Water Populism

In the contest for first prize for populism, one candidate, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, is in the lead now, and way ahead. He has fashioned himself into some kind of modern Robin Hood. In a dramatic appearance before members of the Knesset, he said: "I came here to speak on behalf of society's weaker segments. They turn to us saying, 'Don't hurt us.'"

"They turn to us," Lindenstrauss says. How moving.

If it soon turns out that Lindenstrauss runs for the Knesset or seeks another senior public post, I would not be surprised. He understands the impact of flattery and the power of populism. He says the MKs, who are competing with him for the public's affections, listened. State Control Committee chairman Yoel Hasson (Kadima) rushed to say that the "water rate increases should be halted immediately," and Miri Regev (Likud) announced that "supervision of the rates should be transferred to the Knesset."

All we need is for Regev to set the price of water. From her standpoint there is no water crisis. There is no Lake Kinneret with water levels that have declined to the black warning line and no increasingly saline aquifers. As far as she is concerned, we should "stop terrifying the public," so we can lower the price of water, too. The public will applaud, until the morning they open the tap, and nothing comes out.

The state comptroller exceeded the bounds of his position entirely. He was asked to examine "the decision-making process at the Tax Authority," but he went off in other directions. He didn't find inadequate management or flawed decision-making procedures; instead he wrote comments and critiques on a whole range of subjects not at all connected to the mandate he received.

This is a case of a sloppy report, one that didn't seriously deal with the issue and was only 11 pages long, whose conclusion was more personal manifesto than the work of a comptroller. And it was written in just one month, including research! Is it any wonder then that it's so superficial?

The comptroller recommends suspending rate increases and even subsidizing water rates for the weaker population. Who gave him the right to set budget priorities? Who made him responsible for social policy? Since when does the comptroller decide who pays what?

Does he want to replace the cabinet and the Knesset even before he is elected to serve there?

The comptroller's recommendations stand in stark contrast to the interim recommendations of the state commission already investigating the matter for more than a year. But what is a commission headed by a retired judge, Professor Dan Bein, who is joined by two experts on water and soil, professors Yoav Kislev and Yoram Avnimelech, compared to Lindenstrauss? For him a month was enough.

What does all this matter to Lindenstrauss, Hasson and Regev? They have received their prizes and the public's affection, and that's what's important.