Bar-On Ousts Zelekha

Finance Minister Roni Bar-On informed the accountant general in his ministry, Yaron Zelekha, Thursday morning that his contract would not be extended when it finishes at the end of October.

Finance Minister Roni Bar-On informed the accountant general in his ministry, Yaron Zelekha, yesterday morning that his contract would not be extended when it finishes at the end of October.

Zelekha responded that Bar-On's act is "illegal and is not binding." He also told Bar-On that he did not have the authority to make such a decision."

Zelekha's contract is scheduled to run out at the end of October, so officially he is not being fired in the non-renewal of his contract. The Civil Service Commission agreed with the finance minister that this step does not constitute firing Zelekha - merely the normal end of a contract period.

Bar-On said he "sees great importance in the principle of rotation [of personnel] and [fixed] terms." He added that a four-year term, such as Zelekha's, was reasonable.

Nevertheless, it is clear that other considerations were also involved in the decision.

The finance minister's first action upon taking the job was to bring about an end to Zelekha's tenure. Zelekha was appointed by then finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a political rival of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Zelekha also enjoys the strong support of State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss.

Zelekha's attorney, Boaz Benzur, wrote Bar-On yesterday, informing him that non-renewal of the contract had no legal standing or force, and if he continues with his actions Zelekha will take legal action, though it is still not clear whether he will petition the Labor Court or the High Court of Justice.

According to Benzur, the law requires that only the same authority that appointed Zelekha's can end his tenure. As the cabinet appointed him, only the cabinet can end his tenure, explained Benzur.

Various organizations including the Movement for Quality Government have already stated that they will petition the High Court of Justice on the matter if necessary.

A number of MKs assume that if Zelekha does not petition the High Court, Lindenstrauss will issue an order blocking his ousting. Lindenstrauss will meet with Zelekha on Monday to discuss the matter.

The comptroller has the authority to prevent the firing or to reinstate a state employee who is fired by giving him protection as a "whistle-blower" against government corruption.

Legal experts assess that that the law is on Zelekha's side.

The High Court of Justice has ruled that terms of certain officials responsible for proper administration and governance, such as the accountant-general post, are not limited by a specific time frame and can only be terminated if there is a legitimate cause that would stand up in court.

Since Zelekha is a highly praised official and has won awards for his performance, it may be difficult to convince the court that his ousting is legitimate.

Lindenstrauss said yesterday that anyone who reveals government corruption will be protected by law and that this protection is an important step in curtailing corruption in the public sector. The comptroller's office said that Zelekha has yet to file a complaint and that if he does, it will be examined immediately.

Public figures responded with fury to the comment of Knesset State Control Committee Chairman Zevulun Orlev that he would call upon the comptroller to prevent Zelekha's ousting and give him the protection that corruption-fighters deserve by law. The committee will convene on Tuesday to discuss Zelekha's ousting.

Labor MK Ophir Pines demanded that a special Knesset session be convened during its recess to discuss the Zelekha affair.

"Bar-On is being used as the prime minister's tool to get back at a man that did not follow the crowd, wasn't a yes-man and uncovered the prime minister's alleged transgressions," Pines said.

MK Ahmed Tibi (Ra'am-Tal) said that "ending Zelekha's tenure is a symptom of a sick system, which has difficulty understanding the importance of criticism."

Likud MK Limor Livnat called on the Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to prevent Zelekha's firing, called him "the guardian of proper administration," and saying that "Zelekha turned his post into a position with some bite to it, and acted with bravery and integrity to protect the public." Livnat called on Zelekha to fight with all the legal means at his disposal so the can continue to serve the public.

The Movement for Quality Government turned to Mazuz and Bar-On and demanded that Zelekha not be removed. "If one hair is to fall from Zelekha's head, this movement will not spare any legal means to protect him," the movement said in a statement yesterday.

Zelekha was the economic adviser to Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, a known adversary of Olmert, while Netanyahu was prime minister.