A Plan for Combating Government Corruption

Recommendations for Policy Makers - Elections 2015

A booklet of recommendations for combating government corruption prepared for Israeli policy makers by IDI experts in advance of the 2015 Knesset elections, based on research conducted at IDI over the years.  

In the weeks leading up to the 2015 Knesset elections, IDI compiled a booklet of anti-corruption recommendations for Israeli policy-makers, based on its extensive research in this area over the years. An English summary of this plan for combating government corruption, which was presented at a public meeting attended by Knesset members Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni, follows; the full Hebrew booklet of IDI recommendations can be downloaded from this page.

Government corruption is a serious and dangerous social ill. It undermines the public good, vital public interests, and equality of opportunity. It violates the duty of public officials and civil servants to act in the interest of the public. It impairs social solidarity, detracts from quality of life, harms economic growth, and destroys public confidence in government institutions and the democratic system.

The vast majority of Israel’s public servants perform their jobs honestly and impeccably. The actions of a corrupt few, however, can taint the entire civil service.

IDI's plan for waging a systematic and uncompromising fight against government corruption is designed to safeguard the rule of law and promote integrity and fairness. Candidates for public office must be men and women with an unblemished reputation. They must see public service as a mission that requires a unique ethos. Candidates who lack personal integrity and have engaged in government corruption should be publically denounced—whether their actions are criminal offenses or violations of public and ethical norms.

Transparency of government activities at all levels is an essential impediment to corruption, conflicts of interest, and misuse of public funds and government resources. Transparency is also a vital precondition for public confidence in the integrity of government agencies. The more that information is presented in a manner that is clear, accessible, and available, the more effective public oversight of government will be.

The fight against corruption must be multi-system and multi-faceted. It must be waged in the legal, educational, and public arenas, both preemptively and reactively, and both the symptoms and causes of this malady must be addressed.

Since we believe that the vast majority of public sector employees have the public’s best interest in mind, it is necessary to create a system that will enable public servants to act in the interest of the public, without finding themselves in situations that are detrimental to their own welfare and harmful to the public. Creating a clear and transparent system for public sector conduct will help the general public and will protect public servants from the pressures of special interest groups.

An effective battle against corruption must be based on deterrence, on increasing awareness of the types of activity that violate the ethics of the public service, and on refining the distinction between appropriate and inappropriate public conduct. While eliminating the “demand” for corruption, it is also vital for the fight against corruption to increase competition in the national economy.

A summary of IDI's plan for combating government corruption follows.

  1. Define the nature of the executive branch in a Basic Law – This law, which will be based on IDI's draft of a Constitution by Consensus, will stipulate that the executive branch is a trustee of the public, must promote the public interest and protect basic human rights, and must act faithfully, fairly, honestly, carefully,and with appropriate transparency.
  2. Pass Basic Law: Public Service – The proposed Basic Law will comprise three main sections:
    • A definition of the composition of the public service in Israel
    • Criteria for hiring public servants
    • Obligations of public servants.
  3. Redefine the crime of "breach of trust and fraud" – Article 284 of the Penal Code, which is vague and does not provide an adequate definition of breach of trust and fraud, will be replaced by a provision of law that sets out specific prohibitions for public servants, in line with an IDI proposal.
  4. Use financial statements as an effective anti-corruption tool – The procedures for examining financial statements for candidates for public service positions will be improved in accordance with the Shamgar Commission's recommendations for drafting a code of ethics for government. A special unit will also be established to oversee financial integrity in the public service.
  5. Re-examine campaign finance laws – IDI recommends that the government establish a committee that will recommend a ceiling for private donations to election campaigns and provide guidelines for how such donations can be made. Elected officials should be required to obtain advance authorization for transactions that will benefit donors who contributed above a certain amount within the past 10 years, with the amount determined by the State Comptroller. A centralized database of information regarding contributions to elected officials past and present should also be set up and administered by an office for protecting fiscal integrity.
  6. Increase the use of public tenders – Public tenders ensure effective use of the taxpayer's money and promote equality, as they give all citizens an equal chance of landing government contracts and prevent contracts from being awarded to family and friends. The transparency of public tenders also helps combat corruption in procurement procedures. In recent years, however, 85% of government procurements were exempt from public tenders. IDI recommends limiting the numerous exceptions allowed in Israel's tender regulations, and reconsidering exemptions from tenders, including those of the defense establishment.
  7. Regulate the service of elected officials during criminal proceedings – IDI recommends passing legislation that will provide guidelines for regulating the service of elected officials accused of criminal activity. This legislation should cover the various stages of criminal proceedings: investigation, filing charges, conviction, and sentencing. Some of these stages are not covered by the current regulations, while others are but the regulations are in need of revision in order to send stronger messages against political corruption. IDI has drafted an amendment to Basic Law: The Government that includes comprehensive guidelines for all stages.
  8. Regulate Knesset lobbyists – Lobbying is a legitimate and even desirable activity in liberal democracies. However, it may grant excessive influence to those with economic power, may offer decision makers biased and misleading information, compromise transparency, and may undermine public confidence in the decision-making process. The activities of lobbyists in the Knesset and the executive branch should be regulated in accordance with the provisions of the comprehensive proposal for the regulation of lobbyists that IDI submitted to the Speaker of the Knesset in January of 2013. These recommendations aim to ensure transparency and systematizing the supervision of lobbying. IDI also recommends forbidding public bodies to use lobbyists in order to obtain public funds.
  9. Foster ethical behavior in the public service – IDI recommends the establishment of a School of Government by the civil service, local authorities, public corporations, and relevant academic bodies. This school will provide public servants with annual training that will equip them to identify conflicts of interests, deal with ethical issues, and detect corruption. It will also serve as a source for advice when ethical issues arise and will actively protect whistleblowers. Additional methods of inculcating norms of ethical conduct in the public service include:
    • Training one professional in every government to serve as the head of an ethics team
    • Appointing an ethics adviser to the Knesset and establishing an ethics committee to provide guidance to the prime minister and ministers, as recommended by the Shamgar Commission
    • Establishing an annual award that will honor one civil servant for an outstanding contribution to reducing corruption, and will be awarded in the presence of the President and Prime Minister.
  10. Establish a taskforce to root out government corruption – After the discovery of a serious breach of ethics or corruption in the Knesset or a government office, after a conviction on corruption charges, or the Attorney General has issued public disapproval regarding a case that has been closed for lack of sufficient evidence, a task force should conduct a case study in order analyze structural and systemic issues and draw the necessary conclusions. The taskforce should examine work practices that encourage corruption and recommend remedies for them, addressing issues including government efficiency and transparency. In cases involving government offices, the task force should work in conjunction with the internal auditor and head of the ethics team; in cases involving a member of Knesset, the task force should work with the Knesset's ethics adviser. (See recommendation 9.) The task force will recommend changes in procedures or legislation as necessary. These recommendations will be submitted to the relevant Minister, the relevant Knesset committee, or the State Comptroller, as appropriate, and their implementation will be monitored by the task force.
  11. Strengthen the status of gatekeepers – IDI recommends increasing the status and independence of internal auditors and legal advisers in public bodies and the local authorities. Internal auditors should be members of senior management and their salary should be commensurate with that status; in government ministries, for example, the internal auditor should be the Minister. The legal advisers of all public bodies should work under the Attorney General, who will give them professional guidance. Legal advisers must be given the necessary tools and means for fulfilling their role successfully.
  12. Increase government transparency – Transparency is one of the greatest safeguards against corruption, conflicts of interest, and misuse of public funds and government resources. Democracy is also meaningless without available, accessible, and transparent information that can enable citizens to make informed decisions. For this reason, IDI calls for maximum disclosure, within clear limitations, of all information held by government authorities, even down to the level of the day planners of public officials. IDI also calls on government authorities to respond quickly and clearly to requests for information in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act.
  13. Devise a mechanism for drawing conclusions from cases that have been closed – The fact that a case is closed does not necessarily indicate that there was no breach of conduct. Sometimes, while serious criticism of the actions of an elected official or public servant is issued, the case may be closed or charges may be dropped due to reasonable doubt. IDI recommends that an administrative procedure be developed that will allow conclusions to be drawn from all corruption cases that do not pass the criminal threshold for one reason or another. This will prevent the mistaken impression that the absence of an indictment or conviction is proof of proper conduct.
  14. Lengthen the cooling off periods for senior civil servants – Cooling off periods are vital for public servants who have been professionally involved in negotiating arrangements between the state and private entities or in regulating private entities. During these periods, former public servants should not work in the private sector and should not be in touch with their former colleagues when representing private interests. IDI recommends that people who are subject to these restrictions, which should be more strictly enforced, should receive more appropriate financial compensation. Exceptions to these limitations must be approved by a committee headed by a retired Supreme Court judge. All state authorities should publish a list of public servants who have retired and are in the midst of their cooling off periods, and should make their employees aware of the limitations on contact. Public servants who respond to attempts at contact from a retired public servant who is in violation of the terms of the cooling off period should be subject to disciplinary action.
  15. Protect whistleblowers – Since the mechanisms for incentivizing and protecting whistleblowers all have limitations, IDI believes that the best defense for people who expose corruption is to protect their identity. IDI recommends that internal auditors be required to preserve the confidentiality of whistleblowers who do not want to be identified. A special fund, administered by the State Comptroller's office, should be established in order to compensate whistleblowers who are adversely affected by their revelations. Steps must be taken to protect whistleblowers who are forced to reveal their identities in order to enable criminal proceedings. Mechanisms should also be devised to enable whistleblowers to find comparable alternative employment in the civil service should their ability to continue in their jobs be impacted by their whistleblowing.  Administrative sanctions should be imposed on those who reveal the identity of a whistleblower against his or her will.
  16. Formulate curricula on basic concepts of political ethics – It is vital to cultivate an understanding of democratic politics as a system that is built upon striking a balance between competing interests and compromising between different worldviews and political party platforms. Unreasonable expectations about the ability of elected officials to fulfill their campaign promises or to stand firm on fundamental issues on moral grounds may lead to the impression that all politics and politicians are corrupt. For this reason, students must be equipped with tools for informed, critical assessment of political behavior, including the fiduciary duty of government officials and civil servants to the public, and the meaning of their responsibility toward the public. This content should be incorporated into the civics curriculum and the study of subjects such as history, Jewish studies, and English; literature should also be used to enable students to explore political dilemmas. Israeli education should also stress the social importance of exposing corruption, in order to enhance the status of whistleblowers, which is lower than in many Western countries.
  17. Address the issue of coalition financing – Budgetary funds that are allocated to recipients directly at the discretion of ministers and Knesset members, based on political affiliations, clearly facilitate corrupt behavior. Lack of transparency and broad, unguided discretion increase the potential for corruption when direct budgetary transfers are made. To address this issue, IDI recommends:
    • Adopting procedures that require full transparency and allocating funds based on universal criteria. Exceptions will be made only in special cases, when there is no conflict of interest and the intended recipient of the funds has made a declaration to this affect.
    • Prohibiting the Ministry of Finance to agree to transfer funds to specific institutions in exchange for promoting an initiative of the Ministry in a Knesset committee.
    • Prohibiting the transfer of funds to bodies that are not regulated and not transparent.
  18. Develop ways of dealing with entities that are particularly prone to corruption, such as the Israel Lands Authority or local authorities – The mechanisms that can help in dealing with specific manifestations of corruption include strengthening the Israel Police and the proactive steps that it is allowed to take to detect corruption; preventing the allocation of resources to individuals or corporations on artificial grounds; preventing the politicization of the public service, and issuing periodic reports to the public on steps taken in the fight against corruption. Similarly, imposing financial sanctions against public servants who violated their fiduciary duty to the public and caused financial loss or received illegal benefits must be taken into consideration.