No digs yet for the new Pensioner's minister

As the 25 newly inaugurated government ministers got acquainted with the offices of their new ministries on Sunday, one new minister was still unsure as to where his new workstation would be, who would be working with him and with what other people he would be working. The head of the new Ministry for Pensioners Affairs, Rafi Eitan, was still trundling between numerous offices Sunday, spending time working out of the Prime Minister's Office, the shared faction room in the Knesset and his car, said Eitan's spokeswoman. "At the moment there is no office, he has just finished meeting with the new prime minister," she said, adding that, "currently both Rafi and I are working out of his car on the way to the Knesset." While most ministers are taking over already well-established ministries, where the civil servants, secretaries and physical offices are in place, Eitan is the first MK appointed to this new ministry, she explained. She also said that as yet no decisions had been made on the size of the staff to be allocated to the new ministry, who Eitan's advisers would be and what kind of budget he would be granted. "Things are moving very slowly but we hope that in a few days it will all be much clearer," she said. "That is the current situation." Eitan, as head of the Gil Pensioners Party, was the first party leader to sign a coalition agreement with Ehud Olmert on the basis that a new Pensioners Affairs Ministry would be created to deal solely with pensioners' matters. Under the agreement, the party's number two candidate, Yaakov Ben-Yizri, was appointed health minister. In his role as minister of pensioners affairs, Eitan must tackle the plight of the more than 700,000 elderly people, 25 percent of whom live under the poverty line. According to statistics gathered by pensioners' rights group Ken Lazaken, only 24% of elderly households enjoy a pension and more than 150,000 elderly request food relief on a regular basis. The statistics also indicate that 45,000 people visit soup kitchens daily. Recently, the organization called for the new government to address three basic issues: restoration of benefits for the elderly, including a special package for disabled elderly and a twice-a-year raise in the amount of the basic pension; reforms in the health basket to include financial aid for institutionalized elderly; and financial aid to help pay for day-to-day caregivers and essential equipment such as hearing aids and glasses. Ben-Yizri said that his party would tackle these issues. An agreement signed with the Kadima Party before the coalition was formed promises Gil NIS 650 million for its causes and an additional NIS 100m. that will be added to the 2007 state budget.