Living in La-La Land

In the comptroller's office, they simply do not understand the ABCs of economic theory and the concept of a shortage. The blanket is always too short and can't cover everything; the budget is always limited and it is impossible to meet every need.

Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler
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Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler

For years the state comptroller has proudly boasted of the excellent staff he has working for him - accountants and lawyers who carry out the office's investigative work. But a suspicion arises from Micha Lindenstrauss' latest draft report into the December 2010 Carmel fire tragedy: that there is a serious shortage of decent economists in his office. Because if there were proper economists there, and if Lindenstrauss had listened to them, he never would have allowed such an erroneous report.

The draft report states that the comptroller intends to place "personal responsibility" on Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz for the disaster, in which 44 people - prison wardens, police and firefighters - died. Lindenstrauss' intention is that the report, when released, will create public pressure on both ministers until they are forced to resign. And then Lindenstrauss will go down in history with an unforgettable end to his career (his seven-year term ends this summer ).

Lindenstrauss knows there is nothing more popular than taking aim at the high and mighty because, in our populist reality, the one who wins the greatest applause is the one who throws two ministers into the gladiatorial arena to bleed to death - all to the joyous cries of the masses.

But wait a minute, what about the prime minister? After all, Benjamin Netanyahu also serves as the Minister of Economic Strategy, overseeing Steinitz. So why is he out of the picture? Can it be because Lindenstrauss decided not to climb too high, in case he might fall?

In any case, Lindenstrauss says Steinitz is guilty because he didn't provide the firefighting services with all the funds Yishai demanded: NIS 500 million. But it must be understood that Yishai's request for the money came during the budgetary year, and Steinitz did not have any money hidden under the mattress. All the money was already allocated, based on priorities set by the cabinet and the Knesset, and they did not include NIS 500 million for the firefighting services.

In a meeting held in December 2009, Steinitz said he was willing to transfer the money to the firefighting services on condition that reforms were made. There was nothing more proper, since everyone knows - and this is also written in previous state comptroller reports - that the firefighting services are poorly managed; if the money was given to them in their present state, they would just be wasted.

Anyhow, in mid-2010 the cabinet decided to allocate NIS 100 million out of the NIS 500 million to the firefighting services. And how many fire trucks were bought with this money? A big fat zero.

In order to understand how delusional it is to place the responsibility on Steinitz, we need to understand that every single day and every single hour, the finance minister is besieged with demands for additional money from ministers. All of them are appropriate and they will all save lives. For example, the transportation minister demands additional money to build interchanges and to improve road safety. The deputy health minister demands additional hospital beds, and the defense minister demands more money for protection from missiles. So according to Lindenstrauss, Steinitz must give everyone what they ask for, otherwise he will be responsible for a pileup on the road to Eilat, the death of patients lining the hospital corridors or the rockets landing on Ashkelon.

In the comptroller's office, they simply do not understand the ABCs of economic theory and the concept of a shortage. The blanket is always too short and can't cover everything; the budget is always limited and it is impossible to meet every need. The job of the finance minister is to explain these limits to the ministers and make sure that every shekel is directed in the most effective fashion.

But Lindenstrauss is living in La-La Land. There are no constraints or limits there. Yishai asked for money? Then you have to give it to him. And at whose expense will it come? That is not Lindenstrauss' problem. In the state comptroller's office, they do not understand that, at any given moment, the government is implementing a policy of risk management. The government asks itself where to direct the shekel in order to receive the maximum benefit: To defense, hospitals, roads or maybe to education? That is how priorities are set - within budgetary limitations. It is impossible to give everyone everything they want.

Therefore, if Lindenstrauss' distorted view is accepted, then from now on every minister will present the finance minister with as many demands as possible - and when they don't get what they want, Steinitz will be guilty. In this new reality, maybe it would be proper for Lindenstrauss to replace Steinitz in the Finance Ministry. Then everyone will get everything they ask for, without reforms, without limits and without superfluous questions. Then we all can celebrate together in La-La Land.

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