By Noam Bercovitz
About four months ago the National Committee investigating Israel’s water crisis, of which Prof. Yoram Avnimelech of the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering was a member, submitted its conclusions. The committee’s report painted a dismal picture of a deep crisis that is “primarily the result of deeds and failures.” It warned that “if the failures that have contributed in our opinion to the present crisis are not corrected, there is concern that not only the solution to the present crisis will be postponed for a long time, but that similar crises will reoccur in the future.”
The committee, chaired by retired judge Dan Bein and a third member, Professor Yoav Kislev of the Hebrew University, warned that the water crisis is far from over and that even this year’s rainfall cannot solve the problem. According to the committee, long term planning and continued, straightforward implementation of the decisions are imperative.
Prof. Avnimelech, you are an adherent of academic faculty involvement in public activities. What are the conclusions from this chapter of your public involvement?
We submitted recommendations for action and so far not a single one has been implemented, to the best of our knowledge. We appeared before the Knesset’ State Control Committee and I suggested that they check every four months how, when and if at all, implementation of our committee’s recommendations is progressing.
The relevant branches of government – The water Authority, the involved ministries etc. must be required to discuss the recommendations of the inquiry commissions and report to the Knesset, who appointed the commission and to the public regarding what was implemented. The government does not have to accept all recommendations but it must note which conclusions it rejects and explain why. Appointing an inquiry commission, receiving its report and storing it in a dusty warehouse is unacceptable and does not contribute to the proper administration of the state.
How do we correct this situation?
Unfortunately, it would seem that there is a tradition of ignoring the conclusions of inquiry commissions. Just now, during the discussions about the flotilla to Gaza, it was pointed out that the Winograd Commission’s recommendations about decision making were never implemented. I run up against the public’s and the media’s reactions of “you’re just wasting your time” Ignoring the National Investigation Committee Regarding the Water Crisis will lead to, aside from harm to the water economy, an increase in the public’s mistrust of the important institution of inquiry commissions, nearly the only body that investigates failures in the Israeli administration and that is not responsible for the system that failed or has a political agenda.
Consequently, action by the Knesset’ State Control Committee is imperative and reporting by the relevant authorities about their responses to the committee’s recommendations must be mandatory.
The media was very disappointed by the fact that your report did not point fingers at individuals. Did you make a mistake by not naming those responsible for the failure?
This is a very important point.
The committee members, and I amongst them, were convinced that the present water crisis, just like the earlier ones, was the result of a continual wrong tradition in the water management administration and not due to the failure of different people in the system. We, therefore, did not point any fingers.
Inquiry commissions have two ways to act to correct a distortion in the system. The first way, which so far has not seemed to be successful, is to present the authorities with the recommendations so that they can discuss them and correct deficiencies. I would be very happy if in the not-too-distant future I will find that I was mistaken in my assessment that this way has failed.
The second way in which an inquiry commission can act is to make individuals at the head of the establishment personally responsible, even if the flawed management was part of the accepted way of doing things for many years.
When recently regulations regarding political appointments caught everyone’s attention, the prosecutor’s office decided to charge former minister MK Zachi Hanegbi, even though political appointments had been customary in the past. I assume that also as regards bribes, those charged will not be able to say that this was the practice in the past.
In other words, you would act differently today?
On second thought, and regretting the fact that this second thought has come too late, I have reached the conclusion that we erred and we should have reprimanded, if not blamed, the two heads of the system, who are at the top of the pyramid: Professor Uri Shani, water commissioner, and Dr. Uzi Landau, Minister of National Infrastructures, as being responsible for the system’s management and as those institutionally responsible for the system’s flaws.
It is very possible that seeing people as being personally responsible, even in cases of traditional mismanagement, will lead to fixing the public administration in Israel and will force or help those responsible for the various units to act optimally, sometimes despite pressures, diverse lobbyists and interested parties.