Ministers Nix Bill to Cap Expenses on Their Trips Abroad

A bill that would have capped costs on ministerial junkets abroad is dead. The Knesset yesterday voted down the proposal that would have empowered the finance minister to lay down rules to supervise ministerial expenses during foreign trips on duty.

The bill had been compiled by Nachman Shai and Yoel Hasson of Kadima, and Aryeh Eldad of National Union.

Coalition MKs and ministers fought the bill, with the result that 35 Knesset members voted against it, while 17 members of the opposition voted in favor. Among the opponents were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.

Also in obedient opposition were ministers Avishay Braverman, Eli Yishai, Yaakov Margi, Shalom Simhon, Yuli Edelstein, Uzi Landau, Meshulam Nahari and Isaac Herzog. Deputy ministers Matan Vilnai and Yitzhak Cohen also voted in the nay camp.

Ahead of the poll, Shai was urged by the coalition to refrain from raising the proposal for voting and to downgrade it to an item on the agenda. Coalition MKs suggested that he might himself become a minister one day and would live to regret his idea.

Shai, however, stood firm. After the vote he commented that the ministers were simply refusing to let the party stop despite the state comptroller's criticism.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss has written scathingly about Defense Minister Ehud Barak's trip in mid-2009 to visit the Air Show. The taxpayer had covered the cost of Barak and his wife Nili Priel to stay at the Royal Suite of the InterContinental Paris Le Grand Hotel, at a cost of NIS 20,000 a night. Altogether, the visit by Barak and his entourage cost NIS 1 million.

Later that summer, Channel 2 News reported that Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik chose to stay at Hotel Le Bristol rather than the room at the Hyatt that had been booked for her - and the state wound up paying for both rooms. Her four-night junket to the City of Lights cost NIS 75,000.

Following the state comptroller's report, the ministerial ethics committee headed by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman began discussing the suggestion of spending caps on official trips outside the country. No decisions have been reached.

Shai's bill would have imposed sanctions on ministers who exceeded the ceiling on outlays without obtaining the cabinet's blessing in advance. The minister would personally have to bear the extra cost, he proposed.