Hard-Hitting Report Targets Corruption in Israeli Government

THE Israeli attorney general has opened an investigation into multiple cases of government misconduct revealed in the state comptroller's annual report, issued April 27.

The report, issued early this year so as not to embarrass the Likud government too close to the June 23 elections, is one of the most critical ever to appear. It paints a startling picture of incompetence, inefficiency, and dishonesty in many Israeli government ministries.

The brunt of the accusations is borne by the Housing Ministry, led by the controversial Ariel Sharon, whose closest aides are found to have misspent government funds for their personal use, and to have given contracts to political associates who were demonstrably unable to fulfill them.

"It is an insufferable situation" when government authorities violate the law, wrote State Comptroller Miriam Ben-Porat, the government's independent watchdog of its performance.

Another of Mr. Sharon's Cabinet colleagues, Health Minister Ehud Olmert, also comes in for criticism. He is found to have used $250,000 of an anonymous foreign donation to buy hospital equipment from a company whose chairman is a former Likud minister, without putting the contract up for public tender.

Nor did anybody check whether the 10 hospitals earmarked for the equipment needed it, the report said. Three of the hospitals sent requests for equipment to the Health Ministry from a fax machine belonging to the equipment's manufacturer.

Ms. Ben-Porat also criticized the Army, finding that its officers and men are unfit and most soldiers are poor marksmen.

More seriously, perhaps, the report also reveals that Israel's educational system spends almost twice as much on a Jewish pupil as it does on an Arab pupil.

The government's effort to handle the arrival of 400,000 new immigrants from the former Soviet Union over the past two years has been poorly organized, the report finds. While the Education Ministry had still not drawn up a Hebrew-language curriculum for immigrant students by December 1991, the Absorption Ministry - run by ultra-orthodox Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz - paid ultra-orthodox religious groups hundreds of thousands of dollars to explain their religious views to immigrants.

But it is the Housing Ministry, led by Sharon, that comes in for the fiercest criticism. "There was suspicion of personal benefits; political and other extraneous considerations were found to be involved; the rules of proper public administration were flouted; and at times moral scruples were tossed aside" in the ministry's affairs, Ben-Porat wrote.

"Public funds were spent without proper authorization and supervision; efficiency and economy were not the constant guidelines when it came to spending money," she added.

At a press conference called to respond to the charges, Sharon acknowledged that "mistakes were made," but pleaded the enormous challenge of immigration as mitigating circumstances.

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