PM: Don't eulogize Trajtenberg Report yet

Netanyahu: We need to defend our citizens and our budget; Mofaz criticizes NIS 1.67b. defense budget addition.

prime minister binyamin netanyahu informing_311 (photo credit: GPO/Moshe Milner)
prime minister binyamin netanyahu informing_311
(photo credit: GPO/Moshe Milner)
The Trajtenberg Report is alive and well, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday, in response to accusations by MK Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) that a last-minute NIS 1.67 billion increase in the defense budget killed social justice.
A joint meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which Mofaz chairs, and the Finance Committee approved the addition on Wednesday afternoon, hours after it was approved by the government. The increase was drawn from the budgetary surpluses (unspent funds) of other ministries.
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Later in the day, Netanyahu addressed criticism of the expanded defense budget, saying it would allow the Defense Ministry to give a proper response to new challenges brought on by the US withdrawal from Iraq, upheaval in the Middle East and the Iranian nuclear threat.
The prime minister said the world economic crisis and the instability in the Middle East had created “tension” between the government’s economic and security responsibilities.
Therefore, he explained, the government must behave responsibly, balancing the budget while defending Israeli citizens.
“There is no defense without a good economy,” Netanyahu said.
“Defense costs a lot of money.”
Following Mofaz’s statement that the findings of the Trajtenberg Committee on Socioeconomic Change had been “buried,” Netanyahu said: “Don’t eulogize the Trajtenberg Report yet.”
The prime minister explained that the chapters of the report were being passed one by one, allowing for ministers and MKs to discuss them and recommend changes. The chapters on taxes and government efficiency had already passed, and those on housing and education were on the government’s agenda, he said.
During Wednesday’s meeting, all coalition MKs present voted for the budget increase, while Mofaz and MK Meir Sheetrit (Kadima) opposed the change.
According to Mofaz, this was the first time the joint committee on the defense budget was asked to approve such a large sum so close to the December 31 deadline.
Mofaz called the move “improper,” and explained that he had asked Netanyahu to bring it to a ministerial vote before the Knesset could make a decision.
“Why aren’t budgetary surpluses used to take care of social problems that were protested by citizens last summer?” Mofaz asked. “The government must find the proper balance between social and security needs, and the public should know exactly where the additions to the defense budget come from.”
He added that the government had made it clear that it preferred the defense budget over social justice.
“This coalition has no heart or compassion,” Mofaz said.
MK Einat Wilf, chairwoman of Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s Independence faction, said that most government ministries acted responsibly, which is why they had budgetary surpluses. However, she explained, the Defense Ministry tended to take spending risks because it knew its commitments would be covered when it asked for additional funds.
According to MK Yitzhak Vaknin (Shas), this was not an unusual occurrence. Almost every year, some government ministries did not use all of the funds allocated by the Finance Ministry, and whatever was left over was transferred to those that needed it.
Coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) and Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) said they agreed with Vaknin, adding that if the money was not sent to the Defense Ministry, it would go back to the Finance Ministry, and everyone would lose.
MK Uri Ariel (National Union), however, said that it seemed as if the government was “behaving in a way that borders on deception and irresponsibility.”
The largest budgetary surpluses transferred to the Defense Ministry are NIS 124,993,000 from pensions and NIS 113,600,000 from the National Insurance Institute. The ministry with the largest surplus going to defense is the Welfare Ministry, with NIS 69,765.
A government spokesman said the funding transfer was a standard maneuver that took place every year. He said it was approved by a ministerial committee that did not include the ministers who have publicly criticized the move.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.