State Comptroller and Ombudsman
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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 State Comptroller and Ombudsman

9/1/2000

 SPOTLIGHT ON ISRAEL
 
  The State Comptroller and Ombudsman

The State Comptroller is elected by the Knesset in a secret ballot for one seven-year term (according to a 1988 amendment of the law).

The powers and duties of the State Comptroller were initially laid down in the State Comptroller Law, enacted in May 1949. Since then they have been extended and are now to be found in two acts of legislation enacted by the Knesset:

Together these two laws define the status and main functions of the State Comptroller and make provisions for his/her election and the implementation of his/her functions (budget, staff, powers, reports and relations with the Knesset).

According to the law, since 1971, the State Comptroller also fulfills the function of Ombudsman and serves as an address for any person to submit complaints against state and public bodies subject to the audit of the State Comptroller.

The merging of the two functions is to the advantage of both institutions: a number of complaints, at times even a single one, can indicate a systemic defect in the operations of the administration of an institution or even an infringement of the law; such complaints aid the comptroller in identifying suitable areas for comprehensive audit, while the extensive experience of the audit staff can aid in finding proper solutions to the problems of the individual facing bureaucracy.

State Comptroller
 
Dr. Siegfried Moses 1949-1961
 
State Comptroller and Ombudsman
 
Dr. Yitzhak Nebenzahl 1961-1981
Mr. Yitzhak Tunik 1982-1987
Judge Ya'acov Malz 1987-1988
Justice Miriam Ben-Porat 1988-1998

Justice Eliezer Goldberg

1998-2005

Micha Lindenstrauss

2005-


The State Audit Function

State audit is broadly defined in the Basic Law as inspection of the economy, the property, the obligations and the administration of the State, of the Government offices, enterprises, institutions, or corporations of the State, of local authorities, and of the other bodies or institutions made subject by law to the inspection of the State Comptroller. The Basic Law goes on to define the scope of the audit as comprising examination of the legality, moral integrity, orderly management, efficiency and economy of the inspected bodies, and any other matter which he/she (the Comptroller) deems necessary.

These fundamental provisions, as reiterated in more detail in the State Comptroller Law of 1958, provide for both breadth and depth of the audit function. The agencies subject to the State Comptroller's inspection include not only all government departments and state institutions, such as all branches of the defense establishment, Ports, Rail and Broadcasting Authorities and other statutory bodies, such as the Bank of Israel and the National Insurance Institute, but also all local authorities; government corporations - many of them large commercial enterprises playing an important role in the economy, such as the Oil Refineries, the Israel Electric Company, Mekorot Water Company, and El-Al Israel Airlines; and a host of other bodies - subsidiaries of those mentioned above or supported, directly or indirectly, by the State.

The latter include large institutions, such as the universities, the Egged Public Transport Cooperative, health insurance funds and many smaller bodies receiving financial support from the State, such as district religious councils and various associations catering to sports, cultural, educational and religious activities.

In addition, the State Comptroller has been entrusted with the supervision of state financing of political parties (1973) and the implementation of rules to prevent members of the Government from conflict-of-interest situations and to deal with such situations if they do arise (1977).

In carrying out his/her functions, the state comptroller relates not only to the traditional criteria for examining the regularity of financial activities of these bodies (whether expenditures are within the limits of the authorized budget appropriation and for the purpose for which that appropriation was assigned; whether income has been lawfully received; whether all expenditure and income are properly documented: whether every act has been carried out as prescribed by law; and whether the bookkeeping system, the preparation of the balance sheets and cash and inventories control are efficient), but also includes the examination of legality, moral integrity, orderly management, economy, efficiency and effectiveness and any other matter which the State Comptroller deems necessary. Over the years, in Israel - as elsewhere - more emphasis has been placed on the latter criteria, known as performance auditing, and less on traditional auditing.

Some indication of the scope of state audit may be gleaned from a short list of the subjects dealt with by the State Comptroller over the years: the bank shares crisis; the Lavi fighter aircraft project; public health in Israel; absorption of immigrants; political appointments in the public service and on the boards of directors of government corporations; investigation of police officers by the police; the supply of protective equipment for the civilian population (gas masks) during the Gulf War.

To enable the State Comptroller to carry out these functions effectively, his/her constitutional independence is expressly provided for in the Basic Law, which stipulates that he/she shall be responsible only to the Knesset and not be dependent upon the Government, and that the budget of his/her office "shall be determined by the Finance Committee of the Knesset, upon the proposal of the State Comptroller" (i.e., not by the Government as part of the general Budget Law proposals). The Basic Law also guarantees the State Comptroller full access to all the information he/she may need, including information of a secret or confidential nature; the bodies subject to his/her inspection "shall, at his request, without delay, provide the State Comptroller with information, documents, explanations, or any other material which (he) deems necessary for the purposes of inspection." In addition the State Comptroller, with the approval of the State Audit Affairs Committee of the Knesset, has the powers of a commission of inquiry to summon witnesses to appear before him/her, give evidence under oath and submit documents to him/her, and to impose a fine on those failing to do so. In the case of certain categories of bodies subject to inspection - primarily government corporations and their subsidiaries and assisted bodies - the State Comptroller can also issue directives regarding their accounting systems and the preparation of their balance sheets, the scope and mode of the checks to be carried out by their own auditors, the reports of those auditors and the circumstances under which they must report directly to the State Comptroller with regard to plans for operations and forecasts for future operations.

In regard to the findings of state audit, the State Comptroller's strength lies not in the direct enforcement of remedies - which would be an encroachment on constitutional concepts such as the separation of powers. His/her strength is in the standing in which he/she is held by the bodies subject to his/her inspection, in the reports on his/her findings submitted by him/her to the Knesset, where representatives of the bodies in question are confronted with the reports in the State Audit Affairs Committee and in the publication of those reports in the media, for the attention of the public at large. In cases where suspicion of a criminal act arises, the State Comptroller is required to bring the matter to the notice of the Attorney General.


Investigation of Complaints

In his/her capacity as Ombudsman, the State Comptroller investigates complaints against virtually all the bodies subject to his/her inspection, their employees, office holders, or bearers of any function.

All citizens, residents, tourists, inhabitants of the territories administered by Israel and even persons abroad have the right to submit complaints to the Ombudsman.

The right to complain is subject to a locus standi requirement: the complaint must relate to an act, omission or delay, injurious to, or directly withholding a benefit from, the complainant himself, or - if the complainant is a Member of the Knesset - some other person on whose behalf the MK complains. The complaint must also be about something done or omitted contrary to law, or without lawful authority, or contrary to good administration, or involving a too inflexible attitude or a flagrant injustice.

A number of categories of complaints is expressly excluded from the Ombudsman's jurisdiction - among them: complaints against the President; complaints against the Knesset, its committees and also its members in the discharge of their functions as such; complaints against the Government, its committees and individual ministers in their capacity as members of the Government; complaints against judicial acts of courts, tribunals and statutory committees and their members; matters pending in a court or tribunal; the complaints of soldiers, police officers and prison officers regarding terms of service and disciplinary matters (for which they have to resort to their own ombudsman); and certain complaints of civil servants and employees of other inspected bodies, relating to their service as such.

The Ombudsman has wide powers of investigation - similar to those he/she has as State Comptroller - independence, full access to all relevant material, the power to subpoena witnesses, and so forth. He/she must give the body or person against whom the complaint is directed a suitable opportunity to answer it. Here, too, the Ombudsman is required to bring suspicions arising out of a criminal act to the notice of the Attorney General; he/she can also do so if suspicion of a disciplinary offence arises.

Where the Ombudsman finds the complaint justified he/she may, in notifying the body or person concerned and the superior of such a person, point out the need to rectify the matter, stipulating how and when to do so. They, in turn, are required to notify the Ombudsman of the steps they have taken. If they fail to do so, the Ombudsman has, in general, no power to enforce his/her recommendations; if no steps are taken or the Ombudsman is dissatisfied with those taken, he/she can bring the matter to the notice of the government minister concerned or the State Audit Affairs Committee.

Two exceptions to the lack of powers of enforcement have been provided for: in case of the complaints of "whistle-blowers" - complaints of employees of inspected bodies regarding the conduct of their superiors towards them for having exposed, in good faith, acts of corruption; and in the case of complaints of internal auditors regarding their removal from office or other injurious action taken against them by their superiors in reaction to fulfillment of their duties as internal auditors. The Ombudsman may issue orders for the protection of such employees - including, for example, annulment of their dismissal. Such an order is binding, but the Attorney General and the Civil Service Commissioner or his counterpart in non-government inspected bodies can ask the Ombudsman to reconsider his/her decision.

As in the case of the State Comptroller's audit function, so too in his/her function as Ombudsman, much of the force of his/her recommendations emanates from his/her standing in the eyes of the bodies concerned. A selection of the complaints handled during the year are reported in the Ombudsman's annual report to the Knesset, so the possibility of inclusion in the report, with the subsequent confrontation in the Committee on State Audit Affairs and publication in the media, also carries its weight. In fact, but for a few exceptions over the course of the years, the Ombudsman's decisions and the remedies he/she recommended were implemented by the inspected bodies concerneded. The number of complaints has increased, lately reaching about 6000-7000 a year; about half of them have been found to be justified.

It may be noted that on a number of occasions the Supreme Court has voiced its backing to the binding moral force of the State Comptroller's decisions, in both his/her capacities, stressing that his/her words should not be left unheeded.

Contact information:

12 Beit Hadfus St.
Givat Shaul, Jerusalem
POB 1081,
Jerusalem 91010
Tel: 972-2-6665000
Fax: 972-2-6665204

Website: http://www.mevaker.gov.il/

E-mail:

  • General feedback and questions: feedback@mevaker.gov.il
  • The Comptroller office: mevaker@mevaker.gov.il

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