Bachar's Choice

Who said (broadcast only on Army Radio): "Who said it's more important to prolong a patient's life by two months than investing in the education of children from Ethiopia?"

Come on, really, who could have said this nonsense but a treasury official, and not just any official but the director general his shameful self.

Senior treasury officials love to play God, budgeting every living creature's life. It was as though Yossi Bachar wanted to prove this week that it was never too late to invest in a person's education, even if he is a doctor and a director general.

I was outraged by the senior official's attitude to "two months of life" (not his or his loved ones'), while his sudden concern for the Ethiopian kids certainly moved me. Since when do they care so much, those officials in their Finance-Fortress, for these children? And why must the cruel choice be between terminal patients and Ethiopian children? Aren't there any less sadistic options?

For some reason, I remember completely different things. I remember meetings with officials in the treasury's budget division, trying to persuade them to open their heart and hand for the recently immigrated boys and girls from Ethiopia. But their heart was shut, their hand clenched, their common sense distorted.

Israelis tend to believe that ministers are almighty and can do anything they put their mind to. This prevalent belief has no base in reality. Ministers are mostly captives of their own ministry's bureaucracy, and the accountant general has greater influence than them.

When the ministers try to obtain funds according to the order of priorities they set for themselves, they are forced to beg at the treasury, and mostly are sent away empty handed. It is an almost impossible mission to clear a path of policy among the accountants and legal advisers. Both accountants and advisers are always ready with explanations why the minister cannot do as he wishes: he has neither the available funds nor the authority.

How powerful are those calculating treasury mandarins when faced with a sheepishly innocent minister. But here's the problem: when a bullish minister is on the rampage, they let him endlessly gore the public coffers until they crack wide open. How else, right under their investigating eyes and sniffing noses, did Tzachi Hanegbi, Ehud Olmert, Yisrael Katz, Dan Naveh and others manage to fill up their ministries with political appointments?

Treasury officials know how to take advantage of the ministers' bad reputation. They are all - as everyone knows - irresponsible, reckless, hopeless spendthrifts and even downright corrupt. Don't give them unmarked, undesignated budgets, don't allow them any flexibility in using or allocating funds, because the ministers will betray your trust, if not embezzle the funds.

Thus every young child turns into an adjudicator. People who never asked nor received the public's trust are running the lives of the state's citizens, and even their deaths.

This is why governments come and go, and the socio-economic policy remains more or less the same. Otherwise, how would we ever have reached, over the years, a situation of such a colossal social abyss that dooms more than 1.5 million poor people to hell? Even the Likud, which has always increased the distress and plight, has on more than one occasion walked into a ready made system. It is not so important, therefore, who sits in the minister's seat. It is much more important who sits in the budget division. And what's the point of general elections anyway, if the power of the non-elected official is greater than that of the elected one?

The treasury officials also want to get ahead, that's human and understandable. Where they come from, only a clenched fist will get you promoted. It's unheard of that an official returning from a meeting with a minister has admitted to his colleagues and superiors that the minister convinced him to take his indifferent hand out of his pocket and open it. No, careers in the treasury are made only from telling the guys how they abused a minister and put him in his place. The chorus of treasury boys' favorite refrain is 'sing for your supper.'

More than once I furiously kicked out a choir boy from my office, or stormed out myself, beside myself with frustration, anger and hurt. Sometimes the anger helped, because even the most impertinent boys are loath to overstep the line. A crazed minister could do them damage.

Soon new ministers will enter the cabinet. This is my advice to them: If you don't first neutralize those who would neutralize you and your proposals, you will not survive. You will be crushed, as surely as terminal patients and Ethiopian kids are crushed.

Former Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now asking those he crushed for forgiveness. The poor thing needs voters, but the victims of his swinish policy will not forget. His officials, however, need no forgiveness. They need only the approval of the big bank owner, who will soon be offering them their next jobs, which pays millions.