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Every year billions of shekels of taxpayers' money are lavished on supporting various institutions, with no details of who, what or where or even how much money exactly is involved.

These are the findings of a research paper by Dr. Dan Ben-David of the Public Policy Program, School of Government and Policy at Tel Aviv University, which was presented yesterday at the Sderot Conference for Society. Ben-David examined 1,600 complex clauses of the state budget in the past three years, focusing in particular on 1,100 clauses that covered an expenditure of NIS 27.5 billion.

In his research, Ben-David found that although this sum of NIS 27.5 billion was approved for institutional support, in practice only NIS 22 billion was forthcoming. Even he could not figure out what happened to the "missing" NIS 5.5 billion.

The complexity of the budget could only serve to confuse, he argued. "The state budget is spread over thousands of regulations that make it difficult to understand who exactly receives the money and according to what criteria," Ben-David told the conference. "Even when there are criteria, the government adds many regulations designed to leapfrog the registered criteria. As a result, the budget is incomprehensible to those responsible for passing it into legislation, and it is incomprehensible to the public, which is supposed to ensure that there is a true fit between the declared national priorities and the priorities as expressed in the budget. The budget isn't even comprehensible to professional economists who analyze it."

Ben-David also found a lack of supervision and regulatory oversight in many ways. For example, in 2002 and 2003, the Education Ministry paid NIS 300,000 each year to the Council of Higher Education in Judea and Samaria. This body, though, has no links to the Higher Education Council, and has no apparent function. The sum was believed to have been spent on salaries for the director and his secretary, though it is not clear what they do.

State support, Ben-David argued, may be intended to help parties in need, but only in 15 percent of the cases were funds distributed based on the income of the recipient. In the vast majority, 85 percent, no examination was made of the financial condition of the recipient party.

More telling was the question of religion. Some NIS 2.1 billion was allocated based on religious criteria, while NIS 1.3 billion was based on geographic considerations, the research found. Taxpayers spent NIS 2.6 billion in the period under review on immigrants, while NIS 9.7 billion was granted based on no defining criteria whatsoever.

Another example pointed to NIS 100 million that was allocated in 2002 and 2003 to help families in financial straits with the costs of educating their children. The majority of this sum was transferred to religious boarding schools.

Ben-David concluded that the lack of supervision seemed convenient to all those involved. "Everyone's happy so no one fights it. It's convenient for politicians who want to transfer money without supervision, and it's easy for the treasury clerks, who through these handouts, hope to keep it from politicians' eyes. The result is faulty, undemocratic, and though we did not find evidence of corruption ... the possibility clearly exists."