Catastrophe? Not for the Common Folk

The police investigation into the Tax Authority is the best thing to happen to the Israeli public - except for the state comptroller.

It is no great surprise that important and powerful businessmen have termed it a catastrophe. Indeed, it is certainly a disaster for them, because they will no longer be able to send their lackeys - the ones who spend their time on the beach with this senior honcho, or enjoy lunch with that one - to arrange deals.

"Today, the country is already being run by legal advisers and lawyers," complained one prominent businessman. "People are afraid to move and make decisions without a lawyer at their side. It started with the state comptroller's investigations, and grew stronger with the Tax Authority inquest. The system will become more bureaucratic and won't function," he added, warning of an impending crisis.

"The system will be paralyzed," screamed lawyers and senior government officials last week. "After the police investigation we will no longer be able to use exercise our judgment and be flexible!"

And that, in a nutshell, is what is so good and wonderful about this affair. Yes, it is true that it is shocking and disgusting. The thought that senior tax officials were appointed so that they could help their friends pay less in taxes is outrageous. It is not that we didn't know that there were tax agreements that were designed for the rich, or the well connected, but we never managed to prove it. And they always seemed much too complex for us to understand.

The police investigation of the heads of the Tax Authority - at least this is the way it looks and certainly what we are hoping for - seems to signal the end of an era: the end of an era of back-room deals and fixers in government offices.

The first person who tried to make some semblance of order out in this realm was the state comptroller. He so badly upset the way corruption was conducted that senior officials and politicians tried to shake the ethical and factual basis supporting him by attacking the small errors he made along the way.

And then came the police investigation into the Tax Authority. Even if the suspects come out of it as clean as the driven snow - which certainly does not seem likely - the investigation has certainly achieved one major goal: deterrence. For once the stables can be cleaned before the horses have bolted.

Officials will no longer be able to act with flexibility in one deal without any transparency, while being strict in another deal - without fearing public criticism at some stage.

This will force them to act exactly according to the book. Buddies from school or the army will no longer be able to help, not even mutual friends who bring along their friends and want reductions, breaks, or any other type of benefits.

After this investigation things will not be able to return to what they were. It can be assumed that the business sector will try to go back to the era of special arrangements. However, such deals will now have to be much more sophisticated, and therefore it is likely that their number will drop significantly. I for one hope they will even disappear.