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They drank a toast yesterday in the accountant general's office at the Finance Ministry. After a campaign of many many years, accountant general Nir Gilad sent a letter to the Defense Ministry's director general, congratulating him on the appointment of the Defense Ministry's new accountant general - who is to be a treasury worker. Hemi Morag will work alongside the incumbent Shaul Gal for two months, taking up full responsibilities in May.

Until now, the Defense Ministry's accountant has been a Defense Ministry employee, so that he could not stand up to the pressures of the chief of staff, the director general or the minister. But from now on, his promotion and success will depend on the treasury, which will vastly improve his control and supervision.

In the current situation, the defense budget has been all "wrapped up", that is the vast annual expenditure - NIS 42 billion - could be spent exactly the way the establishment wanted. The ministry could, for example, spend more on work conditions and buildings, and less on its forces and supplies, and then go to the treasury to argue for more. It could sign up for long-term development plans, thereby "tying" the hands of the Finance Ministry struggling to save money. The Defense Ministry has become expert in using 100 percent of its budget by passing sums around from one item to another, a ploy that is forbidden in every other government office.

The state of the Defense Ministry is not healthy for other reasons too. Heading its economic section is Brigadier General Muli Ben Zvi, who wears two hats. As an army man he is the chief of staff's economic adviser, but he is also head of the ministry's budget division, which is a civilian role. Most of the budget division in the ministry is manned by army personnel.

As a result, the ministry's director general, Amos Yaron, cannot control the budget as required, nor can Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. The ones in control of the purse strings are the chief of staff and his army men - and this is inappropriate. For example, it was Ehud Barak, as chief of staff, who decided to buy two submarines from Germany and not the minister, because Barak had allocated the money from the budget. It is best that the budget is controlled by a civilian, and that his or her workers are civilians too, so

that the minister and his director general can wrest control of the army back into their hands, as it should be in a democracy.

If the Defense Ministry's accountant had been a treasury employee, then the army wouldn't have been able to make a mockery of all the acceptable norms. It would not have been able to print its own budget booklet as it did two months ago, nor would it have been able to avoid paying full health tax on all its employees. And Nir Gilad would eventually have received an actuarial report on the pension liabilities for workers in the ministry and army personnel - and these are only some of the examples that have recently highlighted the flawed management of state money and the vast potential mission awaiting the state comptroller.