Dueling watchdogs

Lindenstrauss should have let his report do the talking for him.

lindenstrauss 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
lindenstrauss 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
There is no doubt that State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss has correctly perceived the public's frustration over the recent burgeoning of government corruption, and his determination to combat this scourge is admirable. But given this week's headlines trumpeting the wrangling between Lindenstrauss and Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander over alleged corrupt practices, we would do well to remember that the State Comptroller's Office is also responsible for uncovering detrimental and wasteful practices in our public institutions, improprieties which can have a far greater impact on our daily lives. The highly public airing of disagreements between Lindenstrauss and Hollander was an unseemly business that diminished the standing of both their offices. Accused of tailoring a senior position at the CSC to match the qualifications of his personal assistant and of upgrading the job to that of deputy director-general after the assistant got it without a public tender, Hollander shot back with allegations of bias against him by the state comptroller's investigative team, and charged that the SCO had acted as investigator, prosecutor and hangman. Hollander should not have made his grievances public - and certainly not before the report was published - while Lindenstrauss should have let his report do the talking for him, rather than snapping back at Hollander via the media. But behind the unbecoming bickering there were issues of substance that must be addressed. The first of these is Hollander's assertion that the SCO has too much power in the way it investigates and publicly reports its findings. In effect he was asking, "Who oversees the overseer?" But the Knesset State Audit Committee oversees the SCO's report, allowing those accused an opportunity to explain their side of the issues. The High Court of Justice is also available to them. A second and more important issue concerns the SCO's credibility, which Hollander impugned. If the SCO is to be at all effective, it must act with integrity at all times. Presumably Lindenstrauss is well aware of this requirement and would not publish accusations without reasonable grounds. Anything less would render the work of his office counterproductive and toothless. In fact, Lindenstrauss' approach since he took over the SCO last June has been designed precisely to give his office the "teeth" it was previously lacking. To that end he has delivered a steady stream of reports on current issues, rather than leaving them to fade from public consciousness by the time they are mentioned in the SCO's biannual report. This policy deserves support, given the numerous indiscretions and lapses that have been reported in the past, only to be ignored and allowed to fester because new issues had already overtaken them. There is, however, a trade-off between relatively frequent reports that address problems in a timely manner and biannual reports which allow for in-depth investigation. While "real time" reports could help restore the highest values on which our democracy must be built, they must not be produced at the expense of improper or incomplete investigatory practices. Meanwhile, the SCO's biannual report, which was made public on Tuesday and was overshadowed by the Lindenstrauss-Hollander dispute, pointed out a number of grave problems. It noted that the National Road Safety Association, created to facilitate interministerial and interorganizational collaboration in preventing accidents, has failed to meet its goals because, among other things, it wasn't given the proper tools and performs no oversight of the Transportation Ministry's investment in safety infrastructure projects. With hundreds of Israelis dying on the roads each year, these problems are no less a fiasco than corruption, and they must be addressed. Lives are also being endangered - and lost - because of poor management in the Health Ministry, which was cited for doing little to expand radiotherapy facilities despite years of experts' recommendations and evidence showing them to be a most effective weapon against malignant tumors. The State Comptroller's Office, by addressing such issues, can be a cornerstone of Israeli democracy, helping to ensure accountability and transparency in public administration. However, this can only be done if it is encouraged to carry out its charge while balancing the speed and thoroughness of its investigations - without engaging in public quarrels - and if the public and government are serious about following up on its findings.