Analysis

Breaking With Tradition, Israel's State Comptroller Won't Examine Coronavirus Crisis in Real Time

Insider sources also say the state comptroller, a Netanyahu pick, has softened a number of reports due to come out on Monday

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman at a conference in Jerusalem, February 2020.
State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman at a conference in Jerusalem, February 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

Unlike his predecessors, Israel's state comptroller has decided not to monitor the government's response to the coronavirus pandemic as it unfolds, Haaretz has found.

This comes as insider sources say a number of reports into state activities due to come out on Monday have undergone “shortening and softening” by State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman, a Netanyahu pick, in a way that is seen as favorable to the executive.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 70

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Among the reports carefully edited by Englman is one dealing with various aspects of the Prime Minister’s Office's operations. Sources said Englman’s efforts to keep the fire away from the political echelon can clearly be seen, and that no one specific is blamed for the problems cited. Englman’s associates counter that he is simply a careful editor who goes over every word of the drafts to make sure the text reflects reality as he sees it.

The report on how the health system deals with disease outbreaks is expected to attract the most attention, although it was compiled and its release date set long before the coronavirus crisis.

The unfolding of events in the coronavirus crisis should, in theory, provide the comptroller with an excellent opportunity to examine the government's response and decision-making in real time. Since this is a global crisis the duration of which remains unclear, the immediate gathering of data could help the state draw interim conclusions on how to handle such crises, certainly if there is another outbreak of the virus later this year or next year.

This doesn’t seem to be Englman’s approach. Employees in his office were sent on a 15-day leave a short time after the coronavirus crisis erupted, just like all others in government jobs. Some 75 percent of the employees were furloughed to protect their health and on grounds that activity in all the ministries had been severely curtailed.

While the comptroller himself is in his office most of the day, others are dealing primarily with reports that have already been compiled, with sources saying that no visible move is being made to collect information connected to the coronavirus crisis. Englman’s associates say he believes auditing should be covert and that he won’t relate to any steps he is or isn’t taking in real time.

Englman’s approach differs markedly from that of his predecessors. Micha Lindenstrauss, who was known as a very proactive comptroller, insisted on investigating the Second Lebanon War of 2006 even as it was still going on. The comptroller’s Haifa bureau was open and operating during the war, even as rockets fell on the city.

In March 2007, Lindenstrauss rushed out his comprehensive and devastating report on the failures on the Home Front Command, because he understood that preparations for another operation might lead to another war, which could have serious consequences. That operation turned out to be the attack on Syria’s nuclear reactor in September of that year. In the end, Syria refrained from retaliating. Lindenstrauss also jumped in to investigate the Carmel fire disaster in 2009.

His successor, Joseph Shapira, also hurried to examine aspects of Operation Protective Edge in 2014 as the operation was winding down, to Netanyahu’s dismay.

Asked for comment, the State Comptroller’s Office said that “in accordance with instructions from the cabinet, and like the rest of the public sector, the State Comptroller’s Office, starting from last Wednesday, moved to emergency regulations and adapted to only completing those auditing assignments that can proceed. The comptroller’s office is committed to serving as an example, and to the health and welfare of its employees and their families. Comptroller’s Report 70a is scheduled to be released on Monday as per the law. The State Comptroller’s Office only addresses the results of its audits only after they are released to the public.”

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