Disband Israel's Anti-Drug Authority

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MK Tamar Zandberg and Anti-Drug Authority Chairman Zvi Hendel, August 16, 2015.Credit: Knesset Channel

The debate on the disbanding of the Israel Anti-Drug Authority conducted Sunday by the Knesset Committee on Drug Abuse mirrored all the ills that the authority incorporates.

It started with the despicable behavior of authority chairman, Zvi Hendel, who mimicked committee chairwoman MK Tamar Zandberg, and continued through the chaotic nature of the debate, at which the authoritys controller refused to reveal the salaries of its top officials on the grounds that he was at an age that I dont remember so well. (He then provided incorrect data that understated those salaries.) It ended with the scandalous revelation that the authoritys former director, Yair Geller, who was suspended eight months ago over criminal suspicions, is still costing the taxpayer 51,000 shekels ($13,386) a month in salary and benefits.

Geller is suspected of bribery, conspiracy to commit a crime, fraud, breach of trust and aggravated fraud; he is one of many suspects in a major corruption investigation centered on the Yisrael Beiteinu party, which allegedly made use of the authoritys accounts. The authority claims that through the end of July, Geller was using up sick days – a procedure that itself raises questions – and that now he is using up his accumulated vacation days.

The Anti-Drug Authority was established 27 years ago with a budget of a few million shekels a year. From 2009, when Yitzhak Aharonovitch of Yisrael Beiteinu began serving as public security minister, until 2014, the authoritys budget tripled, yet there has been no known corresponding drop in the consumption of alcohol or drugs.

According to the most recent report by the treasurys wages director, for 2013, the average salary of senior authority officials was 23,722 shekels a month, while the average salary for all authority employees was 16,200 shekels a month, considerably higher than the average wage. The total cost of an executive salary, such as that of the deputy director, soared to 57,000 shekels a month.

In view of these figures, and particularly given the way authority representatives expressed themselves during Sundays debate, it is beginning to look as if the purpose of the Anti-Drug Authority is not to fight the scourge of drugs and alcohol, but to provide jobs to political cronies like Geller, who got the directors post thanks to the strong political backing of Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman and Aharonovitch, even though a search committee recommended a different candidate. The authoritys hawkish stance against decriminalizing the smoking of light drugs, contrary to the updated opinion that prevails in the senior legal and police echelons, reinforces the doubts about its contribution and relevance.

Dismantling the authority in its current format is essential as part of the general attempt to get rid of political satellites feeding off the public purse.

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