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State Comptroller: Who is Paying for Ministers to Fly Abroad?

planeState Comptroller Justice Yosef Shapira released a critical report pertaining to the growing number of trips abroad taken by cabinet ministers and deputy ministers at the expense of foreign governments and private individuals. In the annual report released on Wednesday, 14 Iyar, Shapira cites troubling conflicts of interest as ministers may be beholden to outside parties who fund their travel. He is critical of the process by which travel is approved and the lack of transparency as some of the funding for travel is yet to be accounted for. Money simply appears to pay for tickets without a reckoning to explain the source.

In the years from 2003-2011 in which there were a total of 86 cabinet minister and deputy ministers, there were 1,184 trips abroad labeled official working visits. At least 28% of the total funding is from non-government sources (NGOs). Over 150 organizations and governments invited ministers and deputy ministers and paid for their travel. 90 of these trips representing 8% were funded by foreign governments and 240 trips representing 20% were funded by different international and Jewish organizations. 12% of the trips which were not funded by Israel remain a mystery, without an explanation for the source of the funding.

Shapiro expresses concerns over trips in which ministers were flown in private jets, citing the need for transparency to avoid conflicts of interest. Half of the trips paid for by outside parties, and the ministers and deputy ministers did not consult with the state professionals to obtain an opinion as to the legitimacy of such a trip. In some cases, spouses and children accompanied the ministers without consulting government officials for approval.

It should be pointed out that even if an outside party funds a minister’s travel and hotel, security and other costs are picked up by Israel.

There is criticism regarding approved flights too, for there are many which resulted in excessive bills from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of shekels, paid for by the Israeli taxpayer.

The comptroller also checked into the 16 trips taken by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu when serving as finance minister and during the past decade. The probe focused primarily on trips with his family, trips that were not state funded. The comptroller however decided that portion of his report would remain confidential due to an ongoing probe by the attorney general into Mr. Netanyahu’s travels.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

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