Members of Knesset serve at the public's pleasure, and the public's displeasure is easily aroused, as those MKs soon to be out of job will know. One would assume that politicians would therefore be particularly vigilant not to give offense or trigger outrage. But such common sense may be too much to expect if we judge by just-released preliminary assessments of sums to be allocated for MKs likely to bid farewell to their seats after the March elections.
The terms that MKs have allotted themselves are exorbitantly generous, to say the least. What is to be shelled out just in "adjustment bonuses" to departing MKs is more than average wage earners see after many months, if not years of toil.
Adjustment pay is owed employees dismissed from their jobs and is separate from their accumulated severance pay or pension plans. The rationale is to ease the blow and tide one over until the severance pay is made available and until another job materializes or unemployment benefits are collected.
But do politicians who enjoyed income unattainable for most of their voters really need or deserve such a cushion?
Their adjustment problems should be considered part of the risk they run when they decide to run for office. The clout and perks they enjoy while serving their electorates more than make up for whatever adjustment traumas they may experience if not reelected. They are not regular workers summarily sacked from regular jobs. They know the vicissitudes of political life can mean truncated terms of office or failure to win future terms.
For MKs to pretend otherwise is beyond cynical, especially when many of them have spent the past Knesset term severely slashing benefits and pensions for the least well-to-do among the country's job-holders.
This is a matter of principle beyond the actual cash outlays involved. However, if we factor in the figures as well, the impression of higher-up insensitivity is most troubling. Through December 2005, each MK's monthly salary was a basic NIS 30,232 (this January it rises to NIS 31,985). The uniform one-time adjustment bonus for MKs who served only one full term (since 2003 for the current 16th Knesset) is NIS 128,000.
Most Israelis would agree that this is a pretty lucrative deal in itself, and especially when added on to severance pay (NIS 192,000 for each MK just for the 16th Knesset). Thus without even getting into pension issues, each non-returning first-term MK is sent home with NIS 320,000 to ease the pain.
More veteran parliamentarians get more.
Late-comers like Pnina Rosenblum or early-leavers like Omri Sharon won't get as much as their peers, but it'll still be the full NIS 192,000 severance for Sharon and NIS 23,000 for Rosenblum.
The bitter pill is further sweetened with a slew of perks, including options to purchase one's office equipment for bargain basement prices.
Just how much will all this total? We cannot tally it up until after the elections. Only then will it become apparent how many MKs didn't make it back. Yet already party primaries indicate that many MKs have failed to secure safe slots on their slates. Thus taxpayers will be required to foot the bills for dozens of "adjustment" packets.
The question of how much the citizenry should fork out for its parliamentary representatives is inherently tricky. If we pay too little, we would attract only the wealthy to our legislature. Only the well-heeled, with plenty of leisure time and no financial burdens, would be able to afford the luxury of political pursuits.
Excessive largesse, on the other hand, not only encourages greed in high places but cuts off the people's representatives from the tribulations of ordinary folk, alienates the latter and breeds envy and distrust.
Either extreme is undesirable and could potentially erode the basic unwritten democratic contact between voters and those they vote into office.
If anyone should be mindful of the dangers, it is first and foremost those we elevate to the Knesset. Besides being morally decreed, modesty and circumspection would serve MKs themselves by bolstering some of the populace's sagging faith in our civic hygiene. There are cases in which appearances count crucially.
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