Tzipi Livni - Michal Fattal
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni. Photo by Michal Fattal
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Tomer Appelbaum
Haim Oron wrote it. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
Olivier Pitoussi
Coalition chairman Yariv Levin. Photo by Olivier Pitoussi

The Knesset House Committee will discuss a new code of ethics for Knesset members starting this morning, a code that garnered a great many objections from parliamentarians belonging to Kadima.

A subcommittee of the House Committee, headed by MK Haim Oron (New Movement-Meretz ), worked on writing the code for two years. The proposed ethical code was presented to MKs in January, and they have raised 90 objections, the majority of which have come from the Kadima faction. Many of the changes requested by Kadima will in effect emasculate important parts of new ethics code. The House Committee, headed by MK Yariv Levin (Likud ), will begin discussing the objections today.

The new code would allow the Knesset Ethics Committee to fine a Knesset member who violates provisions of the new code, but the objections, if accepted, would revoke this authority. Other parts of the code that would not take effect if the objections are accepted include the requirement that the Knesset legal advisor examines all the statements of assets from MKs, and the provision forbidding MKs from notifying lobbyists, or their clients, how they are planning to vote on an issue.

In general, the objections would reduce the various penalties on ethics violations. The code proposes to reveal the names of contributors and the amounts they gave for financing MKs' legal and medical expenses. Kadima's objections, presented by the party's legal advisor Sahar Pinto, would also change the composition of the present Ethics Committee, headed by MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor ).

Under the new rules, the Ethics Committee could dock an MK's wages for up to a month for violating ethics rules. Kadima, headed by Tzipi Livni. wants to cancel this provision completely: "The Ethics Committee, which is composed of politicians, must not be allowed to levy financial sanctions for ethical violations," states Kadima.

Other parts of the new code would allow the Ethics Committee to keep MKs who violated the rules from attending the Knesset plenum and committees, and keep them from speaking, for six months - but the MKs would be allowed to vote. Kadima has proposed limiting the maximum banishment to only six days.

Another provision would allow the Ethics Committee to ban MKs from asking official questions and presenting certain motions for the remainder of a Knesset term. The committee could also give similar suspended punishments, to be invoked if the MK later committed similar violations. Kadima, as well as the Shatil non-profit organization, objected to this section, saying it would prevent MKs from carrying out their duties and even voting, and in any case if adopted the periods involved must be shortened significantly. Kadima said it was not the Ethics Committee's business to deal with banning MKs from doing their work.

MKs would have to notify the Knesset speaker or committee chairpersons when they have a conflict of interest, and would need to request special permission to participate in a discussion or vote in such a case. Shatil wants this information made public on the Knesset website. Knesset sources think that unlikely.

MKs would also be required to use their budgets for maintaining contact with voters only for fulfilling their duties as MKs. Kadima wants to phrase the limitation to using the money for fulfilling their duties as a representative of the public.

Another dispute is over the proposed ban on accepting gifts - unless there is a reasonable explanation for the gift. Kadima wants to allow MKs to be able to receive gifts also in the context of a personal or family event or celebration. The proposed ethical code would require publishing a list of all such gifts on the Internet, but Kadima wants to stop publication of any list of gifts that MKs are allowed to receive.

Under another proposed provision, MKs would be banned from providing any sponsorship for business related events if they are fully or partially funded by private interests - or to assist in publicizing such events. Kadima wants to soften the limitations, calling them too broad, and even possibly cancel such limits.