Taking Stock / How to Get Rich

What did we learn from the State Comptroller's Report published yesterday?

We learned that the Egged bus cooperative has been employing various financial gambits to inflate its expenses in order to raise bus fares.

We learned that top Mifal Hapayis lottery officials have been using the public's money to pad their seats.

We learned that local government pays certain people 13 times more than the law permits, and that the leaders of public associations routinely route money to cronies and friends, without any clear criteria.

To sum up, we learned nothing.

Did anybody really think that Egged, Mifal Hapayis or the local authorities weren't lavishing huge sums on cronies and friends? Is there a man, woman or babe in Israel who learned something new about the administration of Israel's public bodies from the State Comptroller's Report?

From year to year, the report becomes more and more of a non-event. The comptroller, Eliezer Goldberg, calls a press conference, mumbles something about conflicts of interest, and adds that a criminal investigation is uncalled for. The journalists are treated to inedible sandwiches and go home.

Knowing how humdrum it would be, the editor grudgingly earmarks a few pages deep inside the paper.

The stars of the report figure they'll have an uncomfortable day or two as their misdeeds are aired, but the stench will have blown over within a week. At worst, somebody will impanel a team to discuss the findings and maybe get a legal opinion that legitimizes the whole thing anyway.

Public Relations 101

One of the comptroller's biggest mistakes is to collate his main findings into weighty tomes released over a day or two. Any novice in PR would know how silly that is.

The comptroller should publish one chapter each week, and make sure that the relevant papers get the material in advance so they can understand and handle it properly. When all 800 pages land on the news desk one morning, and the harried reporters and editors are given no time to read and digest the material, there is zero chance it will receive proper press coverage.

But the truth is, that isn't even the biggest problem with the comptroller's reports.

The biggest problem is that nobody cares about them. Most of the public couldn't care less about the convoluted ways its money gets stolen and how state resources are shared by the fat cats. Anyway, the comptroller has no teeth, and even if he did, there's precious little sign of any desire to bite.

But take that story making the rounds of that model whose nude pictures have been found. People reading between the lines know who it is. The whole country is rustling over the story, because that's the kind of thing it likes to delve into, so to speak.

Who was that guy

But even when the comptroller does finally throw down his kid gloves, interest is piqued for, at most, 12 hours.

It seems like 20 years ago, but actually it was just last summer when the comptroller wrote a special report about a top government official who ignored his conflict of interest and took action regarding a government resolution that stood to benefit his own family.

It made the headlines for a day, and by the following day, nobody even knew who the politician was. Last week, it transpired that the same top government personality not only participated in discussions on issues impacting his family, but also intervened in matters concerning his great friend, a developer, who got stuck with lands he'd paid $40 million to buy. But the attorney general himself thought the whole affair was trivial. A non-event.

Does that mean that the comptroller's reports, and in fact the attorney general, are superfluous?

No! They are not a waste of paper. These reports are a must-read for any bright young thing considering a career in the public arena, or for any budding entrepreneur seeking opportunity.

People believe salaries are low and life is gray in the public sector, a wrong impression quickly refuted by the reports. Goodness, the youngster would learn that there are hundreds of lucrative jobs where he could control vast flows of money, with plenty trickling to family and friends. And one day they would be grateful.

The budding businessman would learn how to work with the government. It is priceless information not available in Economics 101.

You could say that the comptroller's and attorney general's reports are the closest thing Israel offers to American-type manuals such as "How to get rich," or "How to make your first million dollars."