Olmert: Political Instability Is to Blame

Finance Minister Ehud Olmert says that Israel has never enjoyed a period of political stability long enough to enable in-depth discussions about the state budget.

Speaking yesterday at the Sderot Conference for Society at the town's Sapir Academic College, Finance Minister Ehud Olmert said that Israel has never enjoyed a period of political stability long enough to enable in-depth discussions about the state budget.

"The political instability in Israel is an obstacle to transparency and also prevents serious discussion of the state budget, and that is also the fate of the 2006 budget, discussion of which was cut off by the early Knesset elections," Olmert said before being booed off the stage and out of the hall by the catcalls of several female retirees.

Olmert said the budget was debated in two cabinet meetings at most. "Each minister gets a picture of the situation in his or her own area of responsibility, and immediately afterward a fight breaks out in which every minister attempts to obtain a budget increase for his ministry ... it all looks like a missed opportunity," Olmert admitted.

Yossi Rosen, CEO of the Israel Corporation echoed Olmert's criticism of the cabinet's deliberations over the state budget.

"The debate over the state budget is carried out in a shallow and rushed manner," Rosen said. "On a subject as important as the national budget, the government of Israel begins discussions only at the end of the summer. In the Knesset, each faction battles over its own pound of flesh, while the treasurer and his clerks find themselves maneuvering among the various interests. Questions about long-term planning are forgotten," Rosen said. He said that as a result, the budgets division of the Finance Ministry has become too strong and does not receive sufficient oversight.

According to Rosen, the lack of long-term budgetary and economic planning is the reason that, for example, there is still no infrastructure for subways in the country's major cities. The country's water supply is similarly without a long-term plan, and as a result the importation of water from Turkey and the construction of desalination plants have been discussed for years but with little to show for it.

Also addressing the conference, Raviv Sobol of the treasury defended the government's privatization policy. "The government's ability to administer social programs is limited, so this should be passed on to public and private bodies," he said. He gave as an example the privatization of residences for the mentally retarded and said that schools and hospitals should also be privatized.