THE PREVENTION OF CRIME AND THE TREATMENT OF OFFENDERS IN ISRAEL: 1995 REPORT

MECHANISMS FOR MINIMIZING CORRUPTION

Ruth Geva, Director
Information Services and International Relations Divn.,
Ministry of Police

In general, Israeli society is characterized by a considerable degree of solidarity. Most citizens maintain proper standards of behavior. Over the past fifteen years, however, corrupt practice has been multiplying or, at least, corruption has been receiving more and more publicity.

Israel is a small country. Everybody seems to know everybody else which induces people to "do favors" for others, often crossing the boundaries of "what ought to be done." The wide varieties of cultures of public behavior, the result of waves of immigration from dozens of countries and regions, also tends to create contradictions and unclarity about the correct way to behave in the public domain.

Control Mechanisms

While it is impossible to prevent corrupt behavior altogether, it is certainly possible to place substantial obstacles in the way of those who are tempted to deviate from the straight and narrow. We list here some of the mechanisms in Israel designed to deter venality in public affairs.

Voluntary Activity

Some voluntary bodies seek to publicly expose acts of corruption. In a small democratic country like Israel, the existence of such bodies who use the mass media to get publicity for their allegations and to press for police investigations constitute an informal but highly effective anti-corruption mechanism. Recently, the Movement for Quality Government has been inaugurated in order to upgrade the ethics of government and improve the quality of service given by elected representatives and public officials (see article on the Movement in this Report).

The State Comptroller

The State Comptroller (Ombudsman) routinely conducts audits of public and government agencies, including the armed forces, and has the authority to investigate any sphere of activity where the public interest is involved. In addition, the Comptroller receives complaints from the public at inefficient, unjust or corrupt behavior in public agencies. In all, his/her powers of investigation and disclosure are substantial and far-reaching. (see article on this mechanism)

National Unit for Supervising the Quality of Government Services

The members of this unit conduct anonymous and clandestine surveillance of the work of government agencies and submit reports on cases of actual corruption or on situations that contain a high risk of criminal activity. Civil servants involved are subject to criminal prosecution or internal disciplinary proceedings.

Internal Auditors

A law requires every public and governmental agency in Israel, including commercial banks and insurance companies, to appoint an internal auditor, whose function will be to monitor the operations of the organization and eliminate both actual corruption and situations with potential for corruption and illegal profits. He is required to report wrongdoing by any member of staff, from the lowest to the highest, either to the head of the organization or to the State Comptroller. The auditor and his staff are protected from dismissal by the agency in which they operate and, at the same time, any employee who knowingly conceals a colleague’s corruption is liable to criminal prosecution. (See detailed article by U. Berlinsky in this Report.)

Rewarding "Whistleblowers"

An Act passed by the Israeli parliament in 1992 empowers the State President to issue a Certificate of Merit to any person who discloses unethical behavior in a public agency.

Legislation

The State Comptroller Act contains clauses regarding the professional behavior of accountants who maintain the books of a trade union or commercial company. It lays down the manner in which they will draw up financial statements, their duty to report any substantial changes in budget items and to convey directly to the State Comptroller any suspicion of unethical or corrupt action. The accountant must specify in detail the content of all transactions, loans and special benefits and also their source.

Restricting the Powers of Elected and Public Officials

Other anti-corruption acts passed by the Knesset (Israeli parliament) refer specifically to cabinet ministers, members of parliament and elected local councillors. They assert the principle of the complete separation of public duties and private interests. For example, a cabinet minister may not engage in any business outside his cabinet duties and must resign from any private position immediately on appointment. In addition, both cabinet ministers and Knesset Members must lease their businesses to someone who is not a relative. Every public official is obliged to declare any conflict of interest between his private and public affairs and must not participate in the making of any decision concerning his private interests.

Each year, all cabinet ministers and Knesset Members must declare their income from non-parliamentary sources, which must not exceed a certain amount and is subject to official supervision.

Elected members (of parliament or local authority) may not use insider or privileged information in any private business transaction and may not receive material compensation for their public duties in or outside parliament or the local government authority. Public officials also are prohibited from receiving material compensation for their public duties and must report to their superiors any gift received from a private source.

Members of parliament, cabinet ministers and all public officials are not allowed to acquire state properties unless such assets are available to the general public also. Although Members of Parliament and local councillors are permitted to maintain their private business activities after election, they are forbidden to use their elected position to further their business or professional affairs. Having completed their term of office, they may neither mention nor use their former elected title within the context of their business or professional activities. In accordance with the Interim or Cooling-Off Period Act, any public official who has maintained a working relationship with an agency during his/her term of office may not be employed by that agency for some years after leaving office.

The High Court of Justice

A major mechanism for the maintenance of ethical public conduct is the Supreme Court sitting as a High Court of Justice. Any citizen can apply to the High court and request the investigation of alleged misconduct or corruption on the part of a public official. Recognizing that corruption in public affairs is a threat to society as a whole, the High Court does not require the citizen to submit evidence that he has been personally damaged by the corruption.

Tenders Act

This Act compels all public agencies to issue public tenders for the procurement of goods and services, with the aim of eliminating favoritism and ensuring fair competition in bids for government contracts.

Controlling Corruption in the Israel National Police (INP)

The public expects to receive efficient and reliable service from its law enforcement agencies. Even a small suspicion of ethical irregularities or corruption will cause double damage first, a loss of the basic trust between citizen and police and second, serious harm to the very fiber of democratic rule. Strict compliance with the law by the law enforcement agencies themselves is vital.

Overall, corruption in the 20,000-strong INP is small and exceptional. Nonetheless, a number of measures have been taken to deal with unethical or corrupt behavior and officers found guilty of corruption are dismissed from the force.

In common with other public agencies, the INP has an internal monitoring apparatus that thoroughly examines all complaints against its personnel. Any complaint that seems to indicate criminal or corrupt behavior is passed on for investigation to the Special Investigation Unit established in the Ministry of Justice for that purpose. To cater for those citizens reluctant to lodge complaints against police directly with the police force itself, the Public Complaints Bureau of the Ministry of Police, the Office of the State Comptroller and the Special Investigation Unit of the Ministry of Justice will all accept the complaint.

Police officers found guilty of minor instances of unethical conduct are brought before internal INP disciplinary courts which deal out suitable punishments, ranging from fines to dismissal. For a criminal offense, the accused officer must stand trial before a normal criminal court.

Police officer violations of ethical codes are monitored and computerized. An accumulation of such infringements by an officer will be brought before an evaluation committee headed by the Director of Personnel which has the power to order dismissal or some lesser penalty, such as a delay in promotion.

Both the names of officers convicted of corrupt behavior and the punishments handed down by internal disciplinary courts or the criminal courts are published within the INP for the instruction of other officers. Ethical conduct is central to INP training and supervision, at all levels, for all ranks and throughout an officer’s career, from the initial selection process onwards. The nature of ethical conduct and corrupt behavior, the occasionally fine line between ethical and unethical conduct, and other facets of the issue are discussed in seminars, workshops and courses.

Theoretical material has been prepared by the INP’s Chief Education Officer for distribution to all senior commanders containing examples of unsuitable behavior that have come before internal disciplinary courts. In weekly classroom sessions, the material is taught to officers by their senior commanders and discussion is encouraged. The conclusions drawn and the role models chosen help develop value-oriented policing and leadership. All senior commanders strongly support the message that officers must take all pains to avoid criminal behavior of any form. They reject ambiguous slogans such as "The only good policeman is a strong policeman," for the unethical behavior that they legitimize.