'Defense Ministry keeping lawmakers in the dark about West Bank construction laws'
Refusal to answer lawmakers' queries violates the law, Knesset research center says.
The Defense Ministry is withholding information from the Knesset in violation of the law and preventing oversight of its operations, Knesset members and staff from the Knesset's Research and Information Center contend.
For over a year, for example, the ministry has not provided parliament with information regarding enforcement of planning and building laws in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, they said. In another instance, the ministry failed to provide details about the ministry's budget, reportedly because Defense Minister Ehud Barak's bureau chief was angered by the Knesset's involvement in the matter.
An investigation by the Knesset found that the Defense Ministry properly responded to only a quarter of the requests it received from MKs or Knesset committees.
Of the 28 requests filed in the period reviewed, the ministry failed to respond at all to six of them for about a year. But a 2008 law requires all government ministries to respond to such requests without delay, unless doing so would endanger the country's security or involve an unreasonable allocation of resources.
In response to the complaint, the ministry said: "The questions from the Knesset Research and Information Center are usually complex and require the Defense Ministry to approach a number of parties in the Israel Defense Forces and the defense establishment for responses. The assistant to the defense minister, Ruth Bar, contacts the IDF and various parties in the defense establishment immediately, without delay, to obtain the data when questions are received from the Knesset Research and Information Center.
"As soon as the answers are received, they are sent to the Knesset. But the data is not always available and many resources are required to respond to the questions."
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, however, was unimpressed, voicing outrage at the ministry's unresponsiveness. "The Knesset is not just a legislative authority," he said. "It monitors and oversees the government's activities in real time" - and indeed, is obligated to do so, he added. "The defense minister deals with the State of Israel's most sensitive issues, but that does not detract from his obligation to respect the Knesset's role."
Knesset sources fingered Bar, Barak's assistant, as the person responsible for the delays. Last week, MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union ) filed a complaint with the Civil Service Commission against her.
Eldad charged that Bar had held up information he requested for over a year and then, in violation of law, conditioned provision of the information on disclosure of the identity of the Knesset member requesting it. In another instance, he said, Bar dragged her feet in confirming the participation of the former chief of Military Intelligence, Amos Yadlin, at a conference Eldad organized at the Knesset last week. As a result, he said, Yadlin had to cancel his attendance.
Last week, Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon took up the issue with his counterpart at the Defense Ministry. The Defense Ministry's handling of such inquiries, he wrote in his letter, was in marked contrast to other ministries, which are much more responsive.
Bar rejected the criticism of her conduct, saying it was without foundation. She detailed the 28 requests received since November 2009 and how each was handled, noting that of the dozens of requests received, she responded to "the vast majority."
"We expend considerable effort to respond by bringing together data from many different parties in the system," she added.