The High Court of Justice on Wednesday ordered the Finance Ministry, MK Stav Shafir (Labor) and Knesset Finance Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky to work out a compromise to Shafir’s petition against what she called the ministry and the committee’s lack of transparency, within 90 days.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Shafir’s lawyer told the High Court that the state was such a “closed-box” about questionable budgetary fund transfers that it was as if it was guarding classified information about the (presumed according to foreign reports) nuclear site at Dimona.
Shafir quoted the High Court as saying that the petition “uncovered a problem since the meetings being conducted have continued for years,” without fully addressing and solving the transparency issues.
The Labor MK, who led the charge and brought a few dozen supporters to the hearing, called the ruling the “beginning of a revolution in the handling of the budget.”
In contrast, the ministry responded to the ruling, saying that to “our satisfaction, the High Court sent the budget issue back to the proper arena – the Knesset.”
It said “the Finance Ministry will continue to act to improve the budgetary process, to increase transparency and to a widening of the public discourse, as it has in recent years.”
Slomiansky’s office said he had no response at this time.
Shafir had complained to the court about unsupervised changes in the budget made at the ministry’s request and effectuated solely by Slomiansky, as if he was a “rubber stamp,” and without debate.
She said this process infringed the spirit of the basic law pertaining to the economy in general and specifically to the oversight demanded of the budget.
The ministry and Shafir traded different narratives about changes made in the last year to increase transparency, with the ministry saying it was an independent process and Shafir saying that none of the changes would have happened without her petition.
Some changes include: finance committee members now receive proposed ongoing alterations to the budget five days before the decision, the members have a chance to ask the ministry for clarifications, bringing a proposed budget to the Knesset months before a vote and foreseeable one-time projects will be included in the main budget and not merely thrown into the less policed ongoing alterations process.
Additional changes include: explanations of the budget and of coalition agreements pertaining to it will be distributed to the public, intergovernmental committees to ensure proper coordination, streamlining the byzantine budget process, greater recording of decision-making and more regular presentation to decision-makers of the economic big-picture.
In fact, the significant changes already made were part of the reason the High Court sent the sides to try one last time to work out a compromise on consensual guidelines for handling all ongoing budget alterations, before intervening and issuing a ruling.
Shafir expressed skepticism about the ministry’s intentions, saying that only two weeks ago she asked for 44 clarifications on the budget alterations, and received a response to only one question.
She added, “the Finance Ministry must understand that we are talking about all of our tax funds, and not personal money,” which it can decide to spend as it sees fit.
After Slomiansky canceled a meeting in which his decisions – during a prior meeting that he alone attended – would have been put to a vote, Shafir said it was canceled because he was concerned his “rubber stamp” would be overturned.
She said his actions were more fit for a “circus” than for a “parliament.”
Also, Shafir has claimed support for her efforts from other MKs in five other political parties across the spectrum.
Niv Elis contributed to this report.