Cell-phone Reform for MKs? Please Hold.

The cost of a cell phone package, even one including a full data package, has plummeted for Israeli consumers. But budgets for cell-phone use for Knesset members and judges remain inflated.

The average Israeli's cell-phone bill has plummeted in the past year, but in the Knesset, the budget doesn't reflect the drastic plunge. Members of Knesset (MKs) have NIS 27,504 allocated for cell-phone usage, which breaks down NIS 2,292 per month – at a time when providers are offering their customers packages that include Internet surfing for less than NIS 90 a month.

Judges also benefit from this largesse, and have recently obtained a legal opinion from the legal counsel of the Judicial Authority, which allows them to select their providers.

The annual budget for cell phones for all MKs amounts to NIS 3.3 million. In addition, the Knesset reimburses all parliamentary aides for cell-phone expenses to the tune of NIS 330 a month, which adds up to NIS 648,000 a year. Furthermore, the Knesset pays each former MK a sum of NIS 997 a month, up to NIS 9,970 a year, for home-phone and cell-phone expenses.

The entire amount devoted to MK benefits in the 2012 Knesset budget totalled NIS 13 million. This includes all the perks, including a budget for fostering communication with voters, home and cellular phone expenses (the latter applying to their aides as well), and expenses covering newspapers, mail and telegrams.
Ran Melamed, deputy director of the NGO Yadid, assailed the costs of these perks.

“Prices have fallen to such low levels after reforms in the cell phone industry. The fact that the courts' legal counsel still sees fit to remind judges and MKs that they are entitled NIS 2,300 a month only proves that elected officials and judges are disconnected from the public," he says.

Issuing a statement in response, Knesset officials said, "The rates for MKs, their aides and other Knesset employees were determined in a tender put out by the accountant general, which covered all government employees. These rates are still competitive even with the new reforms in place."

The Court Authority responded by claiming that “benefits for judges were determined by the Knesset, and are similar to those of MKs. The actual costs are lower than those budgeted for. In practice, cell phone expenses for judges only amount to several hundred shekels a month."

Nir Keidar