Viewpoint / Unfair to Dan Naveh

Poor Dan Naveh. The other day the acting finance minister, Ehud Olmert, called him the worst health minister Israel ever had. It was an unrestrained smirch, and terribly unfair to boot.

The truth is that Naveh is a terrible health minister, but to call him "the worst Israel ever had" - well, that's just not right. Naveh has many competitors for the title, in fact almost all the health ministers over the decades.

In other words, Naveh is merely gamely sustaining the tradition of health ministers through the ages: He is lounging around doing nothing.

Or rather, lounging around and doing everything in his power to laud the management of the government and HMO hospitals, which fall directly under the ministry's purview, while viciously attacking any who dare glance at them askance.

It is the ministry in charge of supervising the functioning of the government healthcare system. Yet the Health Ministry seems to have a unique definition of its "supervisory" function - look only at the bright side. Support the doctors in their battles, justify their every demand. When it comes to the negative, let somebody else do the dirty supervision work.

On the less bright side, for instance, Naveh sends his workers out to die alone in battle.

Spare a dime for a gourmet dinner?

The ministry's legal counsel, Mira Hibner-Harel, fought bitterly against the plan by the government's two most powerful hospitals, Tel Hashomer and Ichilov, to hold a plush convention at the extensive spa-hotel Mitzpe Hayamim Rosh Pina. The doctors from both hospitals were supposed to bring their spouses on this luxury weekend, which was to be lavishly subsidized by donations - money the hospitals had raised to further medical research.

Hibner-Harel wrote to the hospital managements, accusing them of impaired judgment, insensitivity and destruction of the "ethical foundation" underlying fund-raising by diverting the money to entirely different ends. The managements were unimpressed.

They were so unimpressed that they acted in direct contrast to her directives, spending even more money obtaining a contradictory opinion from attorney Yaakov Ne'eman.

That was rather like some top government official hiring a private lawyer to argue against the opinion of the attorney general. It is not done.

But what is not done and cannot be done at any other ministry, evidently can and will be done at the Health Ministry. The fact is that the health minister and his director general didn't intervene in this case, and did not rule against the hospital managements.

"The hospital managers did not ask for the health minister's approval," says the ministry spokesman, asked about Naveh's bizarre silence. "The legal counsel's letter reflects the minister's opinion."

The minister is right: The hospital managements did trample all over his legal counsel in order to safeguard their inalienable right to pamper themselves at a luxury hotel, which is indicative of the norms and values amongst the management of Israel's government hospitals. They also trampled all over the Health Ministry and its ability to supervise them.

But why should any of that arouse Naveh from his stupor? He had no intention of supervising them in the first place, so as far as he's concerned, let them waltz all over his supervisory powers.

Who me, supervise?

The fact is, he even says so explicitly. Two months ago the Health Ministry came out against treasury proposals for reforming the health system, including - heaven save us - limiting the careers of hospital managers to two four-year terms at most. Yes, no more than eight years.

It is true that prime ministers cannot serve more than two consecutive four-year terms, but naturally hospital managers are far more important than mere prime ministers: They not only manage thousands of workers and budgets in the billions, but they call the shots over the provision of medical service. Nothing matters more than that.

So, when the treasury sought to make the management of government hospitals subject to the accountant general, the Health Ministry spokesman objected on extremely intriguing grounds: "Implementing the proposal would be detrimental to the patients, because it would force hospitals to operate on narrow economic considerations."

The Health Ministry spokesman responded: "Based on the opinion of the legal counsel, the costs of the conference were fully borne by the participants. In these very days a meeting is being set up at the office of the civil service commissioner regarding the participation of civil servants in scientific conferences financed by nongovernment budgets."