Non-approval of finance minister may force gov't demise

Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz has informed cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon that unless the Knesset approves the appointment of a permanent finance minister by November 9, when Ehud Olmert's three-month appointment expires, the position cannot be filled under the current government unless it resigns and becomes a caretaker government. Justice Ministry spokesman Ya'acov Galanti told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that it was not yet clear whether, or for how long, the government could legally continue to function without a finance minister. This is one of the questions that Mazuz must address when he prepares a written and more comprehensive opinion on the legal implications should the Knesset fail to approve a permanent appointment to the treasury portfolio by next week. A few days ago, Maimon asked Mazuz about the legal implications for the government should Prime Minister Ariel Sharon fail to win approval for Olmert's permanent appointment to the Finance Ministry. Mazuz replied to the query on Monday, Galanti said. According to the basic law: When a cabinet portfolio is left vacant the prime minister may appoint someone to the post for three months without asking for Knesset approval, but stipulates that by the end of that period, the prime minister must appoint a permanent minister with Knesset approval. However, the law does not specify what happens in the event that the three months expire and the prime minister fails to get a Knesset majority for a permanent appointment. Sharon hoped that in case he was not able to obtain a Knesset majority for the permanent appointment of Olmert, he could either appoint him or someone else for three more months as a temporary finance minister, or assume the portfolio himself. Mazuz informed Maimon that neither option was possible. The law stipulates that the prime minister can temporarily fill a vacant portfolio for three months, but not a day longer. As for having Sharon assuming the portfolio, he would also be considered a temporary appointee like any other minister. According to Galanti, there are only two ways that the government will have a finance minister after November 9. Either the Knesset will approve the appointment of a candidate to the post, be it Olmert, Sharon or someone else, or Sharon will announce that he, along with the cabinet, is resigning. In that case he becomes head of a caretaker government and may appoint an MK to a cabinet vacancy without requiring Knesset approval until a new government is formed.