Spite for Zelekha May Cost Israel Its Budgetary Discipline

Ministers aim to wrest power over budgets from Finance Ministry's accountant-general

As part of the cabinet ministers' interest in increasing their own power, the cabinet is planning on voting soon - possibly even this week - on a revolutionary change concerning the financial management of state ministries.

The cabinet intends to vote to stop the present practice, by which the finance ministry's accountant general is responsible for the appointment of the comptrollers of the various government ministries, and they in turn are answerable both professionally and administratively to the treasury.

Instead, the new proposal would establish a committee in every ministry, to be composed of representatives of the respective ministry and from the accountant general's office, which would then choose the comptroller, who would be subject to the ministry's director general on administrative issues.

The comptroller would still receive directives from the treasury on professional issues.

Such a decision would be another major blow to the present accountant general, Yaron Zelekha. But the main brunt of the change would be borne by the Finance Ministry, which has until now controlled government spending through its comptrollers in the individual ministries.

Today, the comptrollers are responsible - and answerable - only to the accountant general and the treasury, and not their ministries. The treasury determines their promotions and status - based upon their ability to keep to the budgetary framework. As a result, today there is no longer any overspending in government offices, in opposition to what occurs in local authorities.

The minister and director general of a ministry are constantly trying to spend more money, to change budgetary items, and be liberal with expenses - but the comptrollers are supposed to rein them in.

The comptrollers refuse to allow such expenditures, since they are afraid of their own boss, the accountant general.

The new situation would place the comptrollers in a position of dual loyalty. And because the comptroller would now be dependent on the director general of the ministry for his salary - and promotions - he is likely to become much more flexible over spending.

While the proposed change is part of the fight against Zelekha, it is also intended to give the ministers more power over their own spending. But in spite of Zelekha's many enemies in the treasury, there is full consensus among senior officials in the ministry against such a change.

They feel that such a revolution will mean the end of budgetary control, and a return to the dangerous bad old days of wasteful, excessive and politically motivated spending - as well as entailing serious damage to the Israeli economy.