Student Petition Reveals Rising Expenses at Netanyahu Residence

It took a lengthy struggle, by Orian Weitzman and the Movement for Freedom of Information, to shed light on the budget of the Prime Minister's Residence.

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The issue of state institutions' lack of transparency regarding their expenses was thrust back into the Israeli public agenda on Monday, following the disclosure of the expenses report of the prime minister's residence. The document, which revealed the financial workings of PM Benjamin Netanyahu's formal residence was disclosed following a petition from the Movement for Freedom of Information.

Orian Weitzman, a law student at the College of Management Academic Studies who was involved in the petition, believes that the delay in providing the information highlights a vested interest behind the refusal to reveal it.

"In many countries, information about every dollar is available at the click of a button," Weitzman told the Ynet website. "The transparency – or lack of transparency –is not specific [to this one case] and is related to policy [in general]. We must always ask 'what don't I know' and 'why don't I know it," she said.

Over three months, Weitzman tried to obtain details of the expenses budget and was rejected. Finally, together with the Movement for Freedom of Information, she petitioned the court- and it forced Netanyahu's office to publish the data. Weitzman said that other students who had submitted requests to receive the breakdown of expenditures for organizations such as the Shin Bet security service received speedy responses. "If it took them a while, then the amount of information [they received] was satisfactory," she said. "It's sad that we've got to the point where we are forced to fight for our right to know."

On Monday it was revealed that the Prime Minister's Residence budget for the Balfour Street residence in Jerusalem had increased by 73 percent during the four years Netanyahu has been in power. The data his office supplied shows that in 2012, the budget stood at NIS3.291 million, 2.652 million in 2011, 2.343 million in 2010, and was 1.892 million in 2009.

"The prime minister was entrusted with responsibilities for all our lives by the public itself, and it is deeply upsetting to see we have become his deep pockets," said Weitzman. "This is no longer speculation – we have black and white proof that there is wasteful management in a place that it supposed to provide us with confidence and economic stability."

The information supplied on Monday shows that the official food and hosting expenses were NIS 480,000 in 2012, 460,000 in 2011, 267,000 in 2010 and 214,000 in 2009. Cleaning expenses last year were NIS1.2 million – 100,000 per month. In 2011 cleaning expenses were 848,000. In 2010 they were 772,000 and 553,000 in 2009.

Maintenance costs were NIS284,000 in 2012 in comparison with 134,000 in 2011, 359,000 in 2010 and 384,000 in 2009. Maintenance costs include council tax, diesel fuel, pest control, elevators, plumbing, architecture, blinds, plastering, paint and various maintenance repairs.

Gardening expenses were 142,000 in 2012, 109,000 in 2011, 157,00 in 2010 and 137,000 in 2009. Attorney Alona Winograd, director of the Movement for Freedom of Information, said that the public pressure by the organization ''resulted in the prime minister's office providing preliminary information, which seems to be insufficiently detailed, on the Residence's expenses."

According to Winograd, "the recent public interest shows that the public has already understood the importance of transparency within government authorities. Now the decision-makers within those authorities must also internalize their duty to act with accountability."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu relaxing in Washington, D.C., May 23, 2011.Credit: GPO
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: Emil Salman / Haaretz Archive

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