Comptroller announces reform, touts focus on social issues over corruption

Comptroller announces reform, touts focus on social issues over corruption

Matanyahu Englman details his vision, says inspections will be more ‘diverse’ and include positive reinforcement, as well as ‘constructive criticism’ of inspected bodies

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman speaks at the annual justice conference on September 3, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman speaks at the annual justice conference on September 3, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman on Tuesday presented his vision for an overhaul of his office’s conduct, which would see more of a focus on social issues and fewer probes into wrongdoing and breaches of good governance principles in state bodies.

Englman, who was appointed four months ago with the backing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has since been reported to be planning to scale back the office’s probes into public corruption and focus on the post’s traditional and uncontroversial role as an internal critic of the state bureaucracy.

Last month, Englman was quoted by Channel 13 as telling his staff members that under his leadership, there would be no corruption probes such as the one that ended with the conviction of Sara Netanyahu, the premier’s wife, in June.

That criminal case was initially kicked off by a comptroller’s report recommending a police investigation into the issue of catering meals ordered illegally at the Prime Minister’s Residence.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sara Netanyahu at Ben Gurion Airport on August 18, 2019 (Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)

At a conference in Tel Aviv, Englman on Tuesday introduced his plan — dubbed the “Constructive Criticism Reform” — in detail, saying he was aiming to match the model used in the United States, Britain and other liberal democracies.

The plan will include a “Top 5” section at the end of every report that will summarize the five key findings along with the main recommendations, as well as presenting some of the findings in the form of data and numbers.

He said his vision was “making the state comptroller’s probes constructive, relevant and effective, with an eye on the future, while focusing on matching national goals; a broad, nationwide perspective; and dealing with the core subjects dealt with by the state bodies.

Englman, an accountant by training and former education executive who ran the prestigious Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and the state’s top university regulator, the Council for Higher Education, was sworn in to the job on July 1. He is the first comptroller in three decades who is not a former judge.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Former State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

His appointment, passed by the Knesset in June with the backing of Netanyahu’s coalition, came in the wake of two comptrollers, Micha Lindenstrauss and Yosef Shapira, who transformed the post into a key corruption watchdog — drawing praise from non-governmental watchdog groups, but also criticism from some politicians and officials for expanding the role of the office.

The State Comptroller’s Office, which is also the government’s office for public complaints, serves under the aegis of the Knesset and has authority to examine all agencies of government, even the most secretive. In part due to Lindenstrauss’s efforts, the agency had grown in recent years into a significant oversight body with hundreds of attorneys and accountants whose reports often lead to administrative and policy changes.

Englman criticized the office’s conduct thus far, saying almost all the probes had focused on whether the bodies were adhering to principles of good governance and legal guidelines.

Under him, the probes will be more “diverse,” Englman said, and will also include inspections of strategy-setting procedures, financial data and risks, the effectiveness of its operations, and IT systems.

Matanyahu Englman (R) shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem shortly after being nominated for state comptroller on June 3, 2019. (PMO/Twitter)

“The inspections will be carried out professionally, objectively and thoroughly, in a respectful and respectable way,” he said, adding that the new model would start being used in the coming months.

Englman said he had spent the months that have passed since his appointment studying the office’s conduct and getting to know all its teams.

He clarified his approach was that the inspections were a tool for improving the bodies’ functioning, but decision-making should be left for publicly elected officials and managers.

“The comptroller is chosen by the Knesset and in his job he is accountable before the Knesset alone. His reports are presented to the Knesset and the public,” he said.

He confirmed earlier reports that said he would include “positive reinforcements” as part of the reports, in addition to enabling the bodies to comment on the content of the report.

Illustrative: State Comptroller Yosef Shapira (R) hands the State Comptroller’s report to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein on October 28, 2015. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)

Part of the reform would see probes trying to set comprehensive guidelines relevant to all state bodies and drawing general conclusions from an inspection of a specific body.

Englman also said he wanted to “strengthen the social aspect and the inspections’ role in making the voice of disadvantaged groups in society heard.”

It includes improving personal security within the Arab sector, surprise inspections in service centers, and monitoring the quality of internet services to the public.

Englman has been accused of being installed in the position in order to help Netanyahu. One of his first moves in office was to overhaul its Permits Committee, which had refused requests from Netanyahu to fund his legal defense with money from his cousin, US businessman Nathan Milikowsky. All the committee members have resigned and been replaced.

Commenting on the issue, Englman said he “regrets that there are those who try to besmirch the Permits Committee members and doubt their integrity and professional experience before a single discussion has been held,” adding that he had picked the new members based on their quality and including members who come from the socioeconomic periphery.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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