The 2018 fiscal deficit is in line with the target set in the budget, 2.9% of GDP, Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon declared yesterday evening. In a speech at a gathering of outstanding employees at the Ministry of Finance in Jerusalem, Kahlon said, in a dramatic tone, "They told us the deficit would be 3.6%, 3.4%, well, friends, an hour ago Accountant General Rony Hizkiyahu informed me that the government deficit for 2018 met the target we set for it precisely." Kahlon commented on the flood of reports of an excess deficit in October and November, when the twelve-month rolling total was above 3%. The high deficit aroused fears that Israel's credit rating would be hit and that the trend of falling government debt as a proportion of GDP that had prevailed for a decade had reversed.
Kahlon also commented on recent reports, in "Globes" among other places, of efforts in the Ministry of Finance to curb the deficit, and said, "Now they'll tell you that they played with the numbers. Friends, don't let them tell you stories. There's no such thing as playing with the numbers. All these numbers are looked at by international companies. They play with numbers in school, but in economic life, when you are about to issue debt or raise funds, you don't sit with small children. All the numbers are checked by Moody's, the IMF, and S&P. They can talk about playing with the numbers in our newspapers, but not there."
Kahlon thanked Hizkiyahu, Israel Tax Authority head Eran Yaakov, and Budget Division director Shaul Meridor, and asked those present to applaud Ministry of Finance director-general Shai Babad, who entered the hall in army uniform during Kahlon's speech.
The finance minister used the occasion to elaborate on the achievements of his economic policy and to settle accounts with his critics in the financial press. "We changed the concept that had prevailed for years, we changed the order of priorities," Kahlon said. "They accused us of being spendthrifts. We didn't spend, we invested in the minimum wage and negative income tax - that's an investment. The country's credit rating has never been better than it is today - here too the critics were wrong when they said that expanding social budgets would harm the country's credit standing." Kahlon recalled his childhood growing up in a poor family and told of his father who had been forced to suffer humiliations. "If we succeeded in narrowing gaps and inequality, that's the big thing we did. We restored people's dignity to them, we acted compassionately towards poor sections of the population - for that we're attacked? A little compassion! A little humanity!"
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 7, 2019
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