Supreme Court Urges Negotiation on Procedure for Extra Gov't Spending

MK Stav Shaffir had petitioned the court to intervene in what she called 'the Finance Ministry’s secret budget for the distribution of favors to its political friends.'

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Labor MK Stav Shaffir was ejected from Tuesday's Finance Committee meeting after objecting to the transfer of 3.8 billion shekels ($1.1 billion) to the military budget.Credit: Oliver Fitoussi

The Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to immediately get involved in the procedure for making changes to the annual budget, giving MK Stav Shaffir (Labor), who petitioned the court to do so, 90 days to negotiate with the government on the issue.

Shaffir, who is a member of the Knesset Finance Committee and was a leader in the social justice movement before being elected to the Knesset last year, filed a petition in December against the Finance Ministry and the Finance Committee, claiming that the ministry is in effect bypassing the full Knesset by having the committee authorize spending that is not included in the budget when it is passed. She said the ministry has been using supporters on the committee to push through authorization of funding for cabinet decisions that is not included in the budget.

Shaffir called the transfer of funds through the committee rather than the full Knesset, “the Finance Ministry’s secret budget for the distribution of favors to its political friends.” The process lacks transparency and the details of the transfers are buried in mounds of paper so that the committee members do not fully understand what they are voting on, Shaffir said.

Presiding over the hearing on the case, Supreme Court President Asher Grunis said the court had noted a willingness by the two sides to improve the situation and so urged them to come to a consensus on their own. “Try to reach an agreement, and if not, then the court is here,” he said.

Justice Miriam Naor said there was “something unhealthy” about the need to resort to the court. But Justice Elyakim Rubinstein said the petition laid bare a years-old problem in the committee's procedures that should be addressed. A lawyer for the Justice Ministry, Dana Briksman, said she had no objection to dialogue, but that it was impossible to come to an individual agreement with every member of the Knesset Finance Committee.

Every year, the Finance Committee passes rules regarding procedures for changing the budget. Several months ago, Finance Committee Chairman Nissan Slomiansky came to an agreement with the director of the Finance Ministry’s budget division, Amir Levy, according to which the ministry's requests for budget changes are submitted to the committee every Wednesday. The requests are then debated the following Tuesday. The agreement gives committee members the opportunity to ask the Finance Ministry questions on the Sunday before the debate, to which the ministry is to respond the following day. Shaffir and her committee colleague Elazar Stern claim that the ministry has in the past failed address all their questions about budget changes.