Comptroller slams police, state attorney in report

In unusual second audit report, Lindenstrauss says police, state attorney needlessly close cases; criticizes inter-ministerial committees for "wasting resources"; details failures in Bar Association, Health Ministry.

311_Micha Lindenstrauss (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
311_Micha Lindenstrauss
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss submitted a six-chapter report to the Knesset on Monday, highlighting a number of failures in various government bodies.
Although Lindenstrauss usually produces a single annual report in May, his office said that the State Comptroller published a second report this year because of an increase in his office's work.
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The report identified and analyzed a wide range of government activities and provided comprehensive critiques of their failures, as well as detailed recommendations on steps that should be taken to rectify them.
Topics covered in the report include procedures carried out by the police and the state attorney's office to close criminal investigation files deemed not to be in the public interest; the internal workings of the Israel Bar Association; the Ministry of Environmental Protection's handling of stream rehabilitation; inter-ministerial special committees; competition in the fuels market;and a monitoring report into the state of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's tomb at Mount Meron.
In a chapter on the Bar Association, Lindenstrauss criticized the organization's legal aid program, "Schar Mitzvah." The pro bono program, established in 2002, provides legal aid to those on a low income, and is meant to complement legal aid provided by the Justice Ministry's Legal Aid Bureau.
The State Comptroller said the program needed do more, after his audit found that while the number of applicants to the program more than tripled between 2005 - 2009, from 1,200 to 4,000, the number of people actually receiving representation only increased from 234 to 244 in the same period.
The report also included a special chapter on inter-ministerial committees established by government decisions. Lindenstrauss's audit revealed that government ministries had established 650 such committees between 2005-2010.
The State Comptroller criticized many of the committees for being poorly-run, which he warned is "damaging public confidence in government."
The audit revealed that many committees - particularly those in which several ministries were involved - often did not complete work on time, found it difficult to reach agreements and often not discuss their recommendations. Often, this meant recommendations were never implemented, a fact that Lindenstrauss slammed as a "waste of resources."
As an example, Lindenstrauss said that the Health Ministry has failed for the last 15 years to determine its policy for reusing medical equipment such as coronary catheters, which could save as much as NIS 70 million a year. 
Some Western countries prohibit the reuse of such equipment, others allow it to be reused subject to certain conditions.
Four committees of experts issued recommendations in 1995, 1997, 2001 and 2003 over reuse of such equipment to save money, but the ministry did not decide what to do.
Although the comptroller asked the Health Ministry to come up with a solution in 2004, there is no estimated date set for resolving the issue, and hospitals continue to to reuse disposable medical equipment without supervision or control, Lindenstrauss said in the report.
Police and the state attorney's office come under fire in another chapter for closing "a significant" portion of criminal cases and choosing not to prosecute suspects for no good reason.
"Police misused their authority to close cases due to a lack of public interest," Lindenstrauss said in the report.
The report criticized police for "closing cases without the proper authority," and said officers "recommended closures in violation of instructions by the attorney general" in some instances.
In a chapter on the police and the state attorney's office, Lindenstrauss also criticized law enforcement bodies for failing to prosecute cases involving drugs for self-use, as stipulated in drug legislation passed in 1985.
The report also called on the attorney general's office and prosecutors to develop a "central, unified, updated policy" to inform decisionmakers when to shut cases and when to prosecute, particularly in cases involving street violence, road rage, and violence in nightclubs, offenses that Lindenstrauss said "influenced the quality of public life."
In a chapter on the Environmental Protection Ministry's efforts to rehabilitate the country's 31 major streams, Lindenstrauss recommended that this task must be given greater priority in view of the considerable work still required.
The State Comptroller's report defined a series of recommendations including allocating more funding and improving coordination with other ministries.
Lindenstrauss also said that infighting involving government offices and state-owned companies was preventing the expansion of competition in the fuels market and the development of infrastructure at Haifa port.
He said the National Infrastructures Ministry and Finance Ministry still had not submitted a proposal to the government based on the January 2010 recommendations of an inter-ministerial committee into barriers to improving competition and infrastructure.
He also held the Transport Ministry to account for delaying a bill on the development of infrastructure that would ease the importation of refined fuels to Haifa port. 
Reporting on the state of the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a Talmudic sage of the second century CE, Lindenstrauss addressed ongoing concerns with the facilities serving the pilgrimage site.
The site, on Mount Meron in the Galilee, is the second most visited Jewish holy place in Israel after the Western Wall, with 1.5 million visitors every year.
The infrastructure at the site is, however, unsuited to the huge number of visitors, particularly on the anniversary of the rabbi's death on the Lag B'Omer celebration, when the tomb is flooded with hundreds of thousands of visitors.
The 2008 State Comptroller's report highlighted a number of deficiencies in the site's infrastructure, including narrow access  roads and footpaths, as well as unauthorized refurbishments to the structures at the site and the illegal construction of additional buildings.
This year's report points out that the unauthorized building developments are structurally unstable but have still not been torn
down. It also emphasizes that despite a recommendation made in 2008, a body to oversee the Lag B'Omer celebrations at the grave has still not been established.
An underground causeway has been built to ease pedestrian traffic, but vehicular access is still restricted which is a concern for emergency vehicles.
In November this year, the government decided to place the site under the management of a special government body, supervised by the tourism minister, which will now be responsible for the upkeep of the site and the implementation of safety recommendations.
Judy Siegel-Itzkovich contributed to this report.