In praise of accountability

The state comptroller's unremitting resolve is largely responsible for the seriousness with which his reports are taken.

Lindenstrauss 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Lindenstrauss 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Last week State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss set yet another record: He produced the thickest-ever annual report. Spanning 1,514 pages, this year's 59-topic, two-volume set is unrivalled in range as well as length. (The previous one was 400 pages shorter.) Lindenstrauss vowed his findings wouldn't be allowed to gather dust on forgotten shelves. Comptrollers' reports indeed are notorious for creating a media stir for a day or two, then disappearing from the public agenda, no matter how distressing their content. But Lindenstrauss is a comptroller of another breed and his tenacity has made him enemies in high places. President Shimon Peres sought to bar him from Beit Hanassi last winter and deny him the access essential to inspect the presidential administration. In the face of Lindenstrauss's doggedness, Peres offered to hire his own auditors. Lindenstrauss refused to back down. This was a minor hiccup in comparison to his outright feud with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who insists that Lindenstrauss is an antagonistic publicity-hound out to get him. Olmert refuses to meet with the comptroller, even if only to avail himself of the right of rebuttal. He has rejected contact with or questioning by Lindenstrauss, except in writing, even when this involved so crucial an investigation as the preparedness - or lack thereof - of the home front during the Second Lebanon War. Just a few days ago the same quasi-boycott was repeated regarding Lindenstrauss's probe into how various governments, including Olmert's, have dealt with the Jonathan Pollard affair. LESSER comptrollers than Lindenstrauss might have been daunted by such hostility, but Lindenstrauss perseveres - as the very harsh report he presented to the Knesset attests. Some chapters make for extremely important reading, helping to explain his lack of popularity among some leading politicians and bureaucrats. A case in point is his focus on the sham to which the much-hyped rehabilitation of the north was reduced. The government authorized NIS 4 billion to repair damage and encourage growth in the region battered during the 2006 war. Lindenstrauss found that no more than NIS 2.8b was allocated. The rest came from private donations. Lindenstrauss was critical of the state's dependence on philanthropic largesse for "what should be highest on the scale of priorities." For "a government to fail to spearhead a rehabilitation drive is nothing less than improper," he judged. But that's almost the smallest failing in this episode. The comptroller discovered that no governmental authority had any inkling about the amount of contributions, how they were disbursed, and where. There was no central control and no accountability. It wasn't just a matter of shoddy bookkeeping. Lindenstrauss determined that sums earmarked to rebuild the north were used as an all-purpose fund from which monies were siphoned off for a variety of objectives unconnected with their designated purpose. Thus what should have been invested in the north ended up, in some instances, in western Negev communities barraged by Gazan rockets. It's not that the south doesn't deserve assistance, but that the same (inadequate and inaccurately advertised) amounts were juggled about for assorted beneficiaries, though the government boasts about separate aid packages. As a result, the much-anticipated reconstruction project "faded and its influence is hardly felt," Lindenstrauss concluded. DESPITE THE inclination to downplay the practical impact of the comptroller's reports, the fact is that his findings aren't routinely ignored. For instance, Lindenstrauss's staffers, scrutinizing Olmert's Cremieux Street house purchase, confiscated computerized records from the PM's office. As they pored over these, they uncovered evidence that triggered the current Talansky affair investigation. Similarly, Lindenstrauss's predecessor, Eliezer Goldberg, exposed Ehud Barak's bogus NGOs, exploited to funnel funds illicitly to his 1999 campaign, and Ariel Sharon's analogous, though smaller-scale transgression that same year. It's getting ever more difficult to consign such revelations to oblivion. "Our reports are increasingly acted upon. There is obviously room for improvement, but also considerable change for the better," Lindenstrauss stated. Publicity-hound or not, much of the credit for the seriousness with which his reports are taken must go to the state comptroller's unremitting resolve.