A Justified Reprimand

Treasury officials do not understand the essence of democratic decisions.

Yehuda Ben Meir
Yehuda Ben-Meir
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Yehuda Ben Meir
Yehuda Ben-Meir

As the saying goes, a cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. The devoted employees of the Finance Ministry's budget division should learn this saying well.

Economic considerations, including the price of everything, indeed constitute a central element in preparing the state budget. However beyond that, the state also has national, social and moral considerations – and these are not under the treasury officials' jurisdiction.

The conduct of treasury officials suggests that many of the people there lack a basic understanding of the essence of a democratic state and the allocation of power between professional and elected officials.

Let it be said straightaway: The employees of the budget department are talented, dedicated people imbued with a sense of mission – they are determined to protect the public coffers. And this is a good thing, because a lot of hands are stretched out toward those coffers and if they are not reined in, Israel’s economy will indeed degenerate very quickly into a situation like that of Greece and Cyprus – and we don’t have a European Union to bail us out.

However, with all due respect to the budget division people, it seems that for some reason they were absent from their civics lessons at school.

It isn’t clear how the deputy head of the budget department can allow himself to meet with student representatives and tell them there is a need to increase tuition fees, without even obtaining authorization for this beforehand from the finance minister. This testifies to a basic misunderstanding of the nature of his position and authority. Quite possibly tuition fees at the institutions of higher learning are low and not justified from an economic perspective, but this is a question from the area of policy, which has social and national implications of the first order – and a matter for the finance minister and government to decide. The finance minister’s reprimand of that employee was justified.

Over the years the “treasury boys,” out of excessive zeal for their mission, developed a sense of scorn toward elected officials. Moreover, they began to take pride in “having a long memory,” and if at first they do not manage to scupper a government decision that looks illogical to them from an economic perspective, they will look for an opportunity to do so in the future. They have forgotten in their enthusiasm that in a democratic state the regime is not a regime of bureaucrats – however wise they may be – but rather a regime of elected officials.

Quite possibly there is no economic justification for the "valleys" railway line with its excessive price and the entire project will not earn any money, but the government of Israel has decided that the value inherent in the feeling the inhabitants of outlying areas will have – that they are connected to the center of the country and constitute an integral part of Israeli society – is worth this price.

The callous attempt by the treasury officials to torpedo the government decision retroactively, despite the price of “burying” billions of shekels that would go down the drain, cannot be allowed. It is not easy for the writer of these lines to defend Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, but in this case justice is on his side.

The time has come for the budget division people to learn from the commanders of the Israeli Defense Forces – one of the most disciplined armies in the world – and internalize and accept, and not just give lip service to the fact that they too are totally subordinate to the elected government. It is their right and duty to present their unbiased and unvarnished professional opinion to the finance minister, but to the same extent it is their obligation to advance and implement the decisions of the finance minister and the government of Israel, both to the letter and in their spirit.

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