Estates of the Realm: Bill Seeks to Require MKs to Disclose Finances

Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich wants to inject transparency into a Knesset regulation whereby lawmakers are required to submit declaration of assets, liabilities and other interests.

Some of the 53 new members of the Knesset have been running around recently in an effort to put together the declarations of assets that the parliamentary Ethics Committee requires that they submit by April 5. The deadline is the result of a rule that requires all Knesset members to submit such a declaration within 60 days of their election.

The statement requires that they declare assets, other interests and liabilities that they and other members of their families have. So far so good, but in practice the declarations get buried in a safe somewhere and in all probability never see the light of day. And the rules don’t require that they be made public without a court order.

Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich said she will be introducing a bill after Passover that would inject transparency into the process. In the last Knesset term, she introduced similar legislation, but it never made it to a vote due to the opposition it engendered.

Yacimovich agreed to provide TheMarker with her own updated financial disclosure statement, which she submitted last week to the Ethics Committee. The major asset that she disclosed is a four-room apartment adjacent to the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv, which in her 2009 statement she said she had bought for about NIS 300,000 subject to a mortgage with a term ending 2015. She estimates the value of the apartment at NIS 2 million. She has another NIS 472,000 in other financial accounts in addition to NIS 378,000 in pension funds, but no securities. She said her balance on her mortgage is NIS 207,000 and she is also carrying a NIS 15,000 bank overdraft
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Currently no one in parliament has oversight responsibility for what is declared in the disclosure statements, whether the declarations are properly filled out, and whether the MKs have actually declared all of the assets that they were required to disclose. Beyond that, when Knesset members are reelected, no one checks to see whether their financial circumstances have changed substantially. Although the rules require MKs to disclose substantial shifts in their financial status, there is no one to inquire about the cause of the change when MKs disclose that their finances have changed.

The Knesset rules requiring the financial disclosure statements provide that the information is confidential. Even a court order disclosing the contents is only possible when there is a suspicion of criminal conduct. Nonetheless, no one expressed any interest in the disclosure statement of Abraham Hirchson, the former Knesset Finance Committee chairman and former finance minister, who in 2009 was convicted of stealing more than a million shekels from the National Workers Labor Federation. He was also convicted of aggravated fraud, corporate breach of trust, money laundering and registration of false corporate documents.

If they wish to, the 53 new Knesset members could, with the help of just a few more veteran colleagues, inject transparency into the system. One of those newcomers, the leader of the Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid, made it a campaign theme to ask where the money is. Now he can disclose his own wealth. He and his party colleague Jacob Perry are considered relatively well to do, as is Labor Party MK Erel Margalit and Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett.

New Labor Party MK Miki Rosenthal, who is a former journalist, has already submitted a bill that would require public financial disclosure from the prime minister, cabinet members and Knesset members. Independently Rosenthal promised to disclose his own finances. His bill would require that the information be submitted to the state comptroller and then posted on the Internet and would include the sources of the wealth.

“Disclosure of the sources of the wealth of elected officials,” Rosenthal said, “is designed to increase transparency and the public’s confidence in the system of government.” The new MK, who was vocal on the issue as a journalist, said the link between the fight against corruption and disclosure of the sources of wealth has been proven in a number of studies around the world. “The World Bank has recently decided to promote legislation on the subject as an effective tool in the fight against corruption, “ he added.

Haim Taragan