What’s with all the Ministries?

Over the past week, there’s been a lot of back and forth regarding Bibi’s controversial decision to expand the cabinet to 20 ministers, up from the 18 permitted by law. That magic number, “18,” is based on a law passed by the previous Knesset as part of a coalition agreement with Yesh Atid. This was one of Yesh Atid’s stipulations, and signature achievements, in joining the coalition, preventing excessive waste in governmental spending.

Very nice, in theory, especially as it came immediately after an unwieldy 30-seat cabinet that spent unprecedented money just to enlarge the cabinet seating in the Knesset plenum!

The theory goes that a country with just 8,000,000 million citizens and already spending an inordinate percentage of the budget on defense related matters, shouldn’t be wasting money by creating more and ministerial portfolios. Between the salary, the cost of security, staff, driver, etc., they’re simply a waste of money. In addition, by forcing a cabinet to be 18 members, much of the haggling can be removed from coalition talks, as it’s clear that the PM is limited in what he (or she) can offer. Therefore, the smaller parties will no longer be able to demand so much.

Practically though, this failed. The latter benefit failed, because even though it would require a majority of 61 to overcome, any new coalition would by definition be at least 61 members, thereby ensuring that whenever a coalition wants to change it, they can (as happened this week). A better way of protecting this would have been by requiring a super-majority of 80 MKs (two thirds of the plenum) to vote in favor. Although it leaves open the possibility of amending the law, it makes it much more unlikely, especially considering that this government has under 80 MKs as did the last one and the one before (minus the few days Shaul Mofaz took Kadima into the government).

However, the real crux of saving money (and face) was a big failure. Granted, I supported the law when it was a coalition piece. And in theory, I still do. I simply had hoped it would be the start of a process. Instead, it seems as though Bibi, Lapid, and the media at large have turned “18 ministers” into the be-all and end-all. Lost among this is any talk of MINISTRIES as opposed to MINISTERS. At the end of the day, an extra minister is around NIS 3 million/year. Not nothing, but a drop in the bucket of the entire national budget. An extra ministry is far more than that.

An extra minister is more than just an extra salary. It’s hundreds of additional workers, an entire office complex (at least one), and even more bureaucracy. Now logically, each additional ministry serves an important purpose. We can’t just go ahead and disband the Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry just to save money. Of course not!

But what of some other ministries? Surely anything covered by the Public Diplomacy Ministry could be covered by the Foreign Ministry? And surely by combining them, we can have less conflict, which undoubtedly exists when multiple government agencies are tasked with the same job, while saving money. Sounds like win-win!

Or take the International Relations Ministry. What purpose exactly is served by the Minister for International Relations that isn’t covered by the Foreign Ministry? Do we have international relations with certain countries that aren’t “foreign?” The only “country” that comes to mind that’s international but not foreign would be Palestine, but considering the International Relations Ministry was invented by Bibi (just to appease Yuval Steinitz by giving him a ministry), something tells me that it’s not meant to deal with the Palestinians.

Or how about the Ministry for Sports & Culture? In a country not known for the greatest national sports teams, a country of 8,000,000, a country that has never hosted, nor will in the foreseeable future, the Olympics or FIFA World Cup, couldn’t that be shuttered and merged into the Education Ministry?

Now you may rightfully ask, so what if we have an extra ministry?

Here are some thoughts that come to mind:

  1. Each additional ministry costs a lot of money, and while we should absolutely spend money where needed, the country has a problem when they complain we have no money, constantly raise taxes, and then throw it down the drain on redundant and unnecessary ministries
  2. Just as our electoral process feels like a middle school class election, so too does this feel like a joke. By creating and shuttering and merging and separating ministries, seemingly at will, (as part of coalition agreements, to entice other parties to join, to “clean up” if parties bolt, to appease unhappy MKs in the PM’s party, etc.) it makes the entire thing a farce. And it’s never good when a national government is seen as a farce, whether by the people, the workers, or other countries (or all 3).
  3. So many extra ministries, especially with overlapping agendas, creates major red tape and overstepping. Things get overlooked when each ministry claims the other is responsible, and things don’t get accomplished when both ministries fight for jurisdiction.

So what should we do?

We should create a new basic law that clearly delineates ministries. This basic law should list every ministry that should exist and the ministers and deputy ministers. Want to change that? 80 MKs must vote in favor to change this. And end the nonsense of one person being minister of multiple ministries. This just means, on top of them anyways being MKs (something else that should change) that they cannot devote any time to their positions. And end the practice of an important ministry not having a minister because UTJ refuses to “swear allegiance to the State,” which is one of the biggest farces, as they in essence have.

Under this, the following ministries should exist, AND NO OTHERS!

  1. * Prime Minister (holding no other portfolios)
  2. * Vice Prime Minister (not currently an official position, and he/she should serve as the only Minister without Portfolio, and would be the undisputed person to take over as PM should such a need arise, and would also be the only person to act as Acting or Interim PM when the PM is otherwise unavailable)
  3. * Foreign Minster
    1. Deputy Minister of Public Diplomacy
    2. Deputy Minister of Regional Cooperation
    3. Deputy Minister of Diaspora Affairs
  4. * Defense Minister
    1. Deputy Minister for Intelligence
    2. Deputy Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
  5. * Minister of Justice
    1. ** Deputy Minister for Internal Security (who, for the sake of cooperation, also answers to the Interior Minister)
  6. * Minister of the Interior
    1. ** Deputy Minister for Internal Security (who, for the sake of cooperation, also answers to the Justice Minister)
  7. * Minister of Finance
  8. Minister of the Economy
  9. Minister of Health and Social Services
    1. Deputy Minister of Health
    2. Deputy Minister Welfare and Social Services
    3. Deputy Minister Pensioners’ Affairs
  10. Minister of Education
    1. Deputy Minister for Science and Technology
    2. Deputy Minister for Sports
  11. Minister of Communications
  12. Minister of Housing and Construction
    1. Deputy Minister for Urban Development and Planning
    2. Deputy Minister for Rural Development
    3. Deputy Minister for the Development of the Negev
    4. Deputy Minister for the Development of the Galilee
  13. Minister of Agriculture
  14. Minister of Transportation
  15. Minister of Immigrant Absorption

The Ministry of Religious Affairs would be rebranded as a National Institute for Religious Affairs operating under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office.

* These ministers serve in the Security Cabinet

** The Deputy Minister for Internal/Public Security is responsible for Police, Fire, and Rescue services. The police should be under the authority of the Justice Ministry whereas other services are more connected to the Interior Ministry. The leader should respond to both to coordinate both services.

This is by no means a perfect idea. But it’s time we shifted the discourse from the superficial discussion of number of ministers to the more problematic issue of a bloated national government, owing in large part to stagnation and bloated egos.

About the Author
Josh Weixelbaum is currently studying for an MBA in Marketing and Finance at Bar Ilan University where he recently completed a B.A. in Political Science and Economics. He fights online for better and more transparent government in Israel and for a better public transportation system in Israel. After making Aliyah from New Jersey 5 years ago, Josh served in the Shaked battalion of the Givati brigade, serving on both the Gaza border and in the Shchem (Nablus) region.