Cabinet approves controversial expansion of political appointments

Cabinet approves controversial expansion of political appointments

Directors of large ministries will receive the right to appoint deputies in move that backers say will aid good government

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (third from right) presides over the weekly cabinet meeting  at the PM's office in Jerusalem, October 15, 2017. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (third from right) presides over the weekly cabinet meeting at the PM's office in Jerusalem, October 15, 2017. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)

A controversial proposal by two right-wing lawmakers to allow ministers to make additional political appointments received majority backing at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.

The proposal, put forward by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud), gives the directors of ministries with more than 150 employees — 21 ministries at present — the right to appoint a deputy without issuing a tender, so long as the appointees have six to seven years of relevant experience and are tasked not with overseeing ministry staff but with supervising special projects and inter-ministry communications.

It also aims to change the makeup of the search committees charged with filling senior public service positions.

Discussion of the idea took place in the cabinet on October 1, but was postponed for two weeks by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after ministers failed to reach agreement in a stormy cabinet meeting.

At that meeting, Netanyahu reportedly expressed interest in even more far-reaching political appointments, hinting at the American model, which allows a new leader to replace the entire upper echelon of the government bureaucracy, the Globes daily business news site reported Sunday, quoting leaks.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, September 3, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem)

Haim Katz and Gila Gamliel, both of the ruling Likud party, voted against the proposal on Sunday because they wanted political appointees to be more extensive, Globes said, while Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Yuval Steinitz (Likud) abstained.

Shaked and Levin have said the change is needed because governing has become more complex and the right balance has to be struck between posts occupied by those who are committed to an elected minister’s vision and those who are bureaucrats charged with translating policy into action.

Shaked said, “The government proved today that governability and professionalism complement one another. People with managerial talents will join public service.”

Levin said the proposal was intended to strengthen governing and to put an end to the “absurd situation” in which policy determined by ministers was not being fully implemented.

Israeli Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin (R) attends a House committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The two said that the deputy minister appointments would be funded from within ministry budgets rather than add anything to the state budget, and that posts for deputy ministers already existed in some ministries but had not yet been filled, The Marker news site said. Where deputy ministers had already been appointed, no changes would be made.

Opposition leaders warned the move would impact the professionalism of the ministries and be a gateway to cronyism.

Avi Gabbay, chairman of the opposition Zionist Union, said, “The public interest and rule of law don’t interest Netanyahu’s government. ”

He said a direct line ran between Netanyahu’s public drubbing of the head of police on Saturday and Sunday’s green light for additional political appointments.

Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union), a former justice minister, said, “Is there no shame?!” She said the proposal would take the country back to “government by cronies” and that it sent the message that budgets, jobs and everything else owned by the public and intended to serve the public had become party political.

The proposal was not about better government but about answering political needs that were irrelevant, she added.  Moves like this were “political corruption masquerading as governance.”

Yair Lapid, head of the opposition Yesh Atid Party, attacked the cabinet’s green light for more positions “that nobody needs. Each post like that costs two million shekels,” he went on, with the result that “together, all they’ve approved today is NIS 40 million for themselves and their close associates.”

Michal Rozin (Meretz) said the government’s decision was “against proper government and the rule of law.” It opened a “dangerous window” and weakened public confidence, she charged. 

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