Tailor-made Hiring Tenders May Become a Thing of the Past

A Finance Ministry division has recently been informed that it will not be allowed to conduct its own tenders for hiring employees for the next two years because it was found to have skewed a 2008 tender in favor of a candidate who was less qualified than those it rejected.

The incident at the treasury's division of capital markets, insurance and savings does not appear to have been unusual, and the Civil Service Commission is also considering revoking other ministries' authority to hold tenders for new employees, the head of the commission's testing and tenders unit told TheMarker.

"The Civil Service Commission is considering withdrawing from several government ministries the authority to deal with employee recruitment tenders," said Gavriella Ashkenazi. "The commission is considering revoking this authority in some of the ministries where tenders have not been dealt with properly."

Tender manipulation can take different forms, Ashkenazi said.

"We get hundreds of complaints a month about tenders that are tailored for certain candidates," she said. "In some cases, the members of the tender panel ask loaded questions that are intended to discriminate against candidates of a certain religion, race or gender. Almost 40 percent of the complaints are upheld, and led to the cancelation of the committee's decisions and the appointment of a new panel."

Many economists, lawyers and accountants dream of a position in the treasury's capital markets, insurance and savings division. Ostensibly, positions in any government department are accessible to any qualified person, by means of the tender system. However, despite the rigid legal framework, sometimes connections are far more important than qualifications. If you applied for a job in the treasury's capital markets division in recent years but didn't get it, it may not have been through any fault of your own. A less qualified candidate who happened to know someone there may well have been eased in. The Civil Service Commission's recent investigation of the way an attorney in the division was hired has revealed how this was done in one particular case.

Two officials at the treasury division were reprimanded after disciplinary proceedings, but no additional penalties were imposed.

TheMarker has obtained a copy of a letter about that investigation, which Asaf Rosenberg, who is in charge of discipline at the Civil Service Commission, wrote to Finance Ministry director general Haim Shani. It indicates that several of the employees of the division were interrogated and warned that they were suspected of violating the tender procedures. The list includes Yoav Ben Or, the deputy director, who is a prominent candidate to replace the outgoing head of the capital markets division, Yadin Antebi; Leora Hirschorn, head of the health insurance department in that division; Nadav Ofir, head of the division's licensing unit; Yonat Nahmani, the division's administrator; and Mirit Nahmias, a secretary.

The story begins several years ago, when Michal Schwartz was working as an intern at the Justice Ministry's legislative and advisory department. In 2008, Roni Neubar, who had worked with Schwartz in the Justice Ministry before moving on to the treasury's capital markets division, told her of a tender for a job opening for a lawyer in the capital markets division and said she would be happy to have her working under her there.

A month after the tender was issued on November 13 of that year, written exams were held, with 31 candidates for the post competing. The 21 applicants who scored higher than 5.3 on the test made the cut and moved on to the next stage, conducted by the capital markets division's evaluation center. Schwartz came in 26th, but thanks to her connections she was the division's preferred candidate. Later that month, the division asked Ashkenazi to lower the cut-off mark, so that seven more candidates could move to the next stage. It based the request on past experience that showed that many candidates did not actually take part in the testing and evaluation center process.

The next day, Ashkenazi replied that according to procedures, no more than 20 candidates could be passed on to the evaluation stage, unless there were two candidates with identical scores. However, Ashkenazi said that the division could call all the candidates to inquire whether they intended to take part in the evaluation, and if not, to invite those who did not make the cut to participate, in the order of their scores in the written test.

The division took advantage of the opportunity, and 22 candidates were summoned to the evaluation process, including numbers 22, 26 and 27. After the evaluation process, Schwartz came out on top. Ashkenazi realized something was wrong and in early December, she asked the division to explain why three candidates who had not made the cut in the written test were invited to the test center. After Ben Or replied that procedures had been observed, Ashkenazi wrote back demanding detailed, documented explanations.

The reply, signed by Nahmani, said two of the candidates who did make the cut had called her to say they had decided not to undergo the evaluation process. Another candidate had not been reached, and they therefore presumed that he or she would not turn up. Therefore, Nahmani wrote, they had contacted those who did not make the cut.

Candidate of choice

Ashkenazi's further inquiries revealed discrepancies in the information submitted by Nahmani, and she handed the case over to the Civil Service Commission's investigations department, which found that efforts by the capital markets division to skew the tender process in Schwartz's favor did not stop at lowering cut-off qualifications. Indeed, Hirschorn and Ofir, who evaluated the candidates, admitted under interrogation that an official of the division had told them Schwartz was the candidate of choice, meaning that she should get the job regardless of her actual performance. They did not name the official.

What all this adds up to, in the eyes of the Civil Service Commission, is that "the evidence in this case indicates the conduct of the capital markets, insurance and savings division of the Finance Ministry in this tender was not an exception," since the division consistently tells its representatives on the evaluation panels which of the candidates they should vote for.

Despite the gravity of the Civil Service Commission's findings, there have been no serious repercussions for those responsible. Apart from suspending the capital markets division's authority to conduct its own tender processes for two years, the only penalties imposed were reprimands for Hirschorn and Ofir. The official who instructed them how to vote went not only unnamed, but also unpunished.