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MKs: Government Strict with Yeshivas – but Buses Get Billions

MKs take Finance Ministry to task over massive subsidies for Egged bus company.
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 11/27/2013, 3:33 PM

Egged Bus (Archive)
Egged Bus (Archive)
Egged

Members of Knesset criticized the Finance Ministry and government in a meeting Wednesday of the State Control Committee in which the committee discussed government subsidies to the Egged bus company.

The latest State Comptroller’s report reveals that the state paid Egged billions of shekels without even checking what the money was used for, Committee head MK Amnon Cohen (Shas) accused.

“There is a tremendous gap between the desire to subsidize unprofitable bus lines for the public good, and the agreement that was reached,” Cohen said. “Government officials are simply treating public money as if it was free for the taking.”

He hinted at unequal treatment compared to yeshivas. “While the Finance Ministry quibbles with some institutions over every shekel… Egged gets double subsidies without the question of whether it is worthwhile even being examined,” he charged. The years-long agreement left Egged with subsidies for bus lines it no longer operated, he noted.

A representative from the State Comptroller’s Office accused the Finance Ministry and Transportation Ministry of having agreed to the subsidies without first attempting to calculate the cost-to-benefit ratio, even though the deal is to be in effect for a decade and will ultimately cost the government billions of shekels.

The subsidies to Egged were not cut even though 25 bus lines were taken from the company and opened to competition, he noted.

Moran Mazor, who heads the Finance Ministry’s Transportation division, defended the ministry’s decision. The Finance Ministry is constantly investigating whether initiatives are worthwhile, he argued. However, he said, “Public transportation cannot be entirely measured.”

Cohen concluded the meeting by demanding a precise report of the cost of the agreement from both Egged and the Finance Ministry. The two bodies had previously provided wildly different estimates, with the Finance Ministry predicting that the subsidies would cost 683 million shekels, while Egged estimated the value of the deal at 1.3 billion shekels.