Text size

On the invitation to the annual conference of accountant general's department, it was stated "in the presence of the finance minister," but Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson didn't even dream of coming. He is in the midst of a struggle with his accountant general, Yaron Zelekha. Quite a bad situation for the minister, for the public and for the country's economy.

Zelekha has made it his aim to exterminate corruption in the government. This has become a dybbuk for him. This was also the main subject on which he spoke on Tuesday at the conference. From the podium, he related that he had received threats from "the son of a senior politician" - he was referring to Omri Sharon - who told him that his "head is in danger."

About two months ago, Zelekha submitted a complaint to the state comptroller about Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, with regard to the tender for the sale of Bank Leumi. In other words, Zelekha is not afraid of anyone. He aims as high as possible.

Zelekha did not start his wars when he took on Olmert, but rather long before that, immediately after he was appointed to his position. He discovered that when very wealthy people submit a bid for a government tender, they make an urealistically high offer, and then immediately after winning they come with up with strange and varied complaints to the accountant general. The latter then enters into negotiations with them and improves the contract, to their benefit. From the point of view of those businesspeople, the tender isn't the end point, but rather a basis for negotiations.

Therefore the powerful and well-connected Ofer family was astonished when the accountant general demanded of it that it stick by the conditions of a tender word for word. It won the tender for building a power station at Ramat Hovav, but wanted to improve the remittances from the government. And Zelekha, instead of entering into negotiations, canceled the tender and confiscated a deposit of NIS 35 million from the family. No one, even if he is fabulously wealthy, likes to lose NIS 35 million in five minutes. Thus his first powerful haters arose. After that Zelekha discovered that for years now the state had not examined contracts with suppliers, so that tens of thousands of contracts were renewed automatically every year. Zelekha, a well-known disciple of tenders, ordered that new tenders be issued. And wonder of wonders, prices dropped by about 30 percent, and the state saved billions. Of course at that same opportunity his haters were joined by lawyers, accountants and suppliers who had worked with the state for 10 years without a tender, and lost the bonanza all at once.

Then the accountant general's people examined the whole area of allocations. These are budgets that government ministries (especially the education ministry) transfer to institutions, yeshivas, kollels (yeshivas for married men), extra-curricular programs and non-profit associations. In the reviews, they discovered lies, incomplete reporting and unequal allocations of money. These institutions also joined his haters.

There was another surprising finding: It emerged that the state, which every year pays out a net of NIS 60 million (salaries and pensions), has never audited in depth the 300,000 pay slips it issues. And when a review was done, it turned out that some of the payments were mistaken, excessive, deviant and even illegal. It also turned out that the state, no more and no less, is a tax evader. It transfers directly to the bank accounts of its employees stipends, per diem expenses, vehicle subsidies and subsidized loans without deducting tax as required by law. Correcting the situation brought another several million shekels a year into the state's coffers, and all of the government employees joined the circle of hatred. Currently Zelekha is involved in a series of world-embracing struggles. He is fighting, rightly, for the fast implementation of the Bank Yahav tender to provide banking services to state employees. He is at loggerheads with the director general of the Prime Minister's Office because Zelekha wants to appoint an accountant of his own choosing for the office, and this is his full right. He is opposed to the re-establishment of the Small Businesses Authority at the Industry Ministry, fertile ground for Olmert's political appointments when he was the minister of industry, and he is also fighting fictive (in part) recovery plans that have been proposed by the budget division for the local councils. Therefore it is clear why the senior people at the finance ministry can't really stand him. Zelekha is not right about everything, but most of his struggles are correct. The state really does need a thorough cleaning. It is true that it is hard to work with him and it is true that he is full of himself, and there are those who say he is arrogant. But no one is perfect. His virtues are more abundant than his faults.