The High Court of Justice last week agreed with a Movement for Quality Government petition and overturned a Knesset decision to grant pensions to MKs who didn't even complete a single term in office. The decision affected 22 members of the previous Knesset who were not re-elected to the current legislature. Eight of them lost significant sums of NIS 700,000-800,000 since they served only one term, and will not get any pension at all, just regular severance pay. Fourteen MKS who had served more than one term will lose 2 percent of their pensions, the total damage being around NIS 200,000. In all, the Knesset will save NIS 9 million, and justice will be served.
The entire affair began when the 14th Knesset dissolved after three years - an occupational hazard. According to regulations MKs are entitled to a pension after at least four years in office, meaning eight of them were not entitled to a penny. They sought Knesset House Committee aid and their comrades decided to view the three-year term as if it had been four years. This classic Israbluff entitled them to a pension of 8 percent of salary until their dying day, instead of making do with severance pay. At the same time, the committee added 2 percent pensions for fourteen veteran MKs who didn't make the grade for the 15th Knesset - waving their magic quills again to make three years "four".
The affair stirred public outrage and many words were written. But Knesset chair Dan Tichon hardened his heart and determined that the Knesset House Committee is authorized to raise MKs' pensions by "measured and reasonable" increments. What callousness. After three years of work a NIS 800,000 pension for a politician elected to serve the people is reasonable? Then they should implement it for all of today's unemployed textile workers.
In any case, the Aloni Committee, established after another affair in which "adjustment grants" were given to MKs who didn't serve an entire term, prescribed scrapping the illegal benefits, but the recommendation was rejected by the ever-present Knesset House Committee. Judge Shaul Aloni resigned in protest.
The Movement for Quality Government then again asked the Knesset to reconsider but hit a brick wall, and petitioned the High Court to rule against Dan Tichon and the Knesset House Committee.
Any Aloni Committee decision on MKs' wages and benefits is a recommendation for the Knesset House Committee's approval. Up to now, when the Aloni Committee recommended improving those conditions, the house committee wholeheartedly agreed. But now, when the Aloni Committee decided to act according to logic, its recommendations were suddenly opposed.
The house committee decided not only to make a fool of Aloni but to broaden the pension rights of fourteen veteran MKs who concluded their service in the last Knesset, raising their pensions to 8 percent from 6 percent. And it doesn't matter that the fourteen have budget pensions and they have already racked up respectable sums. None of that matters to them when they can rob the tax-paying public - they simply do it.
Apparently the MKs' labor union is one of the strongest in Israel. It doesn't need to strike, request or persuade. It simply lifts a finger and improves its members employment terms. The union's members-of-the-month awards had to go to MKs Benny Alon and Yair Peretz who argued that when the Knesset was dissolved after just three years, an MK found himself suddenly and surprisingly unemployed, since he had planned on four years.
Heaven forfend! As if they hadn't known they were entering an inherently unstable political reality, or that very few of our legislatures survive the full term. There are MKs who accuse the media of overdoing its criticism of the Knesset and its members, emphasizing only the ugly and the sensational, and so weakening democratic rule. But what can one do when the MKs themselves provide the ammunition?
Now, after Aloni has resigned, Knesset speaker Avraham Burg said he will convince the Knesset House Committee chair to debate the matter again with the goal of accepting the Aloni committee recommendations and bringing the justice back into the fold.
We suggest that Burg not intervene at all If if the house committee talks about the issue again, it could keep up with its tradition and its ethic - and teach us all a lesson - by again upping pension benefits for those 22 impoverished former elected officials.
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