Battling corruption

What sets State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss apart, apparently, is tenacity and diligence.

lind 88 (photo credit: )
lind 88
(photo credit: )
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss has been in office for only a few months, but he has already earned the reputation of a formidable foe of corruption - the corrosive small-scale sort as well as heavyweight scandals. That he announced upon being installed that he considers his primary mission to go after sleaze in high place was nothing unusual or remarkable. His predecessors had said much the same. What sets Lindenstrauss apart, apparently, is tenacity and diligence. He has already produced a soon-to-be published interim report homing in on seven cases of untoward exploitation of power. Previews of coming attractions have already been featured in the headlines. Lindenstrauss seems to be proving as good as his word - quick on the mark and hard at work from the outset. His unique interim report indicates he has no intention of letting public officials get away with anything. Whatever results his investigations yield, we are grateful he is breathing down the necks of luminaries who at times appear to have lost the fear of the public and assume that accountability is for others. One need only recall some of the lame excuses they have proffered when asked to comment on past comptroller findings. Some of them have all but thumbed their noses at the inquiry. If Lindenstrauss can instill some respect for the rules of the game in them, he will have accomplished a great deal. In this respect, it is also gratifying that he is fishing as much for the so-called small fry as for the public sector's whales. Corruption often starts when officials feel no compunction about availing themselves of what they come to regard as expected perks. Among these are junkets around the globe, as guests of firms with vested interests to secure parliamentary and other support. This may be no major felony but it is where disdain for the law begins, as in the cases of deputy ministers Ruhama Avraham and Eli Aflalo, who twice accepted what were little more than junket invitations (in 2003 and 2004) from agricultural exporter Agrexco. They did so despite an explicit ban on such excursions by the Knesset Ethics Committee. Aflalo even extended his stay in America at Agrexco's expense. Their explanations, when prodded by Lindenstrauss, were almost dismissive, if not sophomoric. Avraham justified her infraction by saying: "it wasn't a pleasure trip." Aflalo claimed he "forgot" to pay his own expenses. Both Avraham and Aflalo were at the time members of the Knesset Finance Committee, which was deliberating Agrexco's privatization. Only this month, after Lindenstrauss began pursuing them, did the deputy ministers see fit to reimburse Agrexco for the freebees. In principle, it should be noted, Lindenstrauss's predecessors were similarly dedicated to cleansing our public service. In fact it was Miriam Ben-Porat and her successor Eliezer Goldberg who launched the era of proactive, resolute and fearless crusades by the State Comptroller's Office. Ben-Porat was no less outspoken than Lindenstrauss and inspired no less apprehension among the subjects of her exhaustive probes. She also knew how to generate attention for her cases. Goldberg concentrated on some of the biggest scandals ever in this country's history, most notably Labor's intricate, unprecedented network of bogus NGOs to illicitly finance Ehud Barak's campaign in 1999. He also unearthed the illegal financing that year in Ariel Sharon's primary campaign. Goldberg didn't shrink from levying the heaviest fine ever on Labor (NIS 13.8 million). His problem - and that of all other comptrollers - is that even some of their most ambitious expos s died away in police custody or within the offices of the state prosecution. Goldberg's very detailed Barak NGO case was never prosecuted in earnest, despite ample evidence. Only two low-ranking campaign staffers were indicted. Barak and Isaac Herzog kept mum and weren't pressured. So far the Sharon case has only produced one minor charge against the prime minister's son Omri. Clearly - like his predecessors - what the energetic Lindenstrauss needs is more deterrent power. He will become a true force to contend with only if he is given real authority to follow-up his reports and to impose the punitive measures he recommends.