PM Office to Pay Nearly 250,000 Shekels for Ignoring Freedom of Information Requests

Over the past four years, the Prime Minister’s Office lost 47 petitions against freedom of information requests and was charged with court costs. Though the law states the requests must be answered within a month with few exceptions, the PMO responded in most cases only after 120 days

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Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu on the campaign trail in Be'er Sheva, last month. During his tenure, many freedom of information requests involved him personally.
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu on the campaign trail in Be'er Sheva, last month. During his tenure, many freedom of information requests involved him personally.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Prime Minister’s Office will have to pay almost 250,000 shekels ($70,254) for not responding in the time allowed by law to freedom of information requests.

Between February 2018 and April 2022, 47 petitions against the Prime Minister’s Office were filed in court on the matter. The data was provided to the Movement for Quality Government according to a freedom of information request.

The Freedom of Information Law requires government ministries to respond to requests for data within 30 days. Ministries can receive another 30 days and then a further 60 days, if the reason for the delay is the “extent or complexity of the information sought.” The ministries must inform the petitioner of any delays.

Nevertheless, most of the petitions against the Prime Minister’s Office were submitted for failure to respond to such requests: The ministry did not refuse the request, but rather gave no response at all. The government unit for freedom of information in the Justice Ministry did not note how many of the 1,309 requests filed in the years in question received a response (for 2020, the number of requests filed with the ministry was not stated).

The data also shows that the ministry tended in most cases to respond to requests after multiple delays. According to the freedom of information unit, more than 64 percent of the requests to the Prime Minister’s Office received a response within 120 days – the maximum extension allowed.

Despite the law requiring a response, there is no means of enforcement of the law except for the Justice Ministry unit to turn to the courts. The cost of such a petition is at least 10,000 shekels, including lawyers’ fees and court fees. Because of the costs involved, few unanswered requests are challenged in court.

Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in his first speech since the end of his tenure as PM, in Lod, this month.Credit: David Bachar

In addition to court costs the Prime Minister’s Office has now been ordered to pay the fees of the many prosecutors that represented it in numerous hearings. According to the ministry, there is no organized list of court costs paid in similar cases before 2018, and so there is no way to compare to previous periods.

The data on the Prime Minister’s Office’s failure to respond relates to the terms of former prime ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett. During Netanyahu’s time, many of the requests for freedom of information involved him personally, for example requests for the costs of flights or family costs at his private residence in Caesarea. The practice of failing to respond continued into Bennett’s term at the same rate as his predecessor.

Attorney Hiddai Negev of the Movement for Quality Government said that the Prime Minister’s Office “consistently fails to respond to requests, ‘trying their luck.’ Over the past four years the Prime Minister’s Office has wasted some 240,000 shekels of taxpayers’ money, just for breaking the Freedom of Information Law.”

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