in the report, with a section revealing that the ministry’s director-general violated defense export laws by approving several export deals.
Lindenstrauss also said he had devoted special attention to weaker sections of society, including youth at risk, as well as to ultra-Orthodox service in the army, which comes after a 2011 government decision to set targets for haredi enlistment by 2015.
He emphasized that his final report reflected the audit principles his office has adopted during his term as state comptroller, which he said included publishing the names of government officials to promote personal liability, as well as real-time auditing of government bodies.
The State Comptroller’s Office also prioritized following up on how deficiencies revealed in audits had been addressed, Lindenstrauss added.
He also praised his office staff for waging what he said was “an uncompromising struggle against government corruption that threatens to undermine Israeli society and severely damage its integrity.”
“I have said on many occasions that the personal liability of those in the executive branch [of government] is the heart of good governance,” Lindenstrauss said, adding that “public servants, however senior, must take responsibility for their actions or failures.”
Lindenstrauss added that his final report included a review of how to reduce the bureaucratic burden of public service.
“The role of government and the public sector is to serve the citizens of the state,” Lindenstrauss said, noting that in many cases, his office had found that public bodies imposed a “heavy and unnecessary bureaucratic burden on business owners and residents,” which he said “eroded public trust in public service.”
Lindenstrauss’s term officially ends on July 3, and Jerusalem District Court Judge Joseph Shapira has been touted as the leading candidate to replace him.
The Knesset will vote on Lindenstrauss’s replacement in a secret ballot on May 14, even if it holds a break for elections, Rivlin said on Tuesday.
Rivlin noted that, so far, one candidate has been put forward to replace Lindenstrauss and said that other potential candidates had until Friday to nominate themselves.
The Knesset speaker added that he hoped there would be an additional two candidates.
Lindenstrauss devoted a considerable part of the report to the Health Ministry, and sharply criticized it for a litany of failures.
These included wasting huge sums of public money and mishandling medical negligence cases, which the report said compromised the rights of patients who legitimately suffer medical errors and negligence.
The report also revealed that the Health Ministry continues to own, run and supervise state hospitals, which Lindenstrauss said was a multiple role that constitutes a built-in conflict of interest.
The state comptroller also shed light on the issue of senior physicians from public hospitals who “moonlight” at private medical facilities, and who enjoy the fact that their malpractice insurance is paid for by their regular employers.
In keeping with his stated policy of naming those government officials deemed responsible for failures, Lindenstrauss said Sheba Medical Center director-general Prof. Zev Rotstein and Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center director-general Prof. Gabi Barbash each moonlight for five or six companies, earning tens of thousands of additional shekels per month, leading to the risk of conflict of interest between their public and private posts. He suggested higher hospital salaries for top managers so they can devote most of their time to them.
Moving on, the report uncovered that medical staffers are reluctant to report cases where patients were hurt, and added that many families are not provided with swift and accurate medical records to prove their cases. A no-fault system is needed to rectify this, Lindenstrauss recommended.
In a separate section examining the workings of Magen David Adom, Lindenstrauss found the organization is poorly supervised by the Health Ministry, and also noted that its top officials have been there too long, possibly preventing monitoring and renewal in Magen David Adom.
The Defense Ministry also came under fire in the report. A section on defense exports revealed that the Defense Ministry’s director-general Udi Shani violated defense export laws and regulations when approving a number of defense deals and had changed the ministry’s policy in 2010 regarding provision of export licenses.
In three cases, the report found, Shani ignored export procedures and decided to grant licenses to companies to sell military platforms overseas, despite opposition from the Foreign Ministry.
The report said Shani should have consulted with other government agencies and should have incorporated the new policy into official Defense Ministry procedures.
In a second defense-related chapter, Lindenstrauss found that the IDF and Defense Ministry mishandled the development of a protective system for armored personnel carriers.
The report criticizes Chief of Staff Lt-Gen. Benny Gantz’s decision as deputy commander of the IDF in 2010 to order two Israeli defense contractors to combine independent tank protection systems into a single platform, which Lindenstrauss said was made without the necessary staff work and a proper study of the issue.
In a section on at-risk children, Lindenstrauss’s report sharply criticizes a flagship government program aimed at reducing the number of children and youth considered at risk, for failing to properly assess and keep track of its own work over the past five years.
The report faulted the National Program for Children and Youth at Risk, established in 2006 under the auspices of the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, for taking over four years to get any of its programs actually working in the field.
The NIS-155-million-a-year program had succeeded in fostering better cooperation between the various professional government departments working with children and local authorities, the report found.
However, another criticism was that it had failed to establish quantifiable goals to reduce the number of children at risk.
The report included a review of ultra-Orthodox men serving in the army, and the IDF’s efforts to increase the number of haredi men enlisting.
An audit carried out between September 2010 and August 2011 revealed a discernible and “important” increase was registered in the number of haredim enlisting, exceeding a government target set in January 2011 of 1,200 recruits. In 2010, approximately 1,000 haredi men eligible for military service enlisted in the IDF, representing 13% of possible recruits from the ultra-Orthodox sector, and in 2011 that number increased to 1,280 haredim, or 16% of the potential ultra-Orthodox draft.
Despite these positive developments, the report revealed an increase in the number of haredi men deferring army service through full-time yeshiva study under the “Torato Omunato” framework. Between 2003, when the “Tal Law” came into affect, and 2010, the number of men eligible for military service who deferred their enlistment rose by 60%, the report found.
The state comptroller also took his magnifying glass to two aspects of the Foreign Ministry: the workings of the newly reorganized political planning division, and the Mashav agency dealing with foreign aid.
Regarding the planning division, whose reorganization was an element of the Winograd Committee report that looked into shortcomings of the Second Lebanon War, the comptroller found that the committee’s conclusions were not implemented and there was still a lack of good coordination between the planning bodies of the Foreign Ministry, IDF and Defense Ministry.
The report said that the IDF was reluctant to cooperate fully with the Foreign Ministry because of concern of rampant leaks inside the ministry.
Regarding Mashav, the comptroller said the ministry needed to set clear guidelines regarding the involvement of the private sector in aid projects, so that a situation does not arise where there is less humanitarian assistance and more mining for business prospects.
An audit of the police revealed a series of failures in a new computerized system deployed over the past decade to improve crime- and terror-fighting capabilities, and to cut down on response time to emergency calls.
Lindenstrauss slammed police for not taking sufficient steps to encrypt computer databases used in patrol cars, and for failing to examine the efficiency of the systems’ deployment and the potential risks posed by outside elements gaining access to the information.
The report noted that while police said they had implemented the system in June 2003, at that time they had only installed 289 of 1,000 of the computerized patrols ordered, despite announcing a maintenance spend of NIS 6 million between 2000 and 2003. The majority of the systems were in fact installed only by November 2005.
The state comptroller also blasted the police for failing to examine various units’ needs regarding the system, even though certain police units did not utilize the system as much as others. Lindenstrauss recommended police consider deploying more computerized patrol systems, but only in those units likely to use them often.
In a section on the Transportation Ministry, Lindenstrauss focused on failings in Israel’s transport infrastructure, particularly its railways and air networks.
Recent years have seen a number of serious rail accidents, and last year 60 people were hurt when two passenger trains collided near Netanya.
In 2003, the rail network was privatized in an effort to make it more effective and accessible.
No longer part of the Ports Authority, it began operating as a government company under the name Israel Railways. Since then, passenger rail traffic has grown considerably – from 17 million a decade ago to 36 million in 2010.
After a number of safety incidents, in the summer of 2006 Israel Railways authorized a fiveyear plan for improving passenger security.
However, previous reports have repeatedly cited failings in Israel Railways’s operation. For example, procedures for granting conductors’ licenses and disciplining conductor errors have yet to be formalized.
Lindenstrauss’s new report revealed that serious work remains to be done in improving rail safety and reliability.
In the report, Lindenstrauss said the Environmental Protection and Agriculture Ministries must increase surveillance of pesticide use, so that Israel no longer lags behind other Western nations in terms of its pesticide regulations.
Israel lacks a normative datacollection and analysis system regarding pesticides and fertilizers, a tool that would help government authorities monitor the risks associated with these chemicals, the report said.
The state comptroller also slammed the government for not doing enough regarding plans to establish desalinated water facilities, noting that a 2001 government decision to establish such a facility in Ashdod by 2003 had not occurred. The government must act to ensure that the country can cope with the ongoing water shortage, the state comptroller said.
The report also slammed the Agriculture Ministry for bypassing legal requirements and transferring hundreds of millions of shekels to farmers without reducing the numbers of foreign workers or significantly improving water infrastructure.
As a result, some farmers have engaged in acts of profiteering at the expense of other farmers, Lindenstrauss said, calling on the Agriculture Ministry to establish stronger regulations.
In a chapter on the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA), the state comptroller painted a picture of mismanagement, negligence and irresponsibility that has resulted not only in an ongoing multimillion-shekel deficit, and a vastly overloaded payroll, but also a problem of property ownership.
The report revealed that no one bothered over the years to check whether properties supposedly belonging to the IBA had actually been registered as such, a factor that came to light when the Finance Ministry, which was unwilling to keep bolstering the faltering financial status of the IBA, said that the only way it could get rid of its deficit was to sell off the bulk of its properties in Jerusalem.
But when it came to taking an inventory of the properties, the IBA was lacking in legally binding proof of ownership, the report found.
In a chapter devoted to the situation regarding legal guardianship and wards of court, the state comptroller slammed the Justice Ministry’s Custodian-General Department for a number of failings.
According to the Capacity and Guardianship Law (1962), a court can appoint an individual, corporation or the Justice Ministry’s custodian-general as a legal guardian to care for a person who is deemed permanently or temporarily incapable of looking after their own affairs.
The report revealed that the custodian-general’s department lacked complete and up-to-date information on wards of court and their guardians, largely because courts’ secretariats had failed to hand over relevant documents and because the custodian- general’s office hadn’t updated computerized records.
Lindenstrauss said wards are “helpless and restricted, weak citizens of the state” and so monitoring court-appointed guardians is a real need.
COURTS Lindenstrauss also criticized the court administration for serious failures in implementing its flagship computerized system, including the absence of civil servants from the project management team, which the report said was not in the public interest.
Named “Net Hamishpat” and dubbed a flagship system designed to improve service for the public and streamline the administrative infrastructure of the judicial system in the country’s courts, which deal with over a million cases every year.
Net Hamishpat was intended to create a “paperless” court system and was deployed in courts in May 2010, however, the state comptroller found that the administration had failed to work according to the government’s agreed software project management methodology for software development and engineering, systems analysis and quality management developed by the Treasury and an external software firm, Methoda Ltd.
After the system was installed, the audit found that there had been serious failures that caused problems, which might have been avoided if the correct acceptance testing procedures had been followed. The report said there had been multiple system failures that could have been avoided had the correct acceptance test procedures been followed.