On March 28, the Knesset approved the 2019 State Budget. The media celebrated the end of the political crisis The 2019 State Budget was approved by the Knesset, but how will it help us if the decisions are not actually implemented?
and the re-stabilization of the government. The Minister of Finance announced news about the new budget in videos and in a series of posts on social media, where he promised it would be good for seniors, young adults and families. He also promised it would strengthen long-neglected population groups, change the face of the country and impact all citizens.
“Passing the budget” is certainly an essential milestone for the government, and even more importantly, the budget is a meaningful commitment to public priorities and distribution of resources. Still, this may be the time to recall that the lives of Israeli citizens and the condition of all the sectors are not influenced by declarations and headlines, or even by budget regulations approved by the members of Knesset. The real condition of citizens is affected, in the end, by the resources actually invested in them, namely, the funds transferred from the pages of the state budget through government ministry work and utilized in practice to reach the promised goals. Indeed, a thorough examination of government priorities cannot end with “reading” the budget lines, not even with a comparison to those of previous years.
Examination of government priorities and policy must instead be focused on the actual spending of the government budget – on the amount of funds invested by the government to be returned to the public by the end of the year.
For example, take the Finance Ministry's optimistic statements about the gradual rise over recent years in the health budget. This is, of course, a welcome trend, but we must also note that out of the 205 million shekels allocated in the 2016 budget to "support public hospitals," over 150 million remained resting in government coffers. In another instance, out of the 15 million shekels allocated to address tuberculosis and AIDS, less than 6 million shekels were actually spent.
A similar story can be told about the rise in the education budget. Here, too, a thorough examination of the 2016 budget reveals items such as "future projects to encourage excelling students in the periphery," which enjoyed an allocation of 24 million shekels in the original budget, but less than 2 million shekels were actually spent. Additional budget items for informal education and development programs for department heads also suffered from significant under-utilization.
Numerous other programs which didn’t get its funds include grants for employers who promote women, continuing education for soldiers, and development of services for senior citizens. All of these budget items are important and promise to promote key public goals, but most remained unspent in the end, sitting in government coffers and not affecting the lives of anyone.
The approval of the budget is an important step – but it’s only a first step – in changing priorities and promoting public goals. The next and even more significant step is the government work at all of the ministries. This “work” turns budget items into organized plans and manages the processes necessary to transform the regulations into real results. Whether the budget is intended for contracts with executing entities required to meet tender rules and be approved by representatives of the Accountant General and the Attorney General, or whether the budget needs to be translated into government grants requiring the formulation of regulations and threshold conditions, or whether it is intended for projects requiring infrastructure and planning, or whether it is based on inter-ministry cooperation – the professional staff at the ministries must provide focused management and educated prioritization f tasks.
Ultimately, the budget's approval is just the opening step towards moving government work plans forward. The truth is -- only the engagement of the ministries and the successful completion of their plans can really bring about “changes” in priorities and ignite the promised impact on the lives of citizens in all sectors.
The writer is the General Manager of the Citizen's Empowerment Center in Israel (CECI).