Ministers, put a figure on it!

We must remember that the nation’s resilience and security consist of much more than their military aspects.

Israel's Knesset building (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israel's Knesset building
How much would you pay do decrease the road death toll? How much is clean air “worth” in your eyes? How does one quantify security? What about education, health, housing? As always before general elections, everywhere you look you see party platforms, pledges and programs. But how do we know that the minister seeking to regain our confidence has really been successful? How do we define success and how do we measure it?
When the decision concerning the Iron Dome system’s development was made, its architects indicated that an “X” capital investment was necessary for getting “Y” chances of success. Having indicated this, they persuaded the responsible bodies of its necessity. Similar data on input to output ratios have motivated the state to fund medical check-ups and preventative treatment, such as free colonoscopy procedures for the detection and removal of colon cancer in all individuals over 50 years of age. Besides the obvious upside – saving lives – it turned out that treating the “potential” patients when they are already ill would cost the state a lot more.
Hopefully, cost-benefit analyses such as this precede many state-funded projects. Outcome, presumably, is assessed in real-time, leading to policy updates or changes. The problem is that this whole procedure – insofar as it takes place – is non-transparent. The public, which eventually is to benefit from the outcome or pay the price; is not part of the decision-making processes; is only possibly aware of the fact that decisions have been made and their alternatives; and certainly does not receive a clear, transparent and reliable execution quality report.
Proper conduct starts with defining clear, preferably quantifiable, objectives. During elections, all candidates should lay forth their beliefs and objectives, and as they commence their ministerial tenure, publicly announce the list of goals for which success they are to be judged. On the same occasion, they should define the criteria of success. For instance: a certain decrease in housing prices; a substantial improvement in high school final exam statewide averages; a decline of morbidity rates in periphery counties.
ON EACH year-end, and all the more so on the conclusion of their tenure, ministers would disclose the data: What exactly have they achieved in said categories; what successes did they had and what failures; and how much closer did they bring us to their professed goals. This disclosure would have to be put to public scrutiny and be clearly and simply phrased. In later stages, to prevent the (even if only apparent) possibility of deliberate misuse of statistics, the inspection will be carried out by an independent contractor.
And what about foreign policy and security issues? Here too, decisions, alternatives and success rates should be made more transparent to the taxpayers, who carry the financial burden – 14% of Israel’s government gross budget in 2019 – and who sometimes pay with their lives for wrong decisions. By way of illustration: suppose that there is data according to which so many millions of shekels more would have secured the IDF another APC and would have saved the life of another soldier – we deserve to know this. Such data will not necessarily point at negligence in the decision-making process, but will at least put such decisions and priorities in the limelight.
We must remember that the nation’s resilience and security consist of much more than their military aspects. Financial strength, educational system, national infrastructure and more – all these are essential constituents. What’s more, in domains such as these, the thin veil of “endangering national security” cannot provide an excuse not to report to the public and share the main dilemmas with them. Has anyone ever checked what would be the investment required for substantially increasing efficiency in the railway system, for reducing the patient-load at hospitals’ GIM wards, for increasing the number of engineers? If no one ever has, please do hurry up and check. If somebody has, pray let us know as well.
In security, health, education and transportation – be it on the eve of elections or any other day – the goals set should be well-defined, quantifiable and transparent. Only in this way will the public be able to judge.
The writer is the CEO of KSM Indices.