Showing the Love / MP3 Players, Minibars and Office TVs: Your Tax Shekels at Work

How exactly do an MP3 player, a walkman, a microwave oven, flowers, a fan and televisions for the office enhance the relations between Israel's parliamentarians and their constituents? Only our elected representatives know. They must, or they wouldn't have used taxpayer shekels for purchases of the sort, and many other things in 2009.

The Knesset members are allocated NIS 6.5 million a year for the sake of maintaining contact with the public. Each Knesset member is therefore allocated NIS 68,000 a year, which includes a budget for renting an office outside the parliament building.

The record for spending on her contact with the public in 2009 goes to MK Lia Shemtov of Yisrael Beiteinu, who also spent leftover budget from 2008. Altogether she spent NIS 95,118, of which NIS 5,000 was for a propaganda convention, NIS 2,732 was for refreshments, and nearly NIS 26,000 was for secretarial services.

In respectable second place was MK Hana Sweid of Hadash, who spent NIS 67,603, of which almost NIS 5,400 was on an air conditioner. Third we find Yoel Hasson of Kadima, who spent NIS 66,000, of which NIS 9,000 was for expert advice and NIS 599 for a minibar. He also spent NIS 1,511 on a digital camera.

One Knesset member who stands out in particular is Ehud Barak. He didn't spend a single shekel of his budget for contact with the public. Thrifty? Uncaring?

Ehud Olmert didn't use a single shekel either, but then he resigned from the Knesset in February 2009. Benny Begin didn't spend any money either.

Among the most modest spenders were Industry and Trade Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who spent NIS 139, on office equipment. Dan Meridor spent NIS 522.

Sara Merom, who also left the Knesset last year, spent NIS 3.20, on a postage stamp.

Abraham Hirchson, former finance minister and present convict, spent NIS 658, on advertising.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spent less than NIS 15,000 out of his budget last year, of which nearly a third was on refreshments.

The budgets lavished on Knesset members for keeping in touch with the public are a complete and utter waste of the public's money. When the budget was first allocated decades ago, it was smaller and its range of uses was kept in check. Over the years the budget mushroomed and the constraints disappeared.

Certainly Knesset members should be given appropriate conditions. That is why they get two-room offices in the Knesset, complete with a bathroom and shower. They each have two or three parliamentary aides and a car.

However, it seems that chauffeur or no, Israel's parliamentarians get lost easily. How else can we explain the prevalence of spending on satellite positioning systems? Gila Gamliel of Likud gets the gold star in that category, spending NIS 4,440 on positioning technology. Talan El-Sana of Ra'am must have found a bargain: his cost NIS 758.

Miri Regev of Likud spent more than NIS 8,000 on language studies, and NIS 4,600 on printing and photocopies.

If all that just makes you boil, you could visit the Knesset for a cool drink. Masud Ganaim of Hadash is just one MK who bought a minibar, in his case for NIS 1,600.