Defense, Finance Ministries Spar Over Budget

Barak's people accuse treasury of taking advantage of social protests to slash their spending.

Mutual recriminations between the finance and defense ministries were ratcheted up a notch or two yesterday, a day after it was announced that the defense budget would bear the brunt of the cost of implementing the Trajtenberg Committee's recommendations on socioeconomic reform.

Defense Ministry officials accused treasury bureaucrats of trying to take control of the defense budget so they could increase the size of the government's overall budget reserves. They also rejected treasury charges that the defense budget lacked transparency.

"The treasury is exploiting the Trajtenberg Committee and the social protest movement in order to get things from the defense establishment they've been eyeing for a long time," one senior Defense Ministry official said yesterday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Defense officials insisted that they have complied with every provision of their agreement with the treasury regarding supervision of and transparency in the defense budget. The agreement does not give the Finance Ministry the right to make additional transparency demands until 2017, they added.

They also insisted that the Defense Ministry's comptroller, who is appointed by the treasury's accountant general, has total access to Defense Ministry computers and approves every military purchase order, "from an aircraft to a submarine to a plastic panel," as one said.

"What the treasury wants isn't transparency, it already has that," the Defense Ministry official said. "The clerks there want to control the defense budget the way they control other ministries, by controlling even the scope of implementation of budget items that were already approved."

Brodet eroded

Defense officials said the defense budget guidelines that the Brodet Committee set for the succeeding decade in 2007 have been completely eroded. The guidelines called for increasing the defense budget by NIS 100 billion over 10 years. Half of that amount was to come from the state budget, with the remainder coming from U.S. military aid and the defense establishment's own streamlining measures.

The officials accused the treasury of trimming NIS 2.7 billion in defense spending from the last two-year state budget, even though the defense establishment implemented efficiency measures. This forced the military to absorb outlays of around NIS 730 million to develop the Iron Dome missile interception system, NIS 600 million to build the fence along the Egyptian border and about half the NIS 3.6 billion cost of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008.