Zelekha: Health Ministry Tailored Tender for Rambam Treasurer

Health rebuts that it acted properly, civil service said it forgot the rules it agreed to itself

The Health Ministry broke the rules by bypassing the Finance Ministry when choosing a treasurer for Rambam Hospital in Haifa, charges Finance Ministry accountant-general Yaron Zelekha.

Zelekha described his suspicions in a letter sent a month ago to Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander.

The letter seems to have triggered a new low in the spat between the Finance and Health ministries: yesterday the media reported that people at the health minister's bureau are trying to organize a protest against Zelekha by other ministries as well.

Rambam is Israel's third-biggest government hospital. It receives NIS 800 million in government support a year. Under the rules, the job of treasurer must be fulfilled through a tender process, and the treasurers are professionally subject to the accountant-general of the Health Ministry (who is the Finance Ministry's representative at Health).

That accountant-general is the main way that Finance can supervise the financial doings at Health, and at the government hospitals.

Damning report

After a damning report by the State Comptroller three years ago, the civil service commissioner and the Finance Ministry agreed that the Health Ministry accountant-general (ie, the Finance Ministry man) would head the Tenders Committee that chooses treasurers for government hospitals.

They also agreed that if the Health Ministry accountant-general could for any reason not chair the Tenders Committee, he would be replaced by another representative of the Finance Ministry accountant-general.

Yet the Health Ministry accountant-general, Eran Horen, discovered one day in June 2006, by coincidence, that the Tenders Committee was convening that day to choose a treasurer for Rambam. Neither Horen or the accountant-general of the Finance Ministry had been notified that the tender was taking place.

The Health Ministry handled the tender for Rambam by itself, bypassing the Finance Ministry. The formal need for a Finance Ministry representative at the committee was technically fulilled by summoning a junior employee of the accountant-general's office in northern Israel.

Upon learning that the Health Ministry was convening the Tenders Committee that day, Finance contacted the civil service commissioner, Hollander, who halted the tender, and enabled Finance to send a proper representative to the committee.

The committee was presented with only one candidate, Ziv Sharon, who at the time was acting treasurer at Rambam. All the committee members supported Sharon's candidacy, with the exception of the Finance Ministry representative.

After that, Zelekha demanded that Hollander investigate the Health Ministry's conduct. The civil service inquiry found that the human resources manager at the Health Ministry, Dan Fast, had decided not to allow the Health Ministry accountant-general to sit on the Tenders Committee. Fast explained that he felt the Health Ministry accountant-general wanted a crony of his to man the Rambam treasury, and even after that woman was disqualified for the post, he fretted that the Health Ministry accountant-general would be biased against Ziv Sharon.

In response, Zelekha wrote to Hollander that any reasonable person reading the allegations understands that Fast was in fact admitting that he had created a structural bias on the tenders committee by eliminating the Finance Ministry influence, in order to push through Sharon's candidacy. "The civil service cannot ignore that fact," Zelekha wrote.

Zelekha added that if Fast had suspected a conflict of interest, he would have asked the Finance Ministry accountant-general to appoint somebody else to the Tenders Committee.

Hollander did look into the matter at Zelekha's behest, but the committee he examined was the one after the Finance Ministry had replaced the junior from the north with a proper representative. The commissioner concluded that the Tenders Committee had acted properly.

Zelekha rejected that conclusion and asked Hollander to reopen the examination of the Health Ministry's conduct.

In answer to TheMarker, the Civil Service said it had not known that the Health Ministry had conducted the tender behind the Health Ministry accountant-general's back. It admitted to having forgotten the agreement from 2004, that hospital treasurers would be chosen by a Tenders Committee chaired by the Health Ministry director-general.

The Health Ministry commented that the issue had been investigated by the deputy civil service commissioner and by the legal counsel of the civil service, who concluded that the Health Ministry had acted properly.