Some of the biggest news stories in Israel this year had to do with high-profile cabinet decisions that were never implemented.
The Western Wall compromise never came to fruition, and the government canceled it after being taken to the High Court of Justice over its foot-dragging. The evacuees from Amona are still living in temporary housing, as the construction of new homes for them is delayed.
The demand for housing still far outpaces supply, but decisions that are meant to speed up building, like extending work permits to more foreign and Palestinian construction workers, remain on paper only. It’s enough to make an Israeli wonder whether the government ever does what it says it’s going to do.
Here’s the good news: While the “industry of gloom,” as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the media, may often give a different impression, the government has actually implemented 70% of its decisions since the 2015 election.
For example, the government decided it needs a plan to increase the number of people matriculating from high school with a concentration in a subject that is needed in the local labor market, and it wrote up such a plan. It increased funding for Masa programs, where people intern in cybersecurity, and set aside money for street lights in Judea and Samaria.
One decision that was entirely implemented is the multi-year plan to encourage the development of the Negev. The project mostly involved budgeting money for programs to encourage industry and employment, and the construction of a park.
There’s even more good news: We know this, because the government is uniquely transparent on this front. Israel is the only country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that releases public reports on whether it implements its own policies.
On the other hand, the lack of parallel documentation means we don’t really know how the government’s enactment rate compares to that of other developed countries.
In June, Prime Minister’s Office director-general Eli Groner released the first-ever report of its kind in Israel, breaking down the 195 cabinet decisions meant to be implemented by the end of 2016 article by article, labeling all 1,052 of them as enacted or not.
Groner said the report was part of an overall mission of good governance, calling it “another chapter in the dramatic change that we are leading in the last two years in the government’s organizational culture… reducing regulation, preparing work plans, setting measurable goals for every ministry are all processes meant to create a modern, efficient work environment in the public sector.”
Even the Citizens’ Empowerment Center, which dedicates much of its resources to following up on whether the government is implementing its decisions or not, says that the trend is positive. The center’s government affairs director Noa Rosenfeld called the report “revolutionary.”
“Until now, the government didn’t deal with implementation at all,” Rosenfeld said. “The fact that they’re publishing the information pushes the system forward.”
In other words, the fact that the public can see which ministries are derelict and which are effective encourages them all to work a little harder.
Of course, reporting isn’t everything.
After all, the government may be patting itself on the back for doing most of what it says it would do, but a C-minus isn’t quite a grade many people aspire to. Plus, the center’s research found and a source in the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed it, that much of the 70% of decisions the government implemented were administrative ones, like forming a committee or transferring responsibility for a topic from one ministry to another.
So, why aren’t a third of government decisions implemented? In short, because of bureaucracy and politics. The expected answer, budgets, is in reality less of a problem, because funding for three years is built into all government planning, as part of a recent Finance Ministry initiative called the “numerator.”
In 2014, the State Comptroller’s Office reported on another issue related to government effectiveness – whether laws the Knesset passes are being implemented – and asked ministerial legal advisers where things are stuck.
“One of the greatest obstacles to implementation is disagreements between ministries,” Rosenfeld said. “There are decisions involving five, six or seven ministries, and it’s unclear who makes the final decision.”
The other thing that Rosenfeld said blocks the government from getting things done is a convoluted process of hiring and processing government contracts.
Many cabinet decisions involve hiring outside organizations or companies to implement part of a plan, but the long process in doing so – even the tenders have to be written by outsiders – makes them ineffective.
For example, Citizens’ Empowerment Center research shows that in December 2013, the government decided to have the Health Ministry establish a unit for suicide prevention. The unit was founded in June 2014 – but had no workers until a year later.
Similarly, the government adopted the Palmor Report on racism against Israelis of Ethiopian descent in August 2016. The Justice Ministry appointed Awaka Kobi Zaneh as its coordinator to fight racism in December 2016, but Rosenfeld said that he could only start hiring people to work for him in July 2017. As of now, only five of the 22 Palmor Report’s recommendations have been implemented.
There’s no clear thematic pattern as to what decisions are more or less likely to be enacted, except that the more complicated a decision is, the harder it is to coordinate and juggle its different elements, and the less likely it is to go anywhere.
There does, however, seem to be a pattern in which decisions are canceled, like the Western Wall compromise. Rosenfeld said controversial political decisions are the ones most likely to be reversed, such as the previous government’s decision to increase conscription of haredim to the IDF.
Groner’s report doesn’t only tell us that the government is, in fact, getting things done – it is also a part of the solution. In order to make sure the government implements its decisions, we need to talk about it more, Rosenfeld said.
“I’m part of a civil society group that’s doing that,” she said. “The government has to talk about it more, too. Every government unit should have someone whose job is to work on implementation – an implementation department. There are models for this in the world.”
The transparency that the Prime Minister’s Office report and the center’s research provide also spurs the government to work harder. “There is a value to people seeing what the government is doing and how its money is being used, because then they can put pressure on the government,” Rosenfeld said.
To that end, the center has searchable reports online, and even created an app called EZgov for the public to keep track of what the government has done for them lately