High Court ruling could bring an end to oversight
The process of appointing the comptroller is problematic, and it would be best to transfer it to a selection committee.
The High Court of Justice is due to decide tomorrow whether State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss must hand over to Col. Erez Weiner all the evidence against him in the so-called Harpaz affair. Weiner, who was the top aide to former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, was sharply criticized in Lindenstrauss' draft report into the affair, which involved an alleged attempt to influence the selection of Ashkenazi's successor.
Lindenstrauss, who was taken aback by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein's support of Weiner, had hoped to prevent a precedent-setting ruling that would force him to give those he investigates all the material collected against them. Eventually, he withdrew from his original sweeping opposition, handing over large sections of the evidence to Weiner who, however, did not make do with that and petitioned the court.
The material includes documents from polygraph examinations of Weiner and of Yoni Koren, the bureau chief of Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The polygraph cleared Weiner but Koren's was not conclusive.
Weiner is fighting for his rights. Lindenstrauss has warned that this will put an end to state oversight, which names those responsible for mishaps. The Weiner precedent, he believes, will deter witnesses in the future, who will not believe promises of immunity. In addition, if every person examined is to receive all material relating to them, it will take years to complete every report.
In this situation, the outgoing comptroller, who is completing his final month after seven years in the position, has no one to blame but himself. When he began to probe the relations between Barak and Ashkenazi, he was tempted to adopt Barak's line about Lt. Col. Boaz Harpaz's alleged forgery of a document in an attempt to influence the selection process for chief of staff. But the Harpaz affair was a product of the two men's bad relations, not the instigator of them. Lindenstrauss adopted Barak's line despite the fact that when he weighed up nine key events in the murky relationship between the two, he came down more on Ashkenazi's side.
The comptroller also chose to listen to recorded conversations between Harpaz and Weiner about Barak and, when he did so, could not believe his ears. In effect, during these conversations Harpaz plays the role of an experienced stool pigeon who, with an all-knowing tone, extracts information from his interlocutor and a moment later sells it back to him. Since the recorded telephone calls did not yield any conversations between Harpaz and Barak's bureau, the comptroller refrained from listening to other conversations with Barak's aides. He thus prevented himself from being able to decide whether they were talking about Ashkenazi in a similar vein.
And since Lindenstrauss did not demand that Barak transfer discussion about Weiner's advancement to another minister - although the defense minister was personally and emotionally involved - he pushed Weiner against the wall. The more Lindenstrauss' joint front with Barak tightened, the more the state comptroller's status was harmed.
The state prosecution is also partly responsible for the current complications. It announced last spring that the indictment against Harpaz would be ready "within two weeks." While it was dragging its feet, new material arrived at the State Comptroller's Office that shifted the investigation in a new direction - one that included stimulating material but was lacking in substantive significance: the recordings of the conversations between Harpaz and Weiner.
Nevertheless, most of the responsibility still lies with the comptroller himself, whose strange delay after sending out the draft report, and whose even stranger reasoning - the aggressive nature of Harpaz's response to the draft - caused him to change his tone and find a criminal dimension in the Harpaz-Weiner talks.
The outgoing head of the division of the State Comptroller's Office that oversees the Defense Ministry, Yaakov Orr, will continue to deal with the Harpaz file even when his successor is appointed. Orr has upgraded the status of this position in the comptroller's office. The position was recently offered to deputy Chief of Staff Dan Harel.
Lindenstrauss has brought glory to the institution of the state comptroller in four areas - providing oversight, acting as ombudsman for the public, monitoring the funding of parties, and creating a code of behavior for cabinet ministers - but this power has not yet been accompanied by suitable restraint of the kind imposed on the police. It would be preferable if future candidates for the post would not be judges who need to curry favor with politicians. The process of appointing the comptroller is problematic, and it would be best to transfer it to a selection committee in the format of the committees that appoint the attorney general and the state prosecutor.
Meanwhile the incoming comptroller, Yosef Shapira, will no doubt learn the lessons from Lindenstrauss' achievements - and from his mistakes.