Editorial

Kahlon and Netanyahu’s Audacity

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, June 24, 2019.
Noam Rivkin Fenton / Flash 90

Under the guise of the argument of “governance,” ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governments have led a sharp attack on the independence of the civil service, as though professionals who do their jobs are a threat to democracy and the power of elected officials.

The rotten fruit of this dangerous campaign is hidden in the State Comptroller’s harsh draft report on the surpassing of the target deficit. The deficit has already risen to 3.9 percent, one percent more than the target – and this is in a good economic year that does not justify exceeding the deficit in any way.

The State Comptroller is directing his barbs at the Finance Ministry’s most senior officials: the accountant general, the head of the Tax Authority and apparently also at the ministry’s director general and senior officials in the budget division. They all bear responsibility for breaching the deficit and their actions raise suspicions that the officials “cooked” the figures for the 2018 deficit in a bid to present a smaller deficit before the election, to serve the political interest of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.

The officials’ heavy responsibility consists mainly in their weakness in withstanding the finance minister’s and prime minister’s political pressures. In the past five years Israel has practiced an irresponsible economic policy of continuously raising expenses alongside continuously reduced tax collection, proudly led by Kahlon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The 2019 budget deficit reflects Kahlon and Netanyahu’s bad populistic economic decisions. The two abandoned the state’s economy to gather a few more voters. Everybody knew how it would end, first and foremost the treasury officials. That is where their responsibility lies: They saw what was going on and kept silent, because they knew that at a time like this, anyone who dares to stand up to a politician would get his head bitten off.

The Yossi Kutchik committee, which addressed the distribution of authority and responsibility in the Finance Ministry administration, submitted its report about six months ago. The report stresses the importance in preserving the power and independence of the budget division and other divisions in the treasury, as the gatekeeper of the state budget that must be able to withstand political pressures.

The report was not adopted by the finance minister and was never implemented. The last thing the ministers, headed by the prime minister – the first among equals – want is a strong, independent civil service, especially not in the Finance Ministry. Meanwhile, Israelis pay the price with a budget that’s been exceeded.