(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Knesset Finance Committee said Tuesday new legislation was needed to give elected officials ways to oversee automatic budgets – those which the government runs when it fails to approve a new budget.
In both 2012 and 2014, the Knesset failed to approve a budget for the following year, triggering new elections. Until new governments were installed and another budget passed, the government ran on an automatic month-to-month budget set at 1/12 of the last approved budget, with adjustments for inflation, which are managed by the Finance Ministry’s accountant General.
The 2013 budget operated that way for seven months. In 2015, the government was on autopilot for 11 months.
“After two extended periods in which the state was operating with an approved budget, we Knesset Members are obligated to give our opinion regarding public supervision on the work of the Finance Ministry’s accountant general, which manages the state from a financial point of view in these times,” said Committee Chairman MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ).
The current accountant general, Michal Abadi-Boiangiu, pushed back at the idea that there was no oversight, saying any changes had to go through one of four “exception committees.”
In 2015, she said, they considered NIS 47 billion of exceptions, and approved NIS 6b. for defense and security-related matters alone. Her decisions were made in concert with ministers including, on occasion, the prime minister.
However, she added, legislation would be necessary to increase flexibility in the limited 1/12 framework, which, in 2015, worked out to NIS 32.7 b. a month.
The ministry, she said, needs more flexibility to respond to global financial conditions or a security event.
Another problem with the month-to-month framework is that debt payments are lumped in, and get first priority.
Because debt payments are not spread evenly throughout the year, there is a possibility that one month’s payments could seriously curtail the ministry’s ability to fund the government. MK Mickey Levy (Yesh Atid) voiced support for separating interest payments from the rigid, monthly framework.
Abadi-Boiangiu floated the possibility of operating in accordance with an unapproved budget proposal before it fully passes the Knesset.
Yisrael Beytenu MK Orly Levy-Abecassis called it “a gamble to leave all the management in the hands of one bureaucratic actor,” while Zionist Union MK Yossi Yonah agreed, saying: “We a great deal of power in your hands, and we have to check the inherent tension between the sovereign that sets the policy and the technocrat, as high-quality, efficient and professional as they may be.”
His Zionist Union colleague MK Manuel Trajtenberg, however, warned against inserting politics into the professional sphere.
“When you try to make improvements by fixing distortions, the distortion becomes the norm,” he said.
More discussion on the issue will be forthcoming, Gafni said.