The Bottom Line / A Neat Cover-up

One of the worst sicknesses affecting our public sector is the filling of professional posts with political appointments. After ministers were slammed for inappropriate appointments - from the press and from the state comptroller - they found a new way to get around the problem: the search committee.

The name sounds good, quite appealing actually. Instead of a cabinet minister appointing a buddy who will do his bidding and make appointments according to his whims, he will appoint a committee that will present three recommendations. This is a professional and transparent process of filling top spots, isn't it?

But our ministers were not born yesterday. When Ehud Olmert sought a new head of the Broadcasting Authority, he appointed the director general of his office and personal confidant Ranan Dinur as head of the search committee. And when Dalia Itzik recently went on the lookout for someone to head the Postal Authority, she put the director general of her office and confidant Avi Balashnikov at the head of the search committee.

How could the director general of the Communications Ministry lead the hunt for a new head of the Postal Authority? There is clearly a conflict of interest here. The director general is a regulator: He sets the rules of behavior and competition in the market. He must also set the rules of the postal sector such that it will be more competitive, more efficient, cheaper and provide a better service for the public. But finding a new chief? You must be joking.

That's the role of the Postal Authority council. It needs to set up a search committee and find a new chief, exactly like in a private company. The council acts like a board of directors. It represents the owners (in this case the state) and needs to work with the chief on a day-to-day basis. It's clear to everyone that it is the board that needs to locate an appropriate boss. But Itzik didn't dream of passing the role to the chairman of the postal council, Yaakov Edri. And he, for his part, didn't object, but quietly allowed himself to be a rubber stamp for the appointment of a "search committee."

In addition to Balashnikov, there were two other members named to the committee - Aryeh Shomer and Moshe Gavish. Now it is clear that the panel did no research on the 34 candidates: It relied solely on the resumes they submitted. The panel didn't even bother searching the newspaper archives to see what had been written about the candidates. Had they done so, they would have made some surprising discoveries. Some of the candidates were invited to interview, but that says nothing about their qualifications. No one is going to list their negative sides, their failures or past critiques.

No examination or investigation was made, because they had no time or budget, and also because Balashnikov understood that he needed to find the candidate "appropriate" to his minister, and that was Amos Rodin. Rodin was later disqualified by Attorney General Menachem Mazuz because of his links to the Labor party, and Avraham Hochman - a nonpolitical figure - was appointed to the job.

In the state-owned companies (as opposed to the government authorities), the situation is better. In the Israel Electric Corporation, for example, Chairman Shlomo Rothman insisted that he himself appoint a search committee for a new CEO, as the Companies Law stipulates. He had to enter a fight with National Infrastructures Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who wanted to appoint his choice.

Another example: railways. There, Chairman Moshe Leon set up the panel that found the new director general. Leon had it easier because Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit did not interfere.

But in the Postal Authority, as in the other authorities, the new fashion for "search committees" is just an elegant cover-up for the true purpose: political appointees according to the minister's wish.

And that should be changed. If Mazuz intervened on Rodin's appointment, so should he continue with the good work and set regulations on setting up apolitical search panels, just like in the private sector. Because we surely need some good managers in the public sector, too.