Jerusalem Meet Addresses Corruption

Large public conferences along the lines of that in Caesarea are multiplying. Following the Sderot and Herzliya conferences, the Jerusalem Conference on Quality Government opened yesterday. In a short while, any non-profit organization that does not have a conference will feel nonexistent, or insignificant at best.

A conference on quality of government? It's really about fighting corruption; but Shuki Shemer, head of the Maccabi health maintenance organization, which sponsored the event, said he made sure there was a more positive title.

It didn't make much of a difference. Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski ventured that if a word-counter were placed in the auditorium, the word "corruption" would lead by miles.

By definition, such conferences excel at speeches by top government officials. Because here's the deal: The conferences provide them with a platform, surrounded by important people and media representatives. In return, the officials use the platform to issue declarations that give the conferences prestige and publicity. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's address will close the conference.

Yesterday President Moshe Katsav spoke, calling on the government to announce a "master plan for combating corruption" and pass a law regulating conduct within political parties.

The new defense minister, Amir Peretz, also took full advantage of this platform yesterday evening. "I dwell amid my people," he said, "and I am aware there is a feeling among the general public that corruption is devouring every bit of good in the government systems. This feeling, sadly, is well-founded."

Peretz surveyed Israel's decline on global corruption indexes, to the point where it now comes after Chile, Estonia and Portugal. "There has been a dangerous erosion in propriety," he said, adding that these are "symptoms of a malignant disease."

Peretz called for "a fight to the death against one of the most shameful phenomena in Israel - black-market capital to the tune of NIS 60-100 billion, terming it "a moral stain on the country."

These conferences are ultimately also an important forum for discussing serious problems. The Quality Government conference, for instance, opened with a debate on the quality of Knesset members. The head of the Geocartography polling institute, Dr. Avi Degani, presented the question of whether restrictions should be imposed on the right to be elected to the Knesset - a minimal education requirement, for instance.

Degani presented disturbing data from a poll conducted for the Movement for Quality Government: According to the figures collated, 74 percent of the public believe that MKs mainly look out for themselves; 74 percent think party central committees try to take over the civil service for jobs.

And the conclusions: Some 73 percent of the public think that minimal education should be a prerequisite for Knesset membership.

Other undemocratic suggestions: 44 percent would impose a maximum age for Knesset membership, and 61 percent would restrict membership to those who performed military or national service.