Cabinet Secretary Zvika Hauser has decided to appoint a legal adviser for his own office - a post that never previously existed, and whose powers have not yet been determined.
The decision, which is vehemently opposed by the individual ministries' legal advisers, has received qualified support from Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who will leave office in a few days. Thus, incoming attorney general Yehuda Weinstein will essentially be presented with a fait accompli.
The ministry legal advisers fear the move will undermine their status. One senior legal official said that for Mazuz to approve such a controversial decision just days before his departure was improper.
A few days ago, Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander also approved the new post.
Until now, the cabinet secretary has received legal advice from the legal adviser to the Prime Minister's Office. But Hauser believes his office needs a full-time legal adviser of its own.
Initially, Hauser wanted the new post to have far-reaching powers. The cabinet secretary's legal adviser, he argued, should attend cabinet meetings, be able to make changes in the wording of resolutions submitted to the cabinet for approval, provide legal advice to ministerial committees and even criticize the legal advice given by the ministries' own legal advisers.
However, Mazuz did not agree to such far-reaching duties. In a letter to Hauser this week, he stressed that the cabinet secretary's legal adviser must be subordinate to the attorney general and his deputies, and his role should be confined to giving legal advice on matters within the cabinet secretary's purview.
Moreover, he wrote, the cabinet secretary's legal adviser cannot fill in for the attorney general, even if the latter is absent from a cabinet meeting on an issue on which the attorney general's legal opinion has been sought.
"The job of the cabinet secretary's legal adviser at cabinet meetings is to help the cabinet secretary do his job," the letter said. "To remove all doubt, it is not [the adviser's] job, or within his authority, to criticize legal opinions by the ministries' [legal advisers]."
The cabinet secretary's legal adviser may also not give legal advice to ministerial committees, Mazuz said, except on topics "that are not within the concrete responsibility of any ministry, and will therefore not undermine the work of the various ministries' legal advisers."
However, Mazuz's letter does not answer the question of precisely what the new legal adviser's responsibilities will be.
Even in the more limited form approved by Mazuz, the ministries' existing legal advisers are vehemently opposed to the new position. They fear it will set a precedent for various units within each ministry to appoint their own legal advisers, who would also answer directly to the attorney general, thereby circumventing the ministries' own legal advisers.
But a source at the Civil Service Commission said he could not understand this fear as, in fact, this precedent already exists. For instance, he noted, the Finance Ministry's wages division has its own legal adviser, and so does the Central Bureau of Statistics, which is attached to the Prime Minister's Office.
"All they really want is to make the cabinet secretary's job easier by enabling him to obtain better legal service," this source said.
But another senior official charged that the new post was created mainly due to "ego wars" between Hauser and the director general of the Prime Minister's Office, Eyal Gabai - "and the one who is paying the price is the office's legal adviser."
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