Ministers Weaken Their Own Ethics Code

Neeman committee may exempt Neeman from own rules.

The ministerial committee on ethics is expected to hold its final meeting today on a new ethics code for ministers and draw up its final recommendations - which are expected to be less strict than a previous proposal.

The question of putting together an ethics code for ministers was given to the Shamgar Committee, headed by former Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar. The panel was established in June 2006 by the prime minister at the time, Ehud Olmert.

shamgar - Daniel Bar-On - December 14 2010
Daniel Bar-On

The committee's other members were professors Gabriela Shalev and Asa Kasher. In April 2008 the panel presented its proposed ethics code.

A year ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave the job of examining the Shamgar Committee's recommendations to the ministerial committee on ethics, headed by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman. The other members of this committee were Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov, Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz and Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor.

The ministerial committee met many times over the past year before reaching its own conclusions, which changed many of the Shamgar Committee's proposals. All the ministers' changes weakened the recommended restrictions.

Among the main changes made by the Neeman Committee was the removal of the sections requiring ministers to provide the state comptroller with a statement of their assets two months after leaving office, and to sell assets and securities only with the approval of the ethics committee.

The Shamgar Committee wanted asset sales to be made only by trustees without any intervention by the minister and his family. The Neeman Committee will only recommend that a trustee manage the minister's portfolio.

One major recommendation is that the ethics code not apply to ministers who are not Knesset members - for example, Neeman himself.

The Neeman Committee also made it much easier for ministers to accept gifts. The Shamgar Committee recommended that all gifts be banned, whether in the form of goods, services or other benefits, and regardless of whether they were given free or for a reduced price. The Neeman Committee will only require the reporting gifts that are entirely free. This will not be required for "reasonable gifts."

The new recommendations will allow ministers to conduct political activities with no restrictions, while the Shamgar Committee wanted their party activities to be restricted to those that do not interfere with their ability to carry out their jobs.

The new recommendations would also allow ministers to use state resources for election purposes.

Not all the ministers attended the sessions regularly, and sources say Neeman set the tone of the recommendations.

Yaakov Neeman.
Emil Salman

"Ministers need to adopt the ethics code proposed in 2008 by the Shamgar Committee without changing it," Shalev told TheMarker yesterday.

Shalev said she has not seen the proposed recommendations of the Neeman Committee, but "ministers as representatives of the public must set a personal example and need to accept a strict ethics code."

Kasher said the Neeman Committee did not meet even once with any of the members of the Shamgar Committee. He said he expected they would at least give them a chance to present their report.

MK Ruhama Avraham Balila (Kadima ) proposed a private member's bill that would establish the Shamgar Committee's recommendations as law, but it was defeated by the Knesset a few months ago. She said the refusal to accept the Shamgar Committee's recommendations "proves that the current government is not interested in operating according to an ethics code." Avraham Balila said she intended to reintroduce her bill.