The Foreign Ministry will cover the hotel costs of visiting heads of state and numerous other key officials arriving here from around the world next week to attend the second annual Israeli Presidential Conference, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
A ministry spokeswoman confirmed to the Post Thursday that it was official protocol for the country to foot the bill for international leaders and, in some cases, even ministers and their delegations if they were responding to an official invitation.
Representatives of the US, European Union, Canada, France, Hungary, China, Macedonia and Croatia will all be staying at the capital's exclusive King David Hotel, where the most luxurious suite costs more than $3,000 a night.
However, Sheldon Ritz, deputy general manager and head of official delegations at the hotel, said the ministry and embassies were offered a significant discount for rooms there.
The ministry spokeswoman could not disclose to the Post how much the state paid for such rooms, but said it did receive up to a 60-percent discount in some cases.
"This is not a waste of funds, and a similar protocol is undertaken for many conferences held in Israel," said the spokeswoman, adding that the same courtesy was usually returned to Israeli leaders when they went on official visits abroad.
Ritz told the Post that the hotel was in the midst of preparations for hosting some 20 international delegations for next week's conference, including Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov, Croatian President Stjepan Mesic, US Foreign Policy Adviser and Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, European Union Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana and high-level government ministers from Hungary, Canada, China and France.
The revelation of this expenditure came only one day after the State Comptroller's Office slammed Defense Minister Ehud Barak, his entourage and other leading military figures for spending more than NIS 500,000 solely on accommodations during a visit to Paris this past summer.
According to State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, Barak's 16-person entourage and a professional delegation of 34 army and Defense Ministry officials stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel, even though it was one of the most expensive in the city.
He also found that the government had paid for six nights at the hotel, even though the Israeli mission had stayed in Paris for only four nights. The suite used by Barak and his wife cost 2,500 per night.
Labor's own Shelly Yacimovich said Thursday that the spending engendered disgust, the party's rebel MKs have castigated Barak over the outlays, while Meretz's Haim Oron said this latest evidence of Barak's taste for the good life, in this case at the taxpayer's expense, rendered him unfit to lead the Labor Party.
Reports of excessive spending by government ministries came just a few weeks after the government announced a 2% lateral cut in their respective budgets for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, and just days after the National Insurance Institute announced that 92,000 people were currently signed on for unemployment benefits, a 50% increase over this time last year.
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