Last week, the government approved a uniform 3-percent cut (NIS 800 million in total) in the spending budgets of all government ministries. Labor ministers and lawmakers immediately complained, forgetting that the central reason for the cut was the coalition agreement that they signed with the Likud and that cost NIS 600 million.
Communications Minister Dalia Itzik slammed the across-the-board cuts as "a grocer's approach;" Haim Ramon said that instead of the cuts, the government could have reduced the "interest payment" clause - by some kind of magic no doubt; Matan Vilnai said the tax reforms "for the rich" could be postponed; and Housing Minister Isaac Herzog said that the cuts "had been made with no setting of a national agenda."
Do the government and the MKs not have a hierarchy of priorities? Let's check out some of their recent decisions.
1. Yesterday, the Knesset Finance Committee upped the compensation to be paid to those evacuated from the Gaza settlements from NIS 2.8 billion to NIS 3.8 billion - a pretty hefty increase. The settlers, who until now would have received a symbolic price for their homes and businesses from the state, will now get more - because there's money for this. Where there's a political will, there always is.
2. The treasury decided to be extra generous with workers at Israel Discount Bank. They are to receive NIS 250 million on the bank's sale according to strange calculations - all tilted in their favor: The discount on a share will be 30 percent not 25 percent based on the sale of 70 percent of the stock instead of only 26 percent, and the bank will pay bonuses of 1.9 months' pay. All in all therefore, the workers will get an average of NIS 40,000. The accountant general showed flexibility and generosity when he met a serious and united force.
3. A few days ago, the Knesset House Committee decided to increase wages for parliamentary aides by 40-60 percent - an unprecedented rise. Their salaries now range from NIS 7,000 to NIS 9,850 a month (not including travel expenses). These are young people, often students in their first jobs, who are very interested in hobnobbing with the electorate's chosen, assuming that this will smooth their paths in life. Is it logical that a full-time teacher should earn NIS 5,000 a month when the parliamentary aides get almost double?
Even the MKs realized that they had set the wages too high, so at the same time, they ruled that an MK can employ three aides at the cost of two - one can answer phones, one can be the chauffeur, and the other can feed the media. In other words, if you want to practice corruption, there's money for that too.
4. Ever so quietly, workers have been operating heavy machinery in digging a series of huge tunnels in the hills of Jerusalem to be used to hide away the government and national leaders in times of attack. This is a wasteful, unnecessary project that will never be used. But the great do tend to care for themselves. And there's always money for that.
5. Some years ago, the government decided to set up a massive computer system that would link up all government offices to one database of budgets, personnel and requisitions. Former accountant general Nir Gilad pushed the project in his time, but the whole idea is superfluous and hasn't a great chance of success. Its too sophisticated, too complex, too megalomaniac - but for white elephants like this, there are millions of shekels to waste.
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