The Knesset building in Givat Ram, Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Media reports early this year indicated that presidential expenses during the seven-year term of office of president Shimon Peres had skyrocketed and had more than doubled.
This was confirmed in a report by the Knesset Research and Information Center, a report ordered by Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi).
“The research showed us something amazing: that from the moment the previous president [Peres] entered the position in 2007, President’s Residence expenses jumped and doubled,” Slomiansky said.
Slomiansky pointed out that the Knesset had never set a limit for President’s Residence expenses, relying on presidents to be respectable and set an example for the public.
“In light of the research’s findings, the Knesset must reevaluate the topic,” Slomiansky said, asking Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) to call a meeting on the presidential budget.
A source close to Peres told The Jerusalem Post that the MK was not out to clip the wings of the current or future presidents, but was more intent on determining a realistic budget in light of Israel being a focal point for world leaders who came in large numbers during the Peres years and who issued reciprocal invitations, most of which were accepted.
Even under Peres’s immediate predecessor, Moshe Katsav, expenditure was slightly in excess of the original budget but did not deviate to the extent that it did under Peres.
In 2005, the original budget was NIS 25.2 million, and actual expenditure was NIS 26.5m. In 2006, the budget increased to NIS 25.4m., and expenditure was NIS 26.1m. The budget declined in 2007 to NIS 24.1m. and actual expenditure was NIS 24.7m.
It should be remembered that in January of that year, Katsav suspended himself from office and Peres did not take up his position till mid July. However, there was a sharp rise in both the initial budget and expenditure in 2008, when the budget was increased to NIS 34.3m.
and actual expenditure was NIS 35.8m.
Both the initial budget and expenditure kept increasing from year to year and culminated in a budget of NIS 40.3m. in 2014 and actual expenditure of NIS 56m.
Peres completed his term on July 24, 2014, and present incumbent Reuven Rivlin did not make his first presidential trip abroad till October 2014, at which time the president of Poland provided a plane to transport Rivlin and his entourage, so the cost factor of the visit to Poland for the opening of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews was relatively minimal.
During the Peres years, wages also rose progressively from NIS 15.5m. during his first year in office to NIS 29.3m. in 2014.
Peres traveled abroad with far greater frequency than did any of his predecessors and was inevitably accompanied by a team that included his security detail, his personal physician, his director-general, spokeswoman, political adviser, liaison with the institutions of the host country, and clerical staff. Depending on the nature of the visit, he had at least one other adviser, as for instance a scientific adviser or a religious affairs adviser. All these people also had to be accommodated in the same hotel as the president or in a hotel very close by.
The Knesset research was conducted on a comparative basis with parallel institutions in Germany, Iceland, Greece, Austria and Finland.
In a response to the Knesset report, the president’s spokeswoman Ayelet Frish pointed out that the presidential budget in Israel is on average below that of similar institutions in Europe, despite the intensive activity of the president and his staff. The budget was calculated in cooperation with the Finance Ministry and in accordance with the Budgets Law and the president’s volume of activity.
Scores of world leaders came to Israel during Peres’s term, said Frish, and appropriate welcome ceremonies and state dinners were held in their honor.
In addition, there were numerous events held each week at the President’s Residence, amounting to tens of thousands of Israelis in attendance each year.
The total number of employees was 132, she said, and this included administrative staff, maintenance staff, technical staff, security and special advisers.
Frish did not mention the comprehensive repairs and renovations that had to be undertaken due to the damage caused when the outdated plumbing system at the President’s Residence collapsed and flooded the building toward the end of 2011, necessitating alternative accommodation for the president for several months.