In the midst of the ongoing struggle, led by the prime minister, to weaken the gatekeepers and judicial review, the Knesset will on Monday choose the next state comptroller by secret ballot. The MKs are being asked to choose between Matanyahu Englman, the director of the Council of Higher Education, and Maj. Gen. (res.) Giora Rom, the chairman of the National Road Safety Authority and former director of the Civil Aviation Authority.
After 30 years in which the state comptroller’s post has been filled solely by retired judges, this will be the first time the comptroller will not be a judge. This is not inherently problematic, but it’s worth examining what qualities are needed to do the job effectively. Honesty, meticulousness, the ability to deal with details, a critical, in-depth approach and a solid backbone are among the prerequisites for the position.
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Englman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s candidate, is portrayed as an easygoing person who reflects Netanyahu’s need to weaken the comptroller’s status. Based on his statements, he perceives the controller’s role as being very limited – a sort of accountant who goes over the receipts and expense reports and demands streamlining. “I want to bring my approach that stresses the administrative side, the financial efficiency of agencies,” he told Israel Hayom. But the comptroller’s role is not just to examine issues of efficiency but to evaluate the legality of the use of public funds, to identify failures of integrity, and to essentially assure the quality of public agencies.
Giora Rom has excellent experience in at least one public agency. He managed the Civil Aviation Authority and oversaw a lengthy project that included hundreds of actions, including legislation, that aimed to restore Israel’s air safety ranking after it was lowered in 2008 by the American Federal Aviation Administration. It was also in response to a state comptroller’s report in 2010 that found aviation safety deficiencies.
He brought to the task a wealth of experience in conducting investigations from the air force, and with meticulousness, attention to detail and determination succeeded in improving Israeli flight safety. Rom accumulated important experience in responding to the comptroller’s harsh report and corrected the faults without getting defensive and trying to blame others, as is commonplace. Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz was a partner to this process and saw firsthand how Rom managed it.
If there are still people in Likud and on the right who see the importance of the institution of the state comptroller and its contribution to improving public administration and the welfare of Israeli society – especially now, when the prime minister’s personal interests are overshadowing the national interest – they must choose Rom as the next state comptroller. The secret ballot is a good opportunity to do the right thing without have to worry about vengeance from Netanyahu.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.