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In a stormy debate in the Finance Committee yesterday, Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias assailed Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz: "The finance minister simply doesn't exist in day-to-day activity. I speak for a number of top government ministers. He gives the impression that in the Finance Ministry, the officers are the ministers, not him."

Atias's direct assault on Steinitz was voiced during a debate over the Housing Ministry's activity and budget for 2010. Atias complained that it was only in recent days that he learned that budgeting for the Project Renewal program had been cut by NIS 17 million. Atias argued that there is a surplus of about NIS 1.5 billion in the Israel Lands Administration's budget remaining from 2009. The Finance Ministry, however, is of the opinion that this surplus should go back into to the state's coffers.

"Steinitz is not involved in any of the ministry's problems," Atias added. "I have approached him time and again, and it all falls on deaf ears. Even if the prime minister speaks with him [the finance minister] directly, he writes it all down and nothing comes of it. We have no one to approach."

Sources in the finance minister's bureau responded cynically to Atias's criticism: "No one can compete with the housing minister's outstanding performance."

Housing Ministry director general Mordechai Mordechai dubbed the Finance Ministry's representative Reuven Kogan "a liar" after Kogan reported that he had spoken with Mordechai's aide, while Kogan's aide denied that any such conversation had taken place.