The Comptroller Is Not the Executioner

Ostensibly, there is a similarity between the tough stance of the current state comptroller, Micha Lindenstrauss, and that of former state comptroller Miriam Ben-Porat. Ostensibly.

In an interview with Haaretz, Ben-Porat, who served in that capacity from 1988-1998, shares her thoughts on the institution of state comptroller, which negatively reflect on Lindenstrauss' policy. Ben-Porat, 88, is careful not to level direct criticism against Lindenstrauss. All of her remarks were made in response to general questions. But when Ben-Porat's positions are compared to Lindenstrauss', a gaping abyss between them becomes apparent.

Fixing faults

"It's insufficient to write a report and express an opinion of failings. Ways must be found to correct those failings," Lindenstrauss says.

"Just as a court finishes its work with the signing of a ruling and does not execute the judgment, so too the state comptroller completes his job when he exposes the faults he has found," Ben-Porat says. "He does not have to be involved, and certainly not initiate, the correction of faults. If the comptroller manages to examine the right burning and serious issues, does not allow them to be swept under the carpet, and submits the fruits of his labor to the Knesset, and through it to the public, that's sufficient. It's a tremendous contribution whose importance cannot be overstated," she says.

"It's unacceptable and unjust to say, 'What is all this worth? The report is gathering dust'," Ben-Porat continues. "According to the statistics, 70 percent of the failings in the report are corrected, and 70 percent is nothing to sneeze at."

Ben-Porat believes that fixing the failings is the Knesset's obligation. If the Knesset cannot find a way, perhaps an advisory committee should be formed, "but the comptroller must not be saddled with this task. David Libai agreed with my view when he was justice minister. He also served for eight years on the Knesset State Control Committee."

Imposing sanctions

"If the comptroller needs to be granted additional authorities, we will go to the Knesset and ask for legislative amendments and the option of imposing sanctions," Lindenstrauss says.

"Enforcement must not be in the hands of comptroller," Ben-Porat says. "The comptroller must not also be the executioner. He assists the State Control Committee whose job it is to implement [changes]. He can also publish a follow-up report, but he must act only in the manner of a comptroller. He is the 'comptroling authority,' alongside the three other authorities (legislative, judicial and executive - S.I.)."

Should any of the comptroller's authorities be altered?

"I feel that a few things should be canceled," Ben-Porat says. "In recent years it was decided that the prime minister should provide an accounting to the comptroller regarding the correction of failings. The comptroller is not the address [for that]. He is not the executioner or the executor. The prime minister should report to the State Control Committee, because it is the [right] address."

Do you not think that the comptroller should have some teeth - the ability to impose sanctions?

"Perish the thought. There should be no such thing. Sometimes there are remarks in the media to the effect that the comptroller fined a [political] faction for the manner in which it obtained a donation, or for the amount [of the donation]. That is a mistake. The law decides the appropriate fine, but allows the comptroller, as an irregular, to sweeten the pill."

Shortening the report

"Some people say that the comptroller's report should be the size and scope of 'War and Peace'," "I believe in writing more concisely and to the point," Lindenstrauss says.

"If shortening the reports would increase their efficacy, my congratulations would be forthcoming," Ben-Porat says. "I do not remember writing anything that seemed superfluous. I also always had summations and points that were emphasized in bold, to make it easier on the reader. State Control Committee members refer to all that written material. Nothing is written without a reason, and there is no duplication. Perhaps, however, for the people's benefit, it would be worth publishing a synopsis."

Naming names

"There is no stronger weapon than the publication of the names of those scrutinized. The publicity is the best deterrent," says Lindenstrauss.

"I believe it is better to achieve the goal without unnecessarily naming names," Ben-Porat says. "The non-publication of names in the comptroller's reports shows that the comptroller is not a judge. He examines the integrity of the procedures. Nothing more and nothing less. The courts provide the right to at least one appeal. The comptroller has the first and last word, and there is no disputing him. The comptroller, like any person, can make mistakes. In exceptional cases, when a failing was serious and I was sufficiently sure of myself, I mentioned names."

There is an opinion that without publishing names, the report is ineffective.

"I don't see it that way," Ben-Porat says. "I prefer deeds over words. One of the traits that should characterize a comptroller is his discretion and lack of interest in harming the scrutinized body, but at the same time his denouncing the failings discovered in his examination. I want the comptroller's subject to know that he is not being persecuted," she continues.

"Even so, the bodies are being reviewed, and it is clear from the reports which body is being discussed and what role a certain person played during the period covered by the report. Furthermore, those who need to know in order to check out the issues do know, and are updated by the comptroller and his staff. State Control Committee meetings are usually open [to the public], and the media are present at a fair number of them."

Ben-Porat also feels that the discreet attitude toward naming a report's subjects is essential so that sources inside the organizations will not be afraid to disclose information to the State Comptroller's Office.

"This seems like a different kind of discreetness, but discretion is violated by the publication of names," she says. "I sound a bit obsolete in this matter. There is no law against being outmoded."

Still, "the comptroller is allowed to think that if he mentions names, it will help him. I wish. If experience proves this, I will change my opinion."

The current comptroller

"I will not express an opinion on another comptroller's work methods, no matter who he is, whether [the former comptroller Eliezer] Goldberg or Lindenstrauss, whether they are right about something or not," Ben-Porat says. "I do not want to speak out against anyone, not even the current comptroller, who has a strong drive to do things and root out corruption, which is good and positive in itself."

Your ideas are totally different to those of the current comptroller.

"Every comptroller may think differently. We all do our best."