If the Govt Beats Zelekha, We Lose

A few years ago, the accountant-general at the time, Nir Gilad, went to war against the Defense Ministry. He stubbornly insisted on appointing it an accountant who would be subject to the treasury, not to Defense. What he really wanted to achieve, was to penetrate the wall behind which the Defense Ministry behaved like an independent country, meaning, without any supervision, including over its gigantic budget.

The Defense Ministry was horrified and fought back. Gilad, undeterred, recruited the cabinet, which ruled that Defense had to allow the Finance Ministry to appoint it an accountant.

Even then, almost two years passed before an external auditor finally stepped through Defense's defenses.

Even then, we learn, the government of Israel understood the importance of having independent auditors at its own branches.  It even forced the most important ministry of them all, Defense, to bow before that need.

Yet the present government is considering a motion originating at the Prime Minister's Office, to usurp the power of the treasury's accountant-general to appoint auditors to the ministries and government offices. It is considering the idea of making the auditors subject to the ministries at which they work, instead of to the Finance Ministry. It is, to sum up, thinking of ending their independence.

The Prime Minister's Office is promoting the idea despite some flabby resistance by the finance minister, who for example does not deny intentions of taking the power, to appoint auditors, from the accountant-general and giving it to some other treasury clerk, who is not the accountant-general.

What changed in these few years, to make the government change its mind? Nothing, only the personalities involved.

Back then the accountant-general was Nir Gilad. Everybody liked him. Today the accountant-general is Yaron Zelekha. Nobody can stand him. That's reason enough, evidently, for the government to change its policy spots.

Anything to swat the pest

In Zelekha's disfavor it has to be said, that he has created so many enemies for himself, who hate him so profoundly, that they're prepared to undermine the very foundations of government, just to hurt him personally. It is regretful that Zelekha attracts so much firepower that even the achievements of his predecessors are in danger.

In the disfavor of his enemies, they are prepared in their blind hatred to do just about anything to hurt him, and never mind the price the nation will pay.

Our government is behaving like that story of the Jew who's willing to pluck out his eye, as long as his neighbor loses both of his. The Prime Minister's Office, with some form of assistance from the finance minister, is so busy stabbing Zelekha's eyes that it hasn't bothered itself to wonder whether it's plucking out our eyes too.

It is sobering to learn what the real interests moving our leaders are. It certainly is not edifying. It is especially hard to take cheer after considering an inherent conflict of interest in the accountant-general's job.

The accountant-general is responsible for managing government spending. He is therefore key to the team managing the national budget, which his naturally the topmost team at the treasury.

However, the accountant-general is also the auditor of the state books. As such, he must be independent, not part of the team managing the national budget.

How do these conflicting jobs go together? They do not, which explains a lot of the friction between Zelekha and his colleagues at the Finance Ministry. They'd like him to be a team member like his predecessors were; he sees himself as an independent auditor who must not be part of the treasury team.

The result is constant collision.

It is bizarre that the inherent conflict in the accountant-general's job is only coming to light now, because of the unique (and awkward) personality of Yaron Zelekha. It is worrying to see how the government contends with the discovery. Instead of reaching the obvious conclusion that the two jobs conflict, and that what it needs is two different people to do them, the state is busy jousting with Zelekha the national auditor. As we said, it is a sobering conclusion, and not an edifying one.