Civil Service to Be Transferred to PMO

Ehud Olmert pulled one last political trick as finance minister Wednesday when he decided to transfer the Civil Service Commission from the finance ministry to the Prime Minister's Office, just before turning over the reins to Roni Bar-On.

The cabinet will discuss the matter Sunday.

Many senior civil servants are worried about the move, which seems to be a grab by Olmert and his director general, Raanan Dinur, to gain control over senior appointments.

Until the 1960s, the commission was under the prime minister, but then moved to the treasury. In 1996, when Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minster, he brought the commission back with him, but in 2003 - when he was finance minster - he returned it to the treasury.

Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander responded by saying that the natural place for the commission is with the prime minister because it does not deal with economic issues. "The fear of the prime minister intervening in appointments is baseless because the authority of the commission and its role is set in law," Hollander said.

MK Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor) sent a letter to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz yesterday demanding that the cabinet postpone its discussions on the matter until the end of investigations against Olmert regarding improper appointments at the Industry and Trade Ministry during his tenure there.

Bar-On agreed to the move.

The Prime Minster's Office replied that the commission has a central role in enabling the government ministries to meet their goals and responsibilities, and therefore belongs in the Prime Minster's Office.

Bar-On met yesterday with Finance Ministry Director General Yarom Ariav, and Bar-On asked Ariav to stay at his post. Ariav agreed.

In addition, Ariav presented his new minister with an overview of the ministry and the plans for the coming year.

After the meeting, Bar-On also met with a number of other senior officials on the budget, though Accountant General Yaron Zelekha was conspicuous by his absence.

On Sunday the cabinet is scheduled to approve a NIS 1.3 billion budget cut for 2007 and start its first discussion on the 2008 budget, which is expected to require a further NIS 9 billion in cuts.