Sharon Gal, a journalist and politician of sorts, last week announced his resignation from the Knesset after less than six months, saying he would be able to exert more influence as a journalist than an opposition MK. The Yisrael Beiteinu lawmaker’s message was skeptically received, but the process of approving the defense budget in the Knesset shows that his sentiment is not unfounded. The media may not be particularly influential, but the Knesset is apparently even less so.
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The defense budget is a large and important part of the state budget. Its importance stems from both the amount – it is the heftiest element of government expenditure – and its details. The Finance Ministry has been fighting the Defense Ministry for years, in order to increase transparency and control of the military’s financial management. The treasury is well aware of how important it is to have external oversight of defense spending.
But this understanding disappears when the oversight goes up a level, to the Knesset. Once there, the treasury hooks up with the defense establishment to make a mockery of both the law and legislators. The classified sections of the defense budget require the approval of a special subcommittee comprising representatives of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and the Finance Committee. These MKs are meant to get this part of the budget submitted to them by the end of August. This is not a private arrangement for the convenience of those involved – it’s the law. Unless someone sees these sections, approval of the defense budget is meaningless.
According to a report in Haaretz on Monday, the treasury did as it pleased and didn’t transfer the information on time. One can only imagine the fines the various treasury divisions impose on citizens who fail to meet their obligations on time. Thus, the MKs, led by the nose by the finance and defense ministries, approved the defense budget in its first reading last week without knowing what was in it. They basically gave the government a blank check.
This is the well known, complacent and careless method that has wreaked numerous disasters on Israel. It strengthens the smokescreen that wafts over the defense establishment budget, under which the military continues to suck up public funds undisturbed. As part of this trend, the Locker Committee report, which indicated the urgent need for defense reforms and more effective management of defense resources, was simply buried and had no impact on the budget.
This scandalous process proves yet again that the public cannot put its faith in its elected officials or ministers. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who announced he was reducing VAT “to give Israelis their money back,” has failed to safeguard their money from the most powerful interest group in Israel.