Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Principles of economy, efficiency, effectiveness, for sale. Hardly used.

'Off with their heads!' was a favourite cry of the Queen of Hearts.
So how many heads were chopped off following the publication of the latest State Comptroller's report?
Surely you must have read it. There was nothing else worth reading in the past week. "Fascinating, as usual", "a must-read", "couldn't put it down" – were just some of the reviews. "Couldn't pick it up" may be nearer the truth, as it is indeed a weighty tome.
But who exactly is this State Comptroller? I hear you ask. (You may only have been thinking it but I have exceptionally good hearing).
He is a Knesset-appointed position, and his (or her) role is to examine the activities of the executive branch of government (that means the government, not the judges, and not whether the politicians are behaving themselves). In particular he checks that the government has carried out its activities "in line with the principles of economy, efficiency, effectiveness and moral integrity." Well that may keep him busy for Sunday, Monday, possibly Tuesday until tea time, but what does he do the rest of the week?
So in his capacity as ombudsman, too, he is empowered to look into complaints against government offices, state institutions, local governments etc. Well that covers state-owned enterprises like the Israel Electric Corp., though I can't imagine him finding anything untoward there.

The appointment is traditionally filled by a retired judge. The incumbent, Micha Lindenstrauss, has had a very good stretch, building on the strength of one predecessor Miriam Ben Porat, who, despite her advanced age, was sharp as a button. While Ben Porat would write damaging reports, they were always about individual X or Y. I felt quite sorry for X and Y, constantly being blamed, though, if you believed the muck that was unearthed on them, they were nasty pieces of work. However as the miscreants were always hidden behind those innocent letters, nothing was ever corrected.

Lindenstrauss took a bold innovative move, and actually named the individuals in his reports so that lessons could be learnt. Last week he issued one of his last reports (before he retires later this year), which, as usual, is a wonderful document well worth reading while you're waiting for your train to turn up.
In it, he slammed the ministries of finance and transport for the cock-up (sorry, of course he used the more technical term, "balls-up") of the planning of the fast lane into Tel Aviv. The new fast lane was mistakenly placed in a central strip of the existing motorway into Tel Aviv, an area that was designated for a future additional rail track. The mistake will come back to haunt someone--we're not sure who, at this point--when we the taxpayers will have to pay millions of shekels to shift the fast lane somewhere else when they finally get around to adding the fourth rail track. The mistake was discovered years ago, and if someone had acted upon it then, the project could have been diverted before it had even begun.
Lindenstrauss also slammed some misdemeanors at Israel Railways (apparently one of their train drivers earned his qualification from his uncle at the company), at Mekorot, the national water monopoly, (for paying 8 times the market value for land in Ceasarea), and the government (for allowing two dominant corporations to dominate the desalinated water market, without thinking that this could create a dangerous dependence in a country which is thirsty for new sources of water.)

So surely you were knocked over by the number of heads that rolled after each of the Comptroller's reports?
Of course, no one's head rolled, or will roll, because none of our politicians has an individual interest to take up any of the cases.
Had we an electoral system with constituencies, we could each gang up on our local representatives and at least get some response, a question asked in Knesset. Someone would have to respond.
But while we may hope and dream that such a system will get here one day, at least we have something meaty to read: The State Comptroller's Annual Report 2012 available on, all 1804 pages. (I particularly enjoyed the joke in the penultimate paragraph on page 855).
Happy reading

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