Proper and Essential Disclosure

The cabinet's top members - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman - have all taken time off in the past from their political careers to "feather their own nests" in business or by giving speeches. Their business activities and financial connections with their partners and investors are quite interesting because of the important ethical considerations involved.

Uri Blau's investigative report in Haaretz Magazine last weekend shows that Barak transferred his shares in the company bearing his name to his three daughters after returning to the cabinet, while millions of shekels have continued to flow into the firm from his previous dealings while he serves as defense minister.

Barak refuses to tell the public where the money came from, and he is not required to do so. The current law requires politicians to provide detailed financial disclosure statements - ministers must provide them to the state comptroller and MKs to the Knesset speaker - but they remain confidential. Former prime minister Ehud Olmert has been charged with aggravated fraud for making false declarations to the state comptroller. But the allegations that he lied were discovered only during the police investigation.

It's possible to justify the confidentiality based on privacy considerations and fears that revealing financial details will deter the wealthy from taking part in public service. But the public interest in disclosure is greater than protecting the privacy of elected officials.

Just as the names of contributors to politicians are released publicly, we are entitled know who their business partners were while they were "looking after their own interests," and if these partners have been benefiting from their relationship and influence with the minister or MK who has returned to politics. That's why we need to change the rules and create legislation for the regular publication of financial disclosure statements by ministers and MKs.

Such disclosure would strengthen deterrence against improper connections between wealth and power, and make it clear if politicians have taken advantage of their positions to make money while they are taking a break from politics. The current law forbids former MKs, ministers and prime ministers from "emphasizing in writing in any matter related to their business or profession the fact they were an MK, prime minister, minister or deputy minister."

Exposing the private dealings of politicians will reduce the fear that they may have taken advantage of their public positions. Anyone who seeks the power of public office and its perks must be willing to disclose his personal interests to remove any suspicion of impropriety.