State Finds Misconduct at Barak's Independence Day Party

Over 12,000 people invited to the Defense Minister's reception last year, at a cost of some NIS 1.5 million.

More than 12,000 people were invited to Defense Minister Ehud Barak's traditional Independence Day reception last year, at a cost of some NIS 1.5 million, the state comptroller said Thursday in a brief statement.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss found misconduct and deficiencies in the event's organization. Apparently there were no rules regarding the reception's purpose, content or guest list and no official was in charge of it.

Lindenstrauss said the overall number of invitations had increased by 60 percent in five years, while the number of personal invitations handed out by Barak and his wife Nili Priel rose by 230 percent.

The statement came six months after the comptroller had slammed Barak's bureau's wasteful conduct at the International Paris Air Show. Barak's bureau yesterday acknowledged the flaws in handling the reception, promising to correct them before the next Independence Day reception, due in about a month.

In 2004 the Defense Ministry issued 3,793 plus-one invitations for the reception - 1,821 for Israel Defense Forces officers, 1,312 for ministry guests and 660 for then-defense minister Shaul Mofaz's personal guests, the statement says.

In 2006 the reception was canceled when Mofaz found he was to be replaced by Amir Peretz a few days later. In 2007, during Peretz's short tenure as defense minister, the ministry issued 5,187 plus-one invitations for the reception - 1,820 for officers, 1,831 for ministry guests and 1,536 for the minister's guests.

On Independence Day 2009, the ministry issued 6,063 plus-one invitations - 1,443 to officers, 2,437 to ministry guests and 2,187 to Barak and his wife's guests.

The personal guests consisted of businesspeople, journalists, authors and Labor Party members, among others.

In the absence of any rules regarding the reception's program or guest-list composition, the event changed according to the decisions of each defense minister and his aides, without any supervision or control over the various guest lists, the comptroller said.

The minister's personal guest list was made by the minister and his wife, aides and consultants and nobody coordinated it with the other lists. The minister's aides submitted partial lists which were updated several times. Some people received a number of invitations to different addresses.

"In the past three years the number of invitations to the minister's guests rose considerably compared to those sent to the other groups," the comptroller said. "This is not in keeping with proper conduct and is a fundamental deficiency, especially when dealing with a large number of guests, whose importance or relevance to the event is not clear. It is especially grave regarding a central, high-profile state event held by the defense establishment," he said.

The comptroller called on Barak to set rules for organizing the reception right away. The reception's purpose, content, guest lists and number of guests - including the minister's personal guests - must be determined, he said. The rules must make clear who is in charge of making the list and who is responsible for coordinating the preparations, he added.

Barak told the comptroller he appointed his ministry director general Udi Shani to organize next Independence Day reception as required by the rules.

He said he appointed a consulting committee to deal with all the reception's aspects. He explained that his past tenure as chief of staff "created a certain duplication in the guests invited by the minister and those invited by the ministry."