Newly installed Water Resources and Higher Education Minister Ze’ev Elkin wants two directors general, one for each of the ministries he leads, prompting criticism from the opposition, which has been accusing the new government of wasting public funds.
The coalition agreement underlying the government, sworn in last month, stipulates the creation of six new ministries, including the two run by Elkin.
Elkin noted that having a separate director general for each ministry, even when they shared a single minister, was standard practice.
“You can argue about the need for the ministries and I have reasons for why they are needed, but as soon as there are two ministries there is no question about the need for two directors-general,” he told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper in a report published Tuesday. “Until today the matters were administered by two different directors general: a director general for the Education Ministry and a director general for the Energy Ministry.”
Each director general position would entail a salary, a secretary, an office manager, a spokesperson and a driver, according to the report.
“There is a standard,” Elkin said. “These are two different ministries and there cannot be one director-general. I want to bring in someone professional for water and someone professional for education. This is something that was taken into account from the start.”
He pointed to fellow cabinet member Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who is also the Negev and Galilee development minister and has a director-general for each ministry he leads. Elkin also noted that in the past, when he himself was both environment minister and Jerusalem minister, he had a director-general for each of those ministries.
Elkin left his position as minister for environmental protection and Jerusalem affairs to take over the two new ministries as part of the unity government deal.
Opposition leader MK Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid-Telem alliance tweeted Tuesday that Elkin needs two directors-general — “one for cold water and one for hot water.”
“Out-of-touch [lawmakers], we’ve had enough of you,” Lapid wrote, repeating a slogan he has used in the past to condemn the unity government.
Elkin currently doesn’t have a dedicated office, although one is being prepared for him in a Water Authority building in Jerusalem. In the meantime, he holds meetings where he can find space, either at the Institute for Higher Education, also in the capital, or at the Water Authority.
According to the report, he has also held meetings and discussions in his car.
“I am an active minister,” Elkin said. “I am not waiting until they find me a permanent office. One needs to work.”
The coalition deal between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White ended over a year of political deadlock and produced the most minister-rich government in Israel’s history. New ministerial positions were created to accommodate the cabinet’s 33 ministers, who number over a quarter of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers.
The price tag for the overhead costs of the new government has been estimated as high as a billion shekels ($285 million) over its three-year span. There have been widespread accusations that the government is overlarge and costly at a time when the economy is being ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The creation of Elkin’s Water Resources and Higher Education ministries was approved at a cabinet meeting Sunday that also okayed an Alternate Prime Minister’s Office, which will be held by Defense Minister Gantz for 18 months and then transferred to Netanyahu as part of a power-sharing deal.
In addition, a Ministry of Community Empowerment, a Cyber Ministry and a Settlements Ministry were also approved.
In order to create the new posts, ministers approved a government decision that will see a 1.5% cut to the budgets of all government offices, specifically at the upper personnel level. The move will slash 300 posts from the various offices to free up some NIS 100 million ($28.5 million).
Sunday’s cabinet meeting was held in the Foreign Ministry’s auditorium as the regular cabinet meeting rooms were not large enough to accommodate all the ministers while maintaining social distancing.