Road Safety Authority fights cuts; Ministry calls body 'redundant'

As the Finance Ministry pushes for a cut of nearly NIS 200 million in the National Road Safety Authority's budget for 2009, authority staffers allege that criticisms leveled against their office are incorrect, and that the ministry has been unsupportive of their efforts since the authority's creation in 1997. In a report released earlier this month, the Treasury called the Safety Authority "redundant," saying that 2007 saw an increase in road deaths and that the authority, an independent body within the Transportation Ministry tasked with preventing automobile accidents, used only 70 percent of its budget for that year - a claim the authority rejects. "The Finance Ministry is looking for places to cut the budget and they're only hearing only the numbers they want to hear," said an National Road Safety Authority spokesman who preferred to remain anonymous. "Those numbers are simply incorrect." The Safety Authority said it used 99.9% of it budget in 2007 and that the numbers used by the Finance Ministry did not take all of the authority's efforts into account. "The figure of 70% only takes cash into consideration," the spokesman continued. "We have projects that are still outstanding, and their funding has not been included in the Finance Ministry's evaluation." "Additionally, [the ministry] is telling us that we're not doing a good enough job in combating fatalities on the road," the spokesman said. "But if these cuts go through, the situation will become even worse." The spokesman also said the proposed budget cuts would cause the authority to halt its educational initiatives for pupils and scale back funding it provided to hospitals for equipment that assists automobile accident victims. "The Finance Ministry's budget cut is basically a cut of our ability to fight for greater road safety in Israel," said Transportation Ministry spokeswoman Talia Somech. "We obviously feel that this is not the right course of action, and we hope to dissuade them from following through with it." But at press time, the Finance Ministry was reiterating that the National Road Safety Authority had not used its entire budget for 2007. The briefing, released again Sunday by the Finance Ministry, also advocated an overhaul of the authority, in effect turning it into an advisory board without the independent status it enjoys now. Others still were unhappy with the ministry's assessment. "There's no foundation for what they're saying," said Nurit Grossman of the People in Red road safety organization. "Anywhere in the world where a government has made road safety a priority, road deaths have dropped significantly," Grossman said. "And if we did that here, I believe we'd have the same results. But the government isn't doing that, and in a very cynical manner, they're using the fact that road deaths have increased last year as a reason to scale back funding for the NRSA. If road deaths have gone up, then the NRSA should be funded even more."