3 Ministers Set Up Shop in TA, Despite PM's J'lem Initiative

At least three ministers in Benjamin Netanyahu's government are violating the cabinet's own decision to move most government offices to Jerusalem, and are renting offices in Tel Aviv instead, Haaretz has discovered.

The three are Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman, Minister without Portfolio Yossi Peled, and Silvan Shalom, the minister for regional development and development of the Negev and Galilee.

All three rented their Tel Aviv offices within the last several months. They are located in the Beit Amot Hamishpat building on Shaul Hamelech Street and the nearby Beit Amot Hashka'ot building on Weizmann Street.

The Prime Minister's Office said in response that "because of the difficulty in finding an immediate solution to the urgent need to rent new offices following the government's establishment, several offices were rented in Tel Aviv. This will be so until a solution is found in Jerusalem."

Peled's ministry said that government officials are currently seeking an office for him in Jerusalem and he expects to move "imminently."

Braverman's ministry said the Tel Aviv office had been allocated to him by the Prime Minister's Office, so any questions on the matter should be directed to that ministry.

Shalom's ministry said a decision had been made "to relocate him to Jerusalem by the end of December 2010."

Yesterday, Haaretz reported that Braverman's ministry actually has two rented offices in Beit Amot Hashka'ot. One contains the ministry's eight employees, while the other has been standing empty for more than six months. The empty office, based on the rents charged for other similar offices in that building, is costing the state at least NIS 10,000 a month, meaning the government has so far spent about NIS 70,000 on it. That is on top of the rental for the occupied office, which comes to NIS 18,000 a month.

In response to this report, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel wrote yesterday to the director general of the Prime Minister's Office and the Finance Ministry's accountant general to demand that they immediately terminate the lease on the empty office. The rental is an unmitigated waste of public funds, the letter said, "and let us remember that behind the expression 'public funds' lies law-abiding citizens who work hard and contribute money to the public purse out of their own funds every month."

The movement also recommended requiring all ministries to report regularly to the Finance Ministry on any unused asset.

The Prime Minister's Office, which oversees the Minority Affairs Ministry, told Haaretz that the office is empty because the six workers who are supposed to fill it - a planned economic development authority for minority groups - have not yet been hired. They are due to be hired sometime "in the future," the statement continued, but the office was rented right away because, for professional reasons, the authority must be located near its parent ministry, and had the rental been put off until the staff was hired, a suitable office might no longer have been available nearby.