Corridors of Power: Back to the Shtetl?

Where do budgets intended for public projects dissapear?

barkat 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
barkat 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
I have always thought that the lottery winners hiding their faces behind paper masks, is ridiculous. So what if everyone sees your face when you receive the check? Does that mean people will ask for your money? I, for example, wouldn't dream of doing so, and I guess most readers wouldn't either. That's what I thought before last Thursday's city council meeting. The issues on the agenda were money, but a rather different kind of money: Mine and yours, in the coffers of the municipality, and how our elected representatives will make use of it. There was no surprise there, and the annual budget for 2007, NIS 3,028 million, passed with the automatic vote of the coalition members - no surprise at all. But there was another, less predictable, money issue on the agenda. The head of what was, not long ago, the largest opposition list, Nir Barkat, raised a painful issue: the freezing of funding for longer days and school lunches for underprivileged schoolchildren. For them, a special project was created, funded by the Education Ministry (40 percent) and the municipality (40%), with additional funding provided by the Sakta-Rashi foundation. For its own reasons - meaning budget cuts - the ministry stopped its contribution at the beginning of the school year. Instead of putting pressure on the ministry, the municipality decided to follow suit. Sakta-Rashi, who wanted to continue but couldn't do it alone, was stuck in between. Barkat, who was very active two years ago in launching the project, has tried over the past few weeks to convince both sides to resume the funding of this important project. We're still talking about money: According to Barkat, the ministry is reconsidering. During the last city council meeting, Barkat tried to convince the mayor to resume the municipality's participation. Barkat addressed himself directly to Mayor Lupolianski, trying to persuade him there was no reason the municipality should wait until the Education Ministry changes its mind, since the children should not go hungry. And then it came, with no warning: Lupolianski interrupted Barkat's speech, and asked him sarcastically, "If you're so worried about it, why don't you just put your hand in your pocket and take the money needed for that? Why don't you do something about it... give away a little bit of your money for something so important?" Barkat looked so astonished that for a few seconds he seemed to have lost the ability to speak. But the mayor continued to ask Barkat to donate some of his money for the sake of the children. Barkat finally recovered and attacked the mayor: "Don't you have any shame?" he asked a few times. This went on for a few long minutes - the mayor asking Barkat for a personal contribution, Barkat asking him again and again if he's lost all shame and accusing him of turning the city into a "Shtetl led by the laws of shnorring [begging.]" It was then that I realized that perhaps Barkat should consider the use of the paper mask of the lottery winners. Maybe it would have saved us the shame.