Shomrim report: What happens when local officials waste our money?

Unbeknownst to many Israelis, an Interior Ministry committee has the authority to impose fines on mayors and civil servants who improperly use municipal taxes. However, a Shomrim investigation has found that there is no correlation between the extent of the waste and the severity of the fines – which, in any case, are often reduced or remain unpaid for years. Despite a scathing report by the state comptroller, nothing has changed.

Unbeknownst to many Israelis, an Interior Ministry committee has the authority to impose fines on mayors and civil servants who improperly use municipal taxes. However, a Shomrim investigation has found that there is no correlation between the extent of the waste and the severity of the fines – which, in any case, are often reduced or remain unpaid for years. Despite a scathing report by the state comptroller, nothing has changed.

Unbeknownst to many Israelis, an Interior Ministry committee has the authority to impose fines on mayors and civil servants who improperly use municipal taxes. However, a Shomrim investigation has found that there is no correlation between the extent of the waste and the severity of the fines – which, in any case, are often reduced or remain unpaid for years. Despite a scathing report by the state comptroller, nothing has changed.

Chen Shalita

Israeli Minister of Interior Ayelet Shaked. Photo: Reuters

March 7, 2022

Summary

What happens when a local authority makes improper use of funds raised through municipal property taxes? Assuming there is no suspicion of criminality, such cases are sent to the Interior Ministry’s Oversight Division, from where they go to the Committee for Personal Accountability. This committee is charged with deciding whether to impose personal, financial sanctions on those civil servants responsible for wasting the public money.

According to its mandate, the committee discusses cases where there is a suspicion of impropriety. Its goal is to deter the heads of local councils and authorities from misusing public funds – without over-deterring them and making them reticent to implement new initiatives for fear of financial sanctions.

The committee can investigate elected officials or civil servants, such as the CEO, legal adviser, or treasurer of a local authority, defined as that body’s gatekeepers. If it is apparent that they took part in behavior that violates the rules of good governance, either complicity or more actively, they could be forced to pay a fine from their own pocket.

There are just one or two small problems, however. A Shomrim investigation reveals that the fines levied are negligible compared to the financial harm done. Even in the rare cases when a significant sum is levied, it is later rescinded or significantly reduced, since many years pass between the incident and the committee’s decision and the whole affair is considered irrelevant.

According to the Shomrim investigation, the committee has only imposed a personal fine on 29 occasions since 2019; in 45 cases, it decided not to pursue the case, despite the obvious harm to public coffers. What the Interior Ministry decided to do with the instances where its own committee recommended imposing a fine is a mystery since only partial documentation has been uploaded to the internet.

This is a summary of shomrim's story published in Hebrew.
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