Treasury seen postponing state budget timetable

Rony Hizkiyahu  photo: Tamar Matsafi

Current uncertainties make budget factors unpredictable. Meanwhile, Accountant General Rony Hizkiyahu is thought likely to leave.

The accountant general in the Ministry of Finance, Rony Hizkiyahu, is expected to bring forward his retirement and to leave his post after the new state budget is approved, sources at the ministry say.

Hizkiyahu was appointed accountant general in January 2017, so his four-year term is due to end in January 2021. The new state budget is supposed to be approved by the end of August, but the probability is growing that approval will be delayed by several weeks, and perhaps seven months.

The Ministry of Finance said in response to the report that the accountant general had no intention of retiring early, and that the matter was not on the agenda.

Hizkiyahu was very close to previous minister of finance Moshe Kahlon, who appointed him, and Ministry of Finance sources said that he would probably not wish to remain in the job under another finance minister. Another official closely identified with Kahlon, Ministry of Finance director-general Shai Babad, will leave his post this week. His replacement, former Ministry of Transport director general Keren Terner, is due to take up the post early next week, subject to approval of the appointment by the government. Terner will end a period of maternity leave that began just two months ago.

At present, budget director in the Ministry of Finance Shaul Meridor is not expected to leave, despite pressure on Minister of Finance Yisrael Katz from people close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to dismiss him. Katz appears in no hurry to do so. Meridor's position is bolstered by the fact that he has a crucial role to play in the approval of the 2020-2021 state budget.

State budget to be deferred

The Ministry of Finance is expected to notify the Knesset within the next few days that it seeks to put back the timetable for approval of the state budget. It has not yet done so because it is waiting for the prime minister's decision on the matter.

Under the coalition agreements that led to the formation of the new government, the budget is meant to be passed by the Knesset within 100 days of the government being formed, that is, by the end of August. This would be an extremely ambitious timetable in normal times, let alone in the current period.

At yesterday's session of the Knesset Finance Committee to approve an emergency budget of NIS 14 billion, deputy budgets division head Yogev Gardos indicated that approval of the budget would be delayed.

Approval of the 2020-2021 budget will be a very complicated task. The coronavirus has not only made the Ministry of Finance's lengthy preparations irrelevant; it also makes it very difficult to set a budget framework and estimate tax revenues and the fiscal deficit.

Even now, two and half months after the crisis broke, the Ministry of Finance is finding it very hard to estimate state revenues for 2020. Gardos said yesterday that the crisis could cut NIS 60 billion from previously expected revenues, but added that the shortfall might be only NIS 50 billion, because the economy was recovering from the crisis more rapidly than the ministry had expected.

Gardos said that because of this, the Ministry of Finance was examining the possibility of extending the period of entitlement to unemployment benefit for people who were laid off in sectors that had still not returned to full activity, such as the entertainment and culture, leisure, and aviation industries.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on June 3, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020</i

Rony Hizkiyahu  photo: Tamar Matsafi
Rony Hizkiyahu photo: Tamar Matsafi
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