The (non) implementation of government resolutions

Every year 2,000 or so government resolutions are passed in the Knesset, but few are carried out.

PM Netanyahu at cabinet meeting (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
PM Netanyahu at cabinet meeting
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
For the most part, cabinet meetings are a waste of time, according to a former minister who served under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Often, I didn’t even stay until the end – even the prime minister would sometimes leave in the middle,” he said. “When the matters didn’t seem serious to me, it felt like a waste of time of time. On Sundays there were cabinet meetings.
On Mondays and Wednesdays there were Knesset sessions. On Thursdays I would make my rounds. So how much time did I have left to actually get some work done?” According to a number of studies, not only are most government decisions never actually implemented, but most of them deal with administrative and procedural matters rather than substantial issues. Only a minute portion of government decisions deal with political and security issues. “That’s what happens in democracies,” the former minister said, preferring to remain anonymous so that he could be more open and honest.
“When discussed issues that were unrelated to my office, sometimes I would feel like a puppet. I wasn’t familiar with most of the subjects that arose. I would receive the written materials on Wednesday evenings, but I never had time to read everything before the Sunday cabinet meetings. I don’t think many of the ministers read them. Some would, but they probably didn’t really understand what was going on, and others would just make sure they had a good quote or two for the media and the cameras. That was definitely the most important thing – that you would be quoted in the newspaper the next day."
"After all, most of the ministers wanted to be reelected, or they were simply in love with themselves. You should hear the conversations that take place among the ministers as they stand around waiting for the weekly sessions to begin. Bibi [Netanyahu] would usually arrive late, so we would wait out front gossiping, telling each other how big and important we were. When a decision needed to be voted on, the only thing I would be concerned about was whether or not it affected my budget. If it didn’t, often I would vote in favor of the decision.”
DEPENDING ON how long each government is able to stay in power before new elections are called, each cabinet ends up voting on thousands of decisions.
Under the premiership of Ehud Olmert, for example, 2,046 decisions were passed, but only 801 of them (39 percent) were implemented.
“Not long ago, Tel Aviv University carried out a study that examined government decisions with respect to local Arab administrations, and the results of the study were very bleak. A huge number of the decisions were never implemented – it’s an open secret. Most of the ministers know that when they vote on an issue, it’s unlikely that it will actually be implemented.”
Exactly five years ago, in January 2011, Yossi Hirsch, a senior official in the State Comptroller’s Office claimed that 70% of government resolutions are not implemented.
The Government Secretariat and the Planning Division of the Prime Minister’s Office are supposed to be in charge of monitoring whether government resolutions are implemented or not. A year ago, the Planning Division stated that, “There is no legal provision that allows government officials or even the prime minister to enter a minister’s office to monitor whether or not he is implementing government decisions.”
The anonymous minister agreed. “Because no sanctions are employed for failure to implement decisions, a minister is only motivated to implement a resolution when he is sure to get full credit for doing so, but not if he has to share the limelight. Only under such conditions will he become energetic and get things done. But a number of the resolutions involve two or more ministries, which lowers the motivation of all involved parties. That’s how most of us operate – according to egotistical desires and not in order to help others. Clerks in these offices also have no motivation to implement government resolutions.”
When asked why then does the government even bother to pass resolutions, the minister continued: “Mainly because the Finance Ministry wants to retain control of the process. When a resolution reaches the cabinet for a vote, that means that the Finance Ministry, the Justice Ministry, and the prime minister are in control of it. Most of the other ministers don’t really care about it. When issues that are close to my heart were voted on, I would be involved, but if there’s a resolution about importing pocket knives and I don’t have an opinion about this topic one way or another, why would I bother to vote against it? It’s going to pass anyway, and I don’t really know much about the issue either way.”
Former MK Ophir Pines-Paz describes a cabinet meeting he participated in once to discuss cellular antennas. “I was the interior minister under Ariel Sharon. I stood up to speak about the danger these antennas posed to population centers and then suddenly 10 ministers took the floor and attacked me. I realized that the cellular lobby had approached them. Of course, I was not successful in getting the resolution passed.”
SO IS everything just an act? “Most of the resolutions have been decided upon well before a vote takes place. A good prime minister needs to make sure that the decisions he is putting forward will pass, and so he only promotes decisions for which he knows for sure he’s garnered enough support for them to pass. Resolutions still need the prime minister’s support even if everyone knows that most resolutions are never implemented.”
The State Comptroller’s Office is familiar with this phenomenon. For example, it found that government decisions dealing with the transfer of national government offices to Jerusalem have not been implemented. The first resolution, which called for these offices to be moved to the capital gradually over a period of eight years, was passed in May 2007. The State Comptroller’s Report of October 2013 reveals that the transition team did not hold a single meeting from 2009 through January 2012, and as of October 2013 not even one office had been transferred. On top of that, the amount of land that the Housing Administration has allocated to the national government offices can only accommodate 15% of the offices. The expansion of the current government complex in the capital is not expected to be completed anytime soon, and certainly not close to the original deadline.
The 2015 State Comptroller’s Report, which dealt with housing issues, found that since 2005 a large number of resolutions had been passed that had been either delayed or not implemented at all. For instance, a decision was passed in August 2007 that would make the planning and development process at the Israel Lands Authority more efficient, but it was never implemented.
In June 2013, the government passed Resolution 367 that states that the construction and housing minister will formulate a long-term policy housing, but over a year later, no such policy seemed to be in the works.
THE 32ND government, presided over by Netanyahu, passed many resolutions pertaining to housing, such as the construction of small apartments, the earmarking of housing units for rental only, and the setting of planning goals. Unfortunately, these decisions were only partially implemented. The State Comptroller’s Office also found that the decision dealing with the number of women who serve in senior civil service positions was never implemented. Since 1985, the government passed resolutions on this subject. But in 2011, it was obvious that the Civil Service Commission had only partially carried out the resolution since only 34% of senior positions were filled by women despite the fact that 64% of civil servants are women. Out of 27 CEOs of government companies, only four were women.
There’s an endless supply of such examples. For example, following the heavy snow storm two years ago, the state comptroller found that despite the large number of resolutions that were passed aimed at regulating national preparedness for handling winter weather emergencies, no changes were actually made. In addition, decisions from 2008 aimed at improving benefits for the Ethiopian community were also never implemented.
Last year, the Knesset Information Center discovered that four resolutions which the government had passed between 2008 and 2010 to make the electric company more efficient, not only overlapped, but not a single one of them was ever implemented. In addition, according to the public information workshop, a government decision from December 2013 aimed at promoting transparency regarding the publication of permits, documents and communication between government and private agencies was only partially implemented.
A random look at other government resolutions shows similar findings. In July 2002, the government decided to establish 14 new settlements, and Hiran was one of them. To this day, no settlement has been built there, however, due for the most part to protests from residents who live nearby. A decision from October 2013 to remove an ammonia tank from Haifa is still far from being implemented.
In April 2015, the government voted to immediately allocate millions of shekels to install bulletproof windows on public buses that pass through the territories.
But Yesha Council Chairman Avi Roeh confirmed that only a small portion of the money has been transferred.
“We’ve been negotiating with the government for 15 years already, regarding the bulletproofing of these buses,” says Roeh. “Not long ago, the government approved a resolution which states that the deputy head of the National Security Council will carry out an in-depth examination of the subject. As a result, the government decided that it will allocate NIS 250 million over five years for the bulletproofing of the buses. Last year, we received only half of the amount we were supposed to, so we’re going to make a big fuss this year. These things take time.”
THE AUGUST 2014 decision to expand the smart classroom project in national priority areas was carried out in full, says Avi Ganon, CEO of the Kadima Mada organization. “This could possibly be the one and only government resolution that was ever implemented fully,” says Ganon. “We worked with the Development of the Negev and Galilee Ministry, which is the least bureaucratic office in the entire government. From my point of view, the resolution was passed at exactly the right time.”
Not only that, but according to Matan Dahan, co-founder of the Ayalim student village in the Negev, resolutions calling for student villages to be enlarged were also carried out fully. Another resolution from 2014 that called for a billion shekel increase in aid for Holocaust survivors was also implemented for the most part.
In contrast, the government decision to reinforce support services for children of foreign workers in Tel Aviv who lack civil status has also not been implemented. The Tel Aviv Municipality responded with the following statement: “As soon as the government approved the budget, the Tel Aviv Municipality began working intensively to build kindergartens. A few months ago, we rented a few buildings that are appropriate for becoming kindergartens, however due to the stringent requirements from the fire department, their preparation has been delayed. As of today, we are waiting for approval from the highest echelons at the fire department. The moment we receive the relevant permits, the Tel Aviv Municipality will make all the changes necessary to get the kindergartens up and running.”
The government decision to reduce the use of private vehicles has not been implemented either.
“New industrial zones are built far away from train stations with no consideration as to how far people need to drive to get to work. New neighborhoods are being built without any consideration for how far they are from places of work,” says Tamar Keinan, from the non-profit organization Transport Today and Tomorrow.
Stella Avidan of the Public Transport Users Association in Israel laughs out loud when she’s asked about the government’s decision on this subject. “I haven’t heard that anything has been done yet. In fact, people are being offered incentives to drive to work since they receive benefits in their salary each month to use their cars. If a government decision has been implemented, I for one haven’t heard anything about it.”
Translated by Hannah Hochner. This article originally appeared in Ma’ariv Sof Shavua.