Viewpoint / Interior Ministry Deserves to Be Abolished

Meir Sheetrit, the second minister at the Interior Ministry, points an accusing finger at Aryeh Deri.

Deri was the man who could at the Interior Ministry a decade ago, first as director-general and then as minister. And Sheetrit blames him and him alone for destroying the ministry. He accuses Deri of destroying the very ministry that was supposed to regulate the local authorities, but did not.

Deri was into domination, Sheetrit says, "so he usurped all the powers held by the Interior Ministry district offices." Each district office was responsible for supervising the functioning of the local authorities in its district. But they were disenfranchised, and thus the Interior Ministry lost its ability to supervise events in the field.

One could find other scapegoats for the sorry condition of the local authorities today. But it's sure that the interior ministers throughout Israel's history would star on the list. @CROSS:Increasing the deficit

The Interior Ministry, as said, is supposed to regulate the functioning of the local authorities. But there's precious little evidence that it does anything of the sort.

Several local authorities hit the headlines after withholding salaries for months. They don't have the budget, they shrug. No private sector manager would dream of solving financial difficulties that way. The private sector fires people it can't afford, or cuts pay. Sometimes when a company goes broke, salaries fall through the cracks, but that only happens in extreme cases, and the management quits.

The local authority chiefs have no intention of quitting. What they do is ignore sessions of labor court sought by their unpaid workers, take a rulings on the chin and then under threat of the bailiff, they hasten to pay the outstanding salaries by increasing their deficits.

Serial mismanagement

These are (much) the same local authority chiefs who didn't hesitate to borrow billions of shekels, though they had no idea how to return the money. Something or other will happen, they figured, and translated into English that means: By the time the loans come due, they'll long be retired.

These are the same local authority chiefs who could only be restrained from appointing hordes of deputies by Knesset legislation. It's an open secret that deputy council leaders are political appointments. They are a way to achieve a majority in council meetings. Just as the state inflates the number of ministers in cabinet to achieve its short-term needs, the local authorities inflate their number of deputies. Each costs a salary, a car and so on, irrespective of the financial situation of the authority itself.

Some of the authorities have accrued deficits of hundreds of millions. That didn't happen overnight: they piled up through serial mismanagement, unending corruption and indifference.

The Interior Ministry is supposed to be auditing the local authorities. These auditors are paid from the Interior Ministry's budget for the local authorities. Their job includes inspecting the financial functioning of the authorities. They cannot have failed to notice elephantine deficits, yet the deficits continued to mount and mount, without the ministry making a peep, let alone imposing an austerity plan to cure the errant authoritys' ills. Nor has it ever taken steps against poorly functioning authority leaders.

Now the Interior Ministry is waking up and demanding the reins. It is scrabbling for a plan to rehabilitate the authorities, which have meanwhile accrued debts of NIS 15 billion and a deficit of NIS 6 billion.

If the Interior Ministry's mechanisms allowed NIS 6 billion to disappear under its nose, and did nothing about it, one has to ask what good the ministry does. It should be liquidated immediately.