The job of handling the state file on international oil arbitration, which the treasury was to give attorney Yoram Turbowicz, was redirected at the last moment to Dori Klagsbald, the personal attorney of Finance Minister Silvan Shalom, among others. The job nets a tidy fee of $450,000 a year.
Shalom's involvement in transferring the brief from Turbowicz to Klagsbald creates unease - although not because of the choice of attorney. His competitors describe Klagsbald as one of the greatest litigation experts in the country, and professionally, he is considered a good candidate. His role in this saga is that of bystander, and all questions should be directed to Shalom's office.
The unease is over the way the minister overrode a decision by his professional team. This may be the right of whoever carries responsibility for treasury decisions, but this apparently was a matter that required no political input. A more serious problem is a minister getting involved in a job decision concerning a lawyer who is also his personal attorney.
The state using private experts in specialist fields is nothing new - the public interest requires that in certain circumstances the very best experts in the field should be chosen from the private sector to represent the state.
Other cases call for experts with specialized experience in delicate, sensitive assignments. The pool of such experts is limited, yet their expertise is so vast that they almost certainly will be advising senior politicians in private as well as public matters.
There's the rub. To have the same person mixing private and public services gives rise to innuendo, suspicion, and doubts that the minister or the appointing officer have exercised their best judgment.
Ministers and their civil servants wield enormous power in granting work to professionals, even when the fees do not come from state funds - and with it comes a potential for problematic relations. This could be prevented, theoretically, by legislating to have tenders for every external contract, but this would clearly be cumbersome. It would reduce the free working of the public service, and in some cases would expose sensitive matters to the public gaze, when it would be more appropriate to keep quiet.
So the correct way to reduce the potential for a conflict of interest while maintaining the civil service's freedom to make professional appointments, would be to improve the transparency of external appointments, and reduce the involvement of politicians in the process.
If a government body or public institution were to report on the appointment of an external professional in an orderly fashion - providing full media disclosure on the chosen individual and those behind the choice - then this would at least be a signal to unelected officials, and would shed some light on the process of selection.
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