Taking Stock / Shh! They're Handing Out Pensions

A few more inches of the filth-ridden iceberg were exposed to the light on Monday. For 10 years, the treasury has been publishing an annual report on wages in the public sector. On Monday, it inaugurated a new report: wages at the ministries.

You might have thought that bloated salaries were a disease of remote government institutions far from the treasury's beady eye, such as the local authorities, the universities or the Bank of Israel. Not so.

Even when it comes to civil servants whose salaries have to be approved, shekel by shekel, by the accountant-general himself, a lot of people are earning outrageous sums.

It was an open secret, really. Everybody knew that life at the Defense Ministry was luxurious. Nobody is really surprised to learn that some "research aide" out there is earning NIS 70,000 a month. Every time anybody waves scissors at the defense budgets, the army trundles out its lobbyists at the Knesset who wail and rail about the nation's security.

But worry not about the pork barrels! The treasury report, ostensibly disclosing wage costs in the public sector, actually exposes very little. It does not want to tell the real story. In fact, nobody wants to tell it, because most of the people populating government corridors in Jerusalem benefit in one way or another.

Plush jobs and pensions

What is the missing element? The tremendous perks absent from the treasury's reports. In fact, these serial windfalls are reported nowhere. Nobody keeps track, nobody takes responsibility and nobody is answerable for the outrage.

No, we're not talking about all kinds of advantages on the side, such as at the Defense Ministry's procurement delegations. We're not talking about bureaus and cars and drivers and spokespeople and flights in the appropriate class. That is all part and parcel of their "duty".

Nor are we talking about all those superfluous jobs, the rampant hidden unemployment, and the dozens of government institutions whose only raison d'etre is to give plush jobs and pensions to the boys.

What we mean is the biggest item of the lot - the budgetary pensions, to which the workers contribute nothing at all. The taxpayer shoulders the entire bill. The wage costs of 95 percent of the public servants that the treasury exposed on Monday do not include these special pension terms. The cost of the pension can add 30-40 percent to the gross wage. In defense jobs, it can reach 60 percent.

Take our good friend Menashe, a clerk at one of the ministries. He's looking at taking early retirement at age 52. The wage report published on Monday revealed that he's making NIS 38,000 a month, base pay.

But that NIS 38,000 is misleading, because Menashe has the option of taking early retirement at 65 percent of his base pay. In other words, he'd get NIS 25,000 a month until the day he dies.

Live well and prosper

First of all, let us note that Menashe is a hard-working man and we wish him a long life. Secondly, his pension is going to cost the taxpayer up to NIS 7 million, on top of what he's getting paid. That is his real cost to the nation.

Or take the Bezeq workers, to whom we devoted two columns this last week: "Robbery in guise of efficiency" and "See Dick run Bezeq." According to the treasury's wage report, the average cost of the company's 8,500 workers is NIS 16,000 a month.

Is that so? As you read, their labor representative Shlomo Kfir may well be meeting with the company's chief executive Amnon Dick to discuss the arrangement for Bezeq to pad the pension terms of the workers, who will cost us NIS 1.2 million each, and that's over and above their regular pension terms. Not "instead", but "and".

Add that NIS 1.2 million cost to the average wage of the Bezeq workers, and you realize that life at Bezeq is far, far more wonderful than the treasury report reveals.

Why are they getting NIS 1.2 million each? So they'll agree to retire at the ripe old age of 48. Do they deserve to get full pension rights at 48? Naturally! Everybody deserves to have a pension, especially if canned from an organization streamlining and cutting back.

Of course, most of Israel's elderly have no pension at all, nothing, not a penny, and have to live on that pitiful NIS 1,500 a month that the National Insurance Institute grudgingly hands out, that tiny stipend that just gets cut back time and again, because "there's no money".

Of course there's no money. It's being handed out by the billions to the cronies gorging from the public's plate, so there's none left.

And what about the army? The Shin Bet? The police? Same story: zero honest disclosure, zero information from the Finance Ministry, zero debate in the Knesset, almost no debate in the media. Shh! Quiet! They're handing out pensions over there!

Here is a little mathematics exercise for you. Some noncom scratching himself in an office gets paid NIS 15,000 a month and is eligible to retire at age 42. Of course, he'd never earn anything close to that wage in the public sector for what he does, but that's just the beginning.

He retires at 42 and receives NIS 10,000 a month pension until the day he dies, may he live a long life and prosper. Say he lives long enough to cost us all NIS 3 million, NIS 4 million. Something like that.

Now we have a question. How many private sector workers get to retire at age 42 with NIS 3 million or NIS 4 million pension rights? Not many. You'd get rights like that if you were the CEO of a major company, maybe. But in the public sector every man in the right place is king.

There is little chance of a real public debate developing about this state of affairs. Too big a proportion of the population has relatives crowding those government corridors, the Knesset, and the media. And they'd all prefer to hack at the rights of the unemployed, the disabled and the weak and old rather than rock the real pork barrel.