Editorial: Far better arrangements

While average Israelis may not yet realize the benefits of truncating the Arrangements Bill, these are sure to impact on our daily lives.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Paradoxically, good news tends to be underreported.
This was the case last week with a basic overhaul approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, which agreed to forge ahead with measures to split and drastically trim the highly problematic Arrangements Bill.
Previous attempts to reduce this benighted legislation's ever-mounting scope had floundered in the early stages and never seriously got off the ground. This time things are different, due mostly to tireless efforts by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who has long vociferously objected to the Arrangements Bill.
In effect, Rivlin has managed to orchestrate a parliamentary rebellion by uniting all Knesset committee chairmen behind his initiative. Together they served notice that the bill will never again pass in its current form. This, in turn, obliged the government to consent to radical changes.
The bill has been with us since 1985, when Israel faced an imminent economic collapse. The economy’s recovery, under the aegis of the national unity government, must be counted as one of the most stunning reversals of bad fortune in the country’s history. But what is often described as a near-miracle also bequeathed to us the socalled Arrangements Bill – a troublesome legacy that for a quarter of a century has been plaguing both our economy and our political arena.
It was born out of the emergency and was concocted to help the government pass in a hurry a series of ad hoc arrangements vital to stabilize the teetering economy.
But no government since has been able to restrain the burgeoning beast. In fact, many governments grew to love it and depended on it for coalition deals and disguised political payoffs.
The bill consists of a frequently bizarre assortment of items of legislation and financial allotments that are passed as one package and as part and parcel of the state budget.
Failure to adopt a new budget means the government’s automatic fall and hence has afforded coalition components down the years matchless extortion opportunities, pursued by demanding funding for pet causes via the Arrangements Bill. It has also afforded the Treasury unique opportunities to pass reforms without resorting to ordinary legislative procedures.
The bill was generally passed without MKs being able to thoroughly read its entirety and grapple with its manifold intricacies. Thus its various components were inflicted with minimal legislative scrutiny. In essence this was contra-democratic because it made it so effortless to detour around legal limitations.
ACCORDING TO the now agreed-upon amendment, the Arrangements Bill will be cut by at least 40 percent.
Nineteen of its central components will now have to be referred to the normal legislative course and four others will be separated from the bill right after the first reading.
Among the new exclusions is the Wisconsin Plan welfare- to-work initiative (which the Treasury had planned to revive by means of the Arrangements Bill). Also out are laws dealing with the regulation of financial markets, local authority inspection and enforcement powers, public transport licensing, Internet service providers, Israel Broadcast Authority funding, fines levied on National Health Insurances swindlers, and much more. In all, 28 of the 67 arrangements included in the bill will be affected.
Over the years the Knesset has come to wield less and less clout vis-à-vis the government. Time and again the Knesset proved helpless as coalition kickbacks, taxes and numerous edicts were introduced through the Arrangements Bill’s back door without even minimal parliamentary control and or meaningful public debate.
Such aberrations will from here on no longer be as easy as they had been for the past 25 years, when the bill was treated as an almost unavoidable but useful evil.
Rivlin, who had proved himself on a long list of issues to be a uniquely independent and ethical speaker, deserves our unstinting gratitude. While average Israelis may not yet realize the benefits of truncating the Arrangements Bill, these are sure to impact on our daily lives.
More remains to be done to rid us of this bad bill altogether, but this first step is an unprecedented giant move forward for our quality of government. This is a sterling achievement for Israel’s democracy and nothing less than a defining moment in the relationship between our legislative and executive branches.