Knesset Speaker Itzik Secretly Raising Knesset Officials' Salaries

Knesset speaker supplementing officials' pay by up to 20%, sometimes more than MKs or ministers.

When Avi Balashnikov was appointed director general of the Knesset in June 2006, the Knesset Finance Committee was told he would receive the salary of a ministry director general, about NIS 32,000 a month in gross pay. But Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik recently decided to give Balashnikov a special 20% raise, known as a "parliamentary supplement."

Knesset Secretary General Eyal Yinon will also receive NIS 38,000 - the same as Balashnikov. However, when Yinon was appointed last year, he was told he would earn NIS 32,000.

These salaries are higher than those of ministers and Knesset members. Ministers make NIS 36,920 a month while MKs get NIS 33,210.

Ministry directors general, which include division heads in the treasury, make about NIS 32,000. Only two directors general, those of the foreign and justice ministries, have salaries that are linked to a district court judge's wages. The Health Ministry director general's salary is linked to doctors' wages, and the Defense Ministry director general's wages are on the defense establishment salary scale.

The Knesset speaker acts as the civil service director for Knesset employees, and is entitled by law to set wages and conditions for her employees. She is not subject to any instructions from the treasury's wages director or the Civil Service Commissioner. Therefore, Itzik's decisions on Knesset employee salaries require no further approval from any body.

In June 2006 Itzik appointed Balashnikov as her director general. Previously, there was no such full-time position in the Knesset, and the previous Knesset secretary general, Arye Hahn, filled the position as needed.

When the Knesset Finance Committee approved Balashnikov's appointment, it was told that his salary would be limited to that of a ministry director general, and that is what he earned until recently. However, the committee never held a discussion of the recent raises for Balashnikov and Yinon.

Yinon began his tenure in mid-2007. His predecessor, Hahn, enjoyed the salary of senior district court judge. His salary reached NIS 44,000 a month.

There were a number of consultations in the Knesset with Knesset legal adviser Nurit Elstein over the matter of Yinon and Balashnikov's salaries. Elstein supported the additional 20% "parliamentary supplement" for the two officials. Most Knesset workers enjoy a significant parliamentary supplement to their salaries, but it had never applied to such senior officials as the director general.

There are other Knesset employees who earn more than the Knesset members they serve. The highest salary goes to Elstein at NIS 54,530 a month. Her salary is linked to that of a Supreme Court justice. She also receives a pension of about NIS 30,000 a month, the equivalent of a district court judge, for her years at the Justice Ministry.

Elstein's deputy, Eti Bendler, receives NIS 46,539 a month. Her salary is linked to that of a district court judge.

Number three on the Knesset wage parade is the deputy commander of the Knesset Guard, Yair Sela, who makes NIS 40,326 a month. His salary is linked to that of a police commander.

The Knesset responded: "Legal Adviser Elstein determined that the supplement for Balashnikov and Yinon is appropriate and expresses the uniqueness of the Knesset and the special characteristics of the positions. There is a basic understanding in the Knesset that the director general and the secretary general should be equals."

Elstein noted that Balashnikov refused a supplement to his salary when he started.

"Itzik refused to grant Yinon the salary of a district court judge, NIS 44,000, as his predecessor received; and she cut the salary of the new secretary general Yinon by NIS 6,000 a month. The salary of director general Balashnikov was updated when Yinon started to be equal to his salary," Elstein explained.

In addition, the Knesset claimed that it was improper for the two to earn less than many employees subordinate to them. There are five other Knesset officials making more than MKs, in addition to Balashnikov, Yinon, Elstein, Bendler and Sela - for a total of 10.