Amid unprecedented economic downturn, new cabinet could cost whopping NIS 1b.

Israeli taxpayers will shell out some NIS 674 million just to cover the offices, cars and staff of the 36 ministers and 16 deputy ministers in the 35th government

The weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem)
The weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem)

Israel’s forthcoming unity government will be the largest and most expensive in the country’s history.

The price tag for the overhead costs of the new government may be as high as a billion shekels, and comes as unemployment skyrockets past the one-quarter mark and hundreds of thousands of small businesses face financial collapse.

The government is set to launch with 32 cabinet ministers, but will grow to 36 after six months, according to the coalition agreement signed Monday between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz.

That’s the largest cabinet in Israel’s history.

Each of the 36 ministers will receive a fully staffed office, an armored car, and a driver, at a cost to the taxpayer of some NIS 5 million ($1.4 million) per minister per year — or NIS 180 million ($51 million) in total.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) holds the weekly cabinet meeting via videoconference call from the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem due to coronavirus regulations, March 15, 2020. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Over the 36 months of the government’s lifespan, as detailed in the agreement, the total cost for the ministerial appointments alone will reach NIS 530 million ($150 million), after deducting NIS 10 million for the first six months when the government will have just 32 ministers.

Many of those ministers will be leading small subdivisions of government agencies splintered off from other ministries to justify their titles.

The Ministry of Labor and Welfare will be split into two, as will the Ministry of Culture and Sports.

Smaller portfolios once lumped together with larger ministries will be spun off. For example, in the outgoing 34th Government, the Ministry for Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage, which oversees central government investment in the capital and the country’s official heritage sites and museums, was led by an already serving cabinet minister, Likud’s Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin. Three ministers, each with their own staff, office and vehicle, are expected to be assigned to those same duties in the new cabinet.

An additional 16 deputy ministerial posts — also an unprecedented number — with each deputy minister’s office, car and driver costing some NIS 3 million per year ($850,000), or NIS 144 million ($41 million) added to the overall cost of the 35th Government, and bringing the administrative overhead of the new government to NIS 674 million ($190 million).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, Foreign Minister Israel Katz, left, and Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, November 13, 2019. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP)

The coalition agreement allows parties to activate a new “Norwegian law,” set to be passed in the coming weeks, that would allow dozens of MKs to be appointed to the Knesset to replace those appointed to the cabinet, along with each MK’s new advisers, driver, offices, housing stipend and Knesset-provided car. If some 30 new MKs are added to the roster by the law, the total cost could come to over NIS 40 million ($11.3 million) per year, or over NIS 120 million ($34 million) to the cabinet’s overall cost, bringing the new cabinet’s overall cost to over NIS 800 million ($225 million).

Many additional expenses are not yet known, such as the cost of the security details each minister will require, including bodyguards and guard posts at their private homes. No precise figures are available for security expenditures as each minister’s detail is funded separately through their ministry’s budget.

The coalition agreement also stipulates that both Netanyahu and Gantz will have the “standing” of a prime minister, including during the period when the other is in the premier’s chair. That includes all benefits given to a prime minister: a state-provided official residence, special security and travel arrangements and so on, all of which will be added to the overall expense of the new government.

It is not yet clear if a new residence will be built or purchased for the “alternate” prime minister, or if that article in the coalition agreement will be reduced to a housing stipend. A public outcry over the housing stipulation led both Netanyahu and Gantz last week to insist they won’t live in a new official residence during their period as substitute.

The security budget and the new residence’s costs, as well as the staff and services provided to the “alternate” premier, could together push the government’s total overhead cost to a whopping billion shekels.

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