Home Safe in a House of Criminals

The Herziliya Conference opened with an all-out attack on the government. Teva chairman Eli Hurvitz said: "I don't know whether a leader should be fired for losing a war. But I am sure a leader can be fired for arrogance."

Was he referring to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert? to Defense Minister Amir Peretz? Maybe to both of them?

Bank Hapoalim chairman Shlomo Nehama chimed in, describing the feeling of dissatisfaction with the functioning of government. But they were kicking political corpses.

The system is broken. The prime minister is under attack from every direction: a police investigation, the Winograd Committee, the state comptroller, the accountant general, the dysfunctional coalition. His popularity has plunged and his own party wants to replace him.

And the defense minister, Peretz? He's totally preoccupied with hi sown survival, in his job and in his party. The defense establishment has no faith in him, nor does the public. All his energy is devoted to winning the May primaries.
Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson's status is also shaky. He took a body blow in his struggle with Yaron Zelekha, the warrior against corruption. The investigation of top Tax Authority people has also hurt Hirchson, and Olmert didn't exactly buttress his authority when he bypassed him in the matter of Bank of Israel wages. Hirchson is also under investigation over embezzlement at the nonprofit organization NILI.

The result is paralysis in government. Nothing can be planned, executed or reformed when the prime minister, the defense minister and the finance minister are busy surviving, and nothing more. Change requires approval, which can't be had.

Our political system is sick. It suffers from the plague of political appointments that defile everything they touch.

In 1992, Dan Meridor tried to halt the plague. He initiated a change in the law, stipulating that for the appointment of a party member to be approved, it must be confirmed that he or she has "special qualifications."

This little condition caused a revolution in the human makeup of the party central committees. Suddenly it wasn't worthwhile to be a central committee member.

Crime lords take over

Membership became an obstacle where it used to be a personal trump card. So a process began of transferring the "asset" to a family member: a wife, a son, an uncle. But they were less active, and in the party central committees, especially in the Likud, a vacuum was created.

That vacuum was filled by criminal elements, crime families, real felons. They became the ministers' "soldiers in the field."

Thus, the map of the Knesset changed, too. For the first time, in the 2003 Knesset, we saw representatives of crime families and Knesset members of a particularly low level.

In addition, the Knesset members' pension terms eroded so the more talented among them can earn more outside the House. The media reality in which only populist and extremist voices are heard has also distanced from the Knesset good people of good conscience like Moshe Shahal, Uzi Baram, Eli Goldschmidt, Uri Savir and Nahum Langenthal. The stature of our parliamentarians is diminishing.

And when politics is sick, rescue can come only from one source: the civil service. It is the senior officials who should strengthen the civil service. They should be the pillars of the ministries. They should provide continuity and stability, so the government can continue to serve the public when the ministers are paralyzed, under investigation or replaced.

It turns out, however, that the bureaucratic echelon is also in crisis. The investigation of alleged corruption at the Tax Authority is freezing its work. Senior officials say they are avoiding making decisions - because that's dangerous nowadays.

In the prevailing atmosphere of corruption, the state comptroller, the accountant general or the attorney general is liable to attack any decision.

The system has become a pressure cooker of fears. Appointments are delayed. No tax assessments are made. The work is frozen. And here, too, as in the political system, the level of the top people has declined.

Here, too, there's erosion of salaries and pensions while the private sector offers so much more. The good people are afraid to come in, and those who do, when they retire at the end of their term, face a cooling-off period of a year. This imposed delay is fine, but they aren't paid any salary during that year. On what are they supposed to live?

It could be that this setup is pushing some of them into corrupt deeds during their terms in order to prepare something for the drought year. Even a senior official needs to live on something.

In recent weeks, work meetings at the Finance Ministry have become uneasy social get-togethers. Instead of discussing missions and making decisions, th officials whisper about the police investigations.

The ministries exist only because of inertia. Better not to make waves, better not to decide, they feel over there. Then there won't be anything to investigate. The main thing is to get home safely.