Barak slammed over travel expenses

Barak slammed over trave

The Israeli government paid NIS 527,000 in hotel costs for Defense Minister Ehud Barak and an entourage of 15 people, including his wife, for a four-night stay at the Intercontinental Hotel in Paris while attending the Paris Air Show in June, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss revealed in a special report published Wednesday. The entire mission included the 16-person entourage headed by Barak, and a professional delegation of 34 army and Defense Ministry officials. Because the Defense Ministry office in Paris started looking for a hotel for Barak and his entourage too late, the Intercontinental was the only hotel that met all the criteria established by the Defense Ministry, even though it was one of the most expensive in the city. The government also had to pay for six nights at the hotel, even though the Israeli mission stayed in Paris for only four nights. Barak's suite cost €2,500 per night, but because stayed only four nights, the effective cost was €3,750. While the hotel costs for the 16-person entourage totaled NIS 527,000, the other 34 members of the Israeli mission, who stayed at another hotel, cost the state NIS 417,000 (€76,000.) Thus, the hotel cost of the entire Israeli mission was NIS 944,000 (€172,000.) The state comptroller compared the hotel costs this year to those of previous years. In 2005, the suite of then defense minister Shaul Mofaz, who stayed in Paris for three nights, cost €1,641 per night, while the cost for the entire entourage, numbering 17, was €20,000. The following year, the suite reserved for defense minister Amir Peretz cost €1,000 per night for six nights. The cost for the entourage, numbering 18, was €56,000. Last year, the government paid €1,800 per night for three nights for Barak's suite. The cost for the entire entourage, numbering 13, was €25,000. Thus, the money paid for this year's visit to Paris by Barak and his entourage was almost twice as much as the previous most expensive visit by a minister of defense and almost five times as much as Mofaz's visit in 2005, when Mofaz and his entourage paid for only three nights. The state comptroller also found that the Defense Ministry reserved rooms for 58 people who were supposed to join the mission, but that only 50 actually showed up. Nonetheless, the government had to pay for all the rooms. Furthermore, some members of the mission did not stay at the hotel they were assigned to, yet their rooms had to be paid for. He also found that because the ministry had to rent the hotel rooms for six nights, even though it only needed them for four nights, it wasted NIS 313,000 of the taxpayers' money. "There is no reason that the State of Israel, which has declared that it must reduce its expenses, should spend so much money on hotels and glamorous suites," wrote Lindenstrauss. "Such conduct, unfortunately, points to lack of public sensitivity, most certainly at a time when the state is in an economic crisis and many of its citizens are having a hard time supporting themselves. This situation can lead to substantial damage to public confidence in government." Lindenstrauss urged the government to set limits on the cost and standard of hotels that ministers and their entourage are permitted to stay in abroad. State Control Committee chairman Yoel Hasson (Kadima) on Wednesday called the report "one of the most severe reports ever compiled on the misuse of public funds. "At a time when the Defense Ministry is getting a significant budget boost at the expense of welfare and education, ministry officials are enjoying luxury hotels and extras at the public's expense," said Hasson. "Defense Minister Ehud Barak was the main beneficiary… and he should have ensured out of his ministerial responsibility that such a flamboyant spending spree did not happen." Hasson said that the State Control Committee would convene in the next few days to discuss the report.