Inertia Sinks in

The Herziliya Conference opened with an all-out attack on the government. It turns out, however, that the bureaucratic echelon is also in crisis.

The Herziliya Conference opened with an all-out attack on the government. Teva chairman Eli Horowitz said: "I don't know whether it is necessary to fire a leader for losing a war, but I am convinced a leader should be fired for arrogance." Was he referring to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert or to Defense Minister Amir Peretz, or perhaps to both of them? Bank Hapoalim chairman Shlomo Nehama said there is "a feeling of dissatisfaction with the functioning of the governing system."

They were kicking political corpses. A broken governing system. And a prime minister under attack from every direction: a police investigation, the Winograd Committee, the state comptroller, the accountant general, a non-functioning coalition, a plunge in public opinion polls and Kadima Knesset members who want to replace him.

And the defense minister? He is busy only with his own survival, both in his job and within his party. The defense establishment has no faith in him, nor does the general public. All of his energy goes in one direction: a victory in the May primaries.

The status of Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson is also shaky. He suffered a harsh blow as a result of his struggle with Yaron Zelekha, who made himself the great fighter against corruption. The investigation of top people in the Tax Authority has also affected Hirchson, and Olmert didn't help his authority when he bypassed him in the matter of Bank of Israel salaries. Now he is waiting for the police investigation of embezzlement in the Nili nonprofit.

The result is paralysis among the ministers and their ministries. After all, it is impossible to plan anything, impossible to implement and reform or change when the prime minister, the defense minister and the finance minister are busy with survival. Every change requires approval, and this can't be had nowadays.

Our political system is sick. It suffers from the plague of political appointments that defiled everything they touched. In 1992, Dan Meridor tried to halt the plague. He initiated a change in the law, stipulating that for the appointment of a party member to be approved, it must be confirmed that he or she has "special qualifications."

This little condition caused a revolution in the human makeup of the party central committees. Suddenly it wasn't worthwhile to be a central committee member. Membership became an obstacle where it used to be a personal trump card. So a process began of transferring the "asset" to a family member: a wife, a son, an uncle. But they were less active, and in the party central committees, especially in the Likud, a vacuum was created, which was filled - for the first time in the history of the country - by criminal elements, crime families, real felons, who became the ministers' "soldiers in the field." Thus, the map of the Knesset changed, too. For the first time, in the 2003 Knesset, we saw representatives of crime families and Knesset members of a particularly low level.

In addition, the Knesset members' pension terms eroded so the more talented among them can earn more outside the House. The media reality in which only populist and extremist voices are heard has also distanced from the Knesset good people of good conscience like Moshe Shahal, Uzi Baram, Eli Goldschmidt, Uri Savir and Nahum Langenthal. The stature of our parliamentarians is diminishing.

And when politics is sick, rescue can come only from one source: the civil service. It is the senior officials who should strengthen the civil service. They should be the pillars of the ministries. They should provide continuity and stability, so the government can continue to serve the public when the ministers are paralyzed, under investigation or replaced.

It turns out, however, that the bureaucratic echelon is also in crisis. The investigation of alleged corruption at the Tax Authority is freezing its work. Senior officials say they are avoiding making decisions - because that's dangerous nowadays.

In the prevailing atmosphere of corruption, the state comptroller, the accountant general or the attorney general is liable to attack any decision. The system has become a pressure cooker of fears. Appointments are delayed. No tax assessments are made. The work is frozen. And here, too, as in the political system, the level of the top people has declined. Here, too, there's erosion of salaries and pensions while the private sector offers so much more. The good people are afraid to come in, and those who do, when they retire at the end of their term, face a cooling-off period of a year. This imposed delay is fine, but they aren't paid any salary during that year. On what are they supposed to live?

It could be that this setup is pushing some of them into corrupt deeds during their terms in order to prepare something for the drought year. Even a senior official needs to live on something.

In recent weeks, work meetings at the Finance Ministry have become uneasy social get-togethers. Instead of discussing tasks and taking decisions, people there are talking about those under investigation and the investigations. The ministries exist only because of inertia. The feeling is that it is better not to make waves. It is better not to decide. So there will not be anything to investigate. The main thing is to get home safely.