Update on the Activities in 2017 Projects – Updated as of October 2017
Enhancing Transparency in Government Authorities: A summary of activity over recent months.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant. The struggle for assimilating the principle of transparency in the country has been one of the issues in which the Movement keeps investing a lot of efforts. Inter alia, we act for establishing transparency in the Government Budget, in all of the finances controlled by local authorities, in the conducting of elected persons and in governmental authorities of all levels. The reason for this struggle is the unquestionable right of the public to know what is being done with its resources and assets and what its elected representatives are doing, and also the fact that transparency is the most effective means to prevent corruption and the waste of public money. The Movement acts to enhance transparency through two main channels:
- Actions aimed to generate changes of policies and to apply transparency in places where it hasn’t been applied yet (e.g. changes in law and regulations).
- Actions initiated to specifically expose information that is important for the public to know.
Following is an update for recent months on the Movement’s activity within the Project for Transparency Enhancement.
An achievement: thanks to our petition, the real estate assets of the Israel Post Company have been exposed. According to the Freedom of Information law, the Movement submitted a petition against the Israel Post Company for not responding to the demands of exposing information with regard to the Company’s real estate and land assets. It is about information that belongs to the public and should be exposed in full transparency according to both the law and the very basic logic. In addition, the odd conducting of the Israel Post Company – not bothering to respond to our requests of exposing the information – raises doubts. Above all, these days when there are so many complaints about the Post Company’s functioning, it is essential to inquire whether it owns assets that could be used in order to heal the company and improve its services to the public. Due to the petition, the Israel Post Company was forced to expose the complete list of real estate assets in its ownership.
A significant achievement: the Movement’s petitions against 17 local authorities led to the publication of Freedom of Information reports as demanded by the law. Recently the Movement submitted to the courts petitions against 17 local authorities, demanding each to publicize in its internet site the annual report of the authority’s controller of the Freedom of Information law. Among the authorities are the municipalities of Beit She’an and Sderot, the local councils of Basmat-Tiv’on, Hatzor Haglilit, Ka’abiya-Tabash-Hajajra, Bu’eine-Nujeidat, Kadima-Tzoran, Gedera, Beit Dagan, Be’er Ya’akov, and the regional councils of Kfar Vradim, Basmah, Migdal Tefen, Ma’aleh Eron, Ma’aleh Yoseph. Following the Movement’s petitions, all these local authorities submitted the requested reports.
An advance in the struggle for transparency in the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet Le’Israel – KKL): the directors’ Conflicts of Interests have been exposed. The position of KKL is an absurd one: it is an organization that keeps hold of 2.5 million dunams of national lands, that its capital is estimated in billions, that receives – according to publications – about one billion ILS state money each year, and that in not a few places functions actually as an operational arm of the government. Still, the KKL’s conduct is obscure, without being regulated or having reasonable transparency standards. Moreover, the Freedom of Information law – the foundation for all transparency – does not apply to KKL.
A preliminary achievement has been gained recently, as KKL’s directors have at last exposed their Conflicts of Interests agreements – according to the Movement’s demand. The struggle, however, is not yet done; there is still a long way to full transparency in KKL.
We have petitioned in demand to expose the ministers’ expenditures on travels abroad. Our ministers sometimes tend to be frequent flyers, doing so for various reasons. The Movement has initiated a new project designated to find out whether all of these travels have got fair reasons, whether they disrupt the ministers’ parliamentary functioning, and what costs they claim off the public budget. In January we had addressed to all ministries Freedom of Information requests regarding ministers’ travels: target locations and reasons for travelling, number of persons in each minister’s entourage, and complete costs. Most of the ministries collaborated with us, but for four who had chosen to stay in the dark: minister of Health Ya’akov Litzman, minister of Education Naftali Bennet, minister of Transportation Israel Katz and minister of Environmental Protection Ze’ev Elkin. After many unanswered addresses to them and according to the Freedom of Information law, we submitted petitions against the four non-transparent ministers. To these we added a petition in demand to expose the costs of minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev’s travels abroad, as their scope seemed to be rather questionable.
An achievement of the public: after 5o years, EAPC (Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company) exits from obscurity. Government-owned EAPC had benefited from the confidentiality applied to its activity and hence was not obliged to act by the values of transparency to which every government-owned company is committed. This fact had turned the company into a play-ground for politicians, directors and cronies. For many years now the Movement has been investing efforts – that under various circumstances also reached the courts – in order to apply transparency to EAPC. Recently the Finance Committee has confirmed that finally EAPC will be recognized as a government-owned company, which means being committed to transparency, the State Controller’s criticism, and relevant parts of the Freedom of Information law.
Transparency of the Government Companies: being owned by the government (and at times enjoying its support through public funds), these companies are committed to act transparently as to enable the supervision and monitoring of their conduct. According to information released by the Government Companies Authority, currently there are 106 government companies of which only 56 had published financial reports relating to the year in which the inspection was carried out. Other 28 companies published such reports in the past – but obviously they are not up to date – and the rest 22 companies never published any. In addition, most of the companies have never published activity reports as demanded of them according to the Freedom of Information law. The Movement has started acting as regards the Government Companies Authority as well as the companies in themselves in order to achieve information concerning companies that have not released details about their financial conduct and their activity as a whole.
Following the Movement’s appeals, the Ministry of Finance has finally started advancing the transparency of implementing the Government Budget. Merkava is a comprehensive transverse computerization system in use of government offices and by which the government budget is being managed. Each official in the Ministry of Finance has got access to this system and therefore can get output and data concerning the use of budgets destined for projects in any of the government offices. However, these data are not exposed to the public eye and, furthermore, are not readily available for the members of the Parliament’s Finance Committee – the very committee in charge of confirming or rejecting deviations in the budgets of government offices. Once this system is not accessible, there is no transparency. The budget comprises sections whose annual allocations are known precisely, however in reality many of them make no use of this money. At the same time, other sections end the year with a budget much higher than the lower sum allocated to them originally. All of these affairs happen without any transparency. This is the actual condition of the Government Budget’s monies: no transparency. Following the Movement’s appeals, the Director of Budgets announced recently that the wing has finally commenced work aiming to enable constant publication of data concerning budget implementation by using the Merkava System on the Ministry of Finance internet site.
Transparency in the municipal sphere: according to the Freedom of Information law, the Movement submitted petitions concerning a lot of municipal issues. Following are just a few examples:
- Freedom of Information petition against Gedera Municipality resulted in exposing the 2009 to 2016 criticism reports regarding this municipality.
- A petition against Tel Aviv Municipality yielded the exposure of information concerning money transferences after changing land’s designation from commercial to public.
- Against Haifa Municipality concerning the nomination of a director for a municipal company.
- A petition against Holon Municipality resulted in exposing the procedures of nominating a legal counsel and a director of a development company.
- Petitions against the municipalities of Beit She’an and Netanya resulted in exposing their conduct concerning municipal signage.
Requests for Freedom of Information
As part of its struggle for transparency, the Movement daily addresses authorities in requests concerning the Freedom of Information law – and in other requests – in order to achieve information that belongs to the public.
Following are some examples out of numerous requests for Freedom of Information and similar requests, submitted by the Movement recently:
- Of the Ministry of Finance, information concerning assets transferred from the State to the Jewish Agency.
- Of the Ministry of Defense, concerning the number of recruited persons out of students and graduates of ultra-orthodox Yeshivas and other schools.
- Of Israel Land Authority, concerning businessman Lev Levayev’s acquisition of burial plots in Jerusalem’s Har-Hamenuhot, allegedly against the law.
- Of the Ministry of Transportation, concerning the protocols of the Light Train Project’s steering committee.
- Of the Bank of Israel, all the relevant information concerning the fact that for years the monetary committee includes only one public representative instead of three as obliged by law.
- Of the Ministry of Justice, concerning proscribed money in villages (Moshavim).
- Of the Ministry of Agriculture, information concerning the advance of a promised scheme to enable voluntary organization of farmers in place of the current archaic Production Committees.
These are just a few examples out of the enormous number of Freedom of Information requests submitted by the Movement day by day.