A costly coalition

Throughout my term in the Knesset, people would approach me and ask for “coalition funds” for themselves or for organizations that they represented.

The Knesset  (photo credit: REUTERS)
The Knesset
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Throughout my term in the Knesset, people would approach me and ask for “coalition funds” for themselves or for organizations that they represented.
When I told them I had no such money to distribute, they would respond: “Yes, you do. You must have received money to give out according to your own discretion as part of your party’s coalition agreement with the prime minister.”
I had no idea what they were talking about. Now, I do.
To entice Bayit Yehudi, Shas and United Torah Judaism to join his new government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu handed them “coalition money” totaling NIS 420 million of taxpayer money. Netanyahu gave 21 Knesset members in those parties NIS 20m. each to spend as they choose, without having to explain the goals or the needs behind their distributing these funds.
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The exorbitant cost of this coalition doesn’t end there. In fact, cobbling together this narrow coalition of 61 MKs is costing us more than the three previous governments combined.
The government formed by Ehud Olmert in 2006 required promises of NIS 1.5 billion over three years; the government Netanyahu formed in 2009 cost NIS 2.9b.; and Netanyahu’s third government in 2013 cost almost nothing, with no party asking for “coalition money.”
The cost of putting together this 2015 coalition is at least NIS 6.7b., with some experts placing its cost as high as NIS 9b.! The high cost of the coalition is, in and of itself, problematic. But reading over the fine print and recognizing the deliberate lack of oversight and transparency is even more troubling.
For example, the increase in budgets – NIS 900m. in funding for all haredi schools, and increased subsidies to men studying in kollels – comes with no mechanism to ensure that the funds are truly justified.
In fact, line 56 of the coalition agreement with United Torah Judaism actually says that if irregularities happen to be discovered in the religious institutions that receive funding, the funding cannot be stopped by the Finance Ministry and it is to continue until the issue is clarified.
Naftali Bennett was given NIS 600m.
for the Education Ministry to use “as he chooses,” with no process of clarifying the intended use of these funds.
Nor can we forget the decision to add more ministers than the number allowed according to the law passed by the previous government.
Each minister is surrounded by 14 staff members, including six advisers and personal assistants, and is provided with a luxurious car and personal driver. The total annual cost amounts to approximately NIS 3.7m. per minister and includes the two “ministers without portfolio” in this coalition.
What we are also seeing is a change in philosophy implicit in these coalition agreements signed by Netanyahu.
It runs counter to the shift in policy established by the previous government to get people who can work off welfare and into the workforce, and instead to allocate welfare stipends to the elderly and those incapable of working.
This shift was brought into focus in an exchange I had with a hassidic man at the airport about six months ago. He approached me without introduction and said, “Where is your compassion?” Puzzled, I asked him what he was talking about. He replied, “The government used to give me money for my family and you reduced this. I cannot support my family. Where is your compassion?” I responded by explaining that he is young and capable of finding work, and that I, as head of the Knesset task force to help haredim enter the workforce, would be more than happy to help him do so. Moreover, I continued, “We took the money that you once received and gave it to Holocaust survivors who cannot afford their medication and bills, and who are too old to go to work.
Do you have a problem with this? Where is your compassion?” The new coalition is costly on many levels. The first is the amount of money it will cost – money that our country simply does not have.
The second cost is the lack of oversight and transparency that inevitably leads to corruption, thereby contributing to the ongoing lack of trust which citizens display toward their elected officials.
Finally, the money earmarked to support those who are young and capable of working results in the neglect of Holocaust survivors, the elderly, the failing health system as well as other pressing moral and value- centered needs, thus, ultimately, costing us our national soul.
This is truly a costly coalition.
The writer served as a member of the last Knesset for Yesh Atid.