Treasury's Belinkov was dropped from talks 10 days before ministers okayed new budget

Ram Belinkov, the former head of the Treasury's budget department who resigned after the cabinet approved the state budget last week, said on Wednesday that he was told his authority was being transferred to the prime minister's private economic adviser, Uri Yogev, 10 days before the budget was approved. Belinkov was speaking at a meeting of the Knesset State Control Committee, convened to examine the procedures leading up to the cabinet's approval of the budget proposal on May 13. Committee chairman Yoel Hasson (Kadima) proposed calling on State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss to conduct a special investigation to determine whether Yogev was guilty of a conflict of interests. However, he decided to drop the matter and leave it up to the state-comptroller to decide for himself when he saw he lacked a majority to approve the motion. For his part, Lindenstrauss told the lawmakers he had heard all the parties and would consult with senior officials in his office before deciding whether to open an investigation on his own initiative. According to the law, the state comptroller does not need a request from a government ministry to do so. In fact, he appeared to indicate that he would investigate the matter as a follow-up to two examinations discussed in past state comptroller annual reports. Meanwhile, a private lawyer, Gilad Barnea, told The Jerusalem Post he was preparing a petition to the High Court of Justice against Yogev's role in the drafting of the budget. Barnea is also the lawyer in the petition against the establishment of a private prison, and said the new petition also challenged the trend to privatization in the public sector. "I considered the procedures for approving the budget improper," Belinkov said, when asked why he had resigned. "The outcome was unreasonable." Belinkov also told the State Control Committee that "about 10 days before the budget was approved, I was told that the negotiations with the Histadrut and the employers were being handed over to Yogev. They didn't talk to me [about it]. They just told me." He said the decision was improper and left him in an impossible position. "The person who is authorized to make commitments regarding the budget, conduct negotiations, has an overall picture and knows the other constraints, is the supervisor of the budget and no one else," said Belinkov. "The moment he is held responsible but the authority is taken away from him, he can no longer perform his job successfully." The first part of the committee discussion was devoted to whether Yogev, who has large scale business interests, including in the water and electricity sectors, was not guilty of a conflict of interests for representing the government in the budget negotiations. Belinkov said that in addition to Yogev, another private businessman, Kobi Haber, who was himself in charge of the Treasury's budget department at one time, had also participated in government meetings on the budget. Both Haber and Yogev denied this allegation. As for Yogev, he admitted that he had participated in government meetings regarding the budget even before signing a conflict of interest agreement on May 5, eight days before the cabinet approved the budget. However, as soon as it became apparent that the negotiations over a package deal with the Histadrut Labor Federation and the employers were becoming serious, he only attended meetings when given special permission by the legal adviser of the Prime Minister's Office or by Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz.