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Israeli ombudsman discusses reforms

By Etuna Tsotniashvili
Thursday, February 9
Micha Lindenstrauss a State Comptroller and Ombudsman in Israel paid an official visit to Georgia. The Messenger interviewed Israeli Ombudsman on February 7.

Q:.When I went through your papers I had a feeling that your position is more powerful than that of an ordinary ombudsman. What are the features of your position? How do they compare to Georgia's ombudsman?

I think there are many similarities between the activities of the ombudsman here in Georgia and what is being done in our office.

Yes, it is correct that we have become stronger in the last few years in the Ombudsmanís office and in the State Comptroller's office... The reason was that we came to the conclusion that, as the ombudsman, it would be more important to act in those places where the community is weak, [rather] than in big cities where people are more wealthy. Therefore, we established some branches where we have newcomers, [and] so the policy of the ombudsmanís office is to make a stronger periphery and to make stronger those offices that are next to the people who need us.

[This] activity is considered successful; we have received in [the last] year, 15 000 complaints against the government and against local authorities. So it shows us that people are very much interested in connecting with us. We began this activity in the last 5-6 years, when a new general manager was appointed to our office... and together with the ombudsman [he] created, I would say, this big success; I can call it a revolution.

What are the most common cases you deal with in Israel?

We have complaints in national security; we have complaints against police authorities, taxation... [but] the decisions that we make are fulfilled by government and local authorities. So [problems are] not only to being admitted to us and sent to the authorities, but they are active, [their promises] are fulfilled. Therefore people are very confident in our system.

Here in Georgia, when the ombudsman gives a report, very few MPs attend. This creates an upsetting image that he is not respected or influential. Furthermore, his recommendations are not often followed or accepted. How influential is your authority; does it depend on a personality or on the position?

It depends on the position and also very much on personality. Today, the ombudsman is very powerful in Israel Ė when he writes a report with his people and advisers and staff, he knows that [it will] be delivered very soon to the authorities and later on it will be [enacted] by the authorities. I am really proud of it.

The State Comptroller and the ombudsmanís commission meet several times in Parliament. When we meet I have to [see if] we have 12 members of the commission. I am sorry to say that not every time I see all those members at the meeting; you may find there about 2-3 members only, because MPs are active on several commissions. But it depends on the subject; there may be a subject where every member attends the meeting.

How often are the recommendations you give to Parliament fulfilled?

About 55-60% of our decisions are later on fulfilled by government... [That may even be] 60-70% today. Of course, it was not the same situation in earlier times.

Could you evaluate the situation in Georgia?

I think you have excellent people here; my impression is very positive. [In the Georgian office there are] two young people,(Ombudsman and the Head of Chamber of Controll) [whereas] you cannot find young people in high positions in Israel. When state comptrollers [are appointed] they are about 70 years [old] and I thought it was clever, because they have much experience in life. But [looking at Georgia], I am going back with the feeling that they have excellent people, not only themselves but their staff. I think they are successful, although I have some suggestions which I may give them later on. The time [has come] to decide the very important question of putting the ombudsman and state controller under one hat, as it exists in Israel with much success. It will be less expensive as well.

Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?

Georgians and [Israelis] are members of one family. We are friends for thousands of years. And we are grateful for what was done [by Georgians] during the Second World War.