Cabinet Allocates NIS 800m for Emergency Services

The cabinet voted yesterday to allocate NIS 800 million for emergency preparedness, of which NIS 350 million is earmarked for Israel's firefighting services.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's proposal also allocates NIS 350 million for various civil defense operations such as earthquake preparedness, in addition to the NIS 350 million for the fire services, and an extra NIS 100 million as a reserve for use in times of emergency.

Twenty cabinet ministers voted in favor of the bill, three opposed and one abstained. The proposed changes in the budget still require Knesset approval, less than two weeks after the Knesset approved the two-year 2011-2012 budget. But the defense budget will be cut about 0.2%, a total of NIS 125 million for the next two years; and the Education Ministry budget will be cut 0.25% this year and 1% next year.

To pay for the emergency service funds, the cabinet also approved a 1.5% budget cut for ministries for 2011 and 2012.

The opposition to the money for the emergency services came from Shas, led by Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who said the sum was too small and demanded that the budget for the fire services be doubled.

"Today's decision will be the basis for the fire services' next failure. Lives will be endangered [by this bill] and the clock has already started ticking," Yishai said. Yishai has demanded that the government double the funds allocated to fire services to NIS 700 million, with a separate budget for the new aerial firefighting force.

The NIS 350 million to be allocated to Israel's Fire and Rescue Services is the same amount that had previously been offered to strengthen the fire services and to obtain firefighting aircraft.

The proposed bill also includes a couple of reforms regarding Israel's current emergency services. The first will be transferring the responsibility over Israel's fire services from the Interior Ministry and the local authorities to the Public Security Ministry.

Yishai supports moving the fire services from the jurisdiction of the Interior Ministry to that of the Public Security Ministry as well as the formation of a national fire services authority.

Yishai's stance comes in the wake of mounting criticism of the Shas chairman; many consider him accountable for the outcome of the recent Carmel Forest fire, which resulted in the deaths of 44 people.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss announced yesterday he would investigate the fire, concentrating on the events during the fire. But Lindenstrauss said he will also examine the actions of the various emergency services before, during and after the fire. He said he would also examine the Finance Ministry's involvement.