Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to request the government to approve the establishment of a committee to examine the repercussions of buying a plane to serve the prime minster and the president, and of constructing a new building to house the Prime Minister's Office and to serve as the prime minister's residence. Minister of Finance Yair Lapid announced this morning that he opposed the plans.
The objections filed by the Ministry of Finance state that both the construction of a new official prime minister's residence and buying a plane for the prime minister and the president have been discussed over the years in various professional forums, and no economic justification has been found for them. As far as a personal aircraft is concerned, the ministry says that, beyond its purchase, this will entail high costs of maintenance, operation, and storage.
Stating his opposition, the minister of finance writes, "At the moral level, we are of the view that in these days of belt tightening and tax raises, when the gaps between rich and poor are among the widest in the world, the government of Israel ought to act with modesty, and not take steps that will cause the public to perceive its behavior as divorced from the difficulties of day-to-day life."
According to Lapid's statement, the cost involved is NIS 800 million. However, contrary to Lapid's position, in the past the Ministry of Finance actually found justification for buying a plane for the prime minister and the president, but it was decided not to do so for fear of public criticism.
In view of the heavy costs involved in every overseas trip by the prime minister, a further examination was carried out in 2010 by the Prime Minister's Office and the Ministry of Finance of buying a special private aircraft to serve the heads of state on official overseas visits. Figures presented to the Knesset Finance Committee showed that flights overseas by the prime minister cost NIS 17 million a year. According to the Ministry of Finance's calculations, buying an aircraft would cost the state NIS 100 million, while maintenance would cost another NIS 5 million annually. According to an examination made in the past by the Prime Minister's Office and the Ministry of Finance, such a step would be economically worthwhile, and the investment would pay itself back within five years. After ten years, there would be a saving of NIS 12 million a year.
The idea of constructing a new Prime Minister's Office and prime minister's residence is also not being raised for the first time. Five years ago, the government approved the "Almog" plan for constructing a new building for these purposes. The plan, which was approved at the end of the term of Netanyahu's predecessor Ehud Olmert, was shelved when Netanyahu took office. Netanyahu is now requesting that a public committee should re-examine the matter.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on December 15, 2013
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