Knesset committee to probe defense budget irregularities

Knesset committee to probe defense budget irregularities

Comptroller report found funding to security forces in 2011 increased by tens of millions of shekels that weren't reported

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Chairman of the State Control Committee MK Amnon Cohen at a committee meeting, July 03, 2013. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Chairman of the State Control Committee MK Amnon Cohen at a committee meeting, July 03, 2013. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The Knesset State Control Committee will later this week review how sloppy practices enabled the defense budget in 2011 to balloon by millions of shekels without the Finance Committee even knowing about it.

In a press release on Tuesday the State Control Committee said it would look into the State Comptroller report, published earlier this month, that found an unapproved increase in the defense budget of some NIS 30 million ($8.4 million).

“It is unthinkable that the ministry with the largest budget in the government should be handled in an amateurish manner and without real control,” said committee chairman MK Amnon Cohen (Shas). “Under the public radar, billions are flowing unsupervised, while the Defense Ministry fogs up the report.”

Cohen also took the ministry to task for scare-mongering to try to secure its budget.

“It constantly terrorizes the public, making it seem as though if the defense budget is cut then all the rockets of Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Iranians will land on our heads tomorrow,” he said. “We must give the IDF the means to maintain its quality and professionalism, but it must be controlled and supervised.”

In May, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet approved his proposal to trim NIS 3 billion (some $820 million) from the 2013 defense budget. The Finance Ministry had initially asked for a NIS 4 billion shekel defense cut.

As a result, in early June IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz announced that operational activity for reserve forces would be canceled for the remainder of the year.

In 2011 the defense budget was NIS 55 billion ($15.4 billion), the largest of any ministry, and some 15% of the total national budget. According to the state comptroller report, the defense budget grew without notification to the Knesset, and the paperwork submitted had errors, inaccuracies, and confusing facts.

Government regulations require that any non-classified changes of between 5 and 50 million shekels be sent to a joint Finance and Foreign Affairs and Defense committee for approval. In 2011 there were three changes of around NIS 10 million each that went unreported.

The notification is supposed to be provided by the Finance Ministry based on recommendations from the Defense Ministry.

The comptroller also found that even those reports that the Defense Ministry did provide had serious mistakes, were missing essential data, did not have explanations for the changes in the budget, and were not itemized.

The Finance Ministry was also criticized for the lackadaisical manner in which it handled the reports.

“The Finance Ministry mustn’t simply rubber stamp the requests,” the state comptroller wrote.

The State Comptroller noted while the budgets of other ministries are open to public review and scrutiny, the defense budget is largely classified and therefore demands even greater care.

The Knesset review was scheduled for Wednesday morning.

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