The day after insisting that everyone understands what their major principles are in depth, the “new politics” ministers will realize that their real battle has only now begun. The exact manner of politicking, accurately portrayed in the British series “Yes, Minister,” is just beginning. The real opponent they face – government bureaucrats – don’t all share one name or party, but they have principles, values, a corporate culture and practices that enable thwarting almost any important decision made by a minister.
At the start of the outgoing government’s term, the halls of the first floor government building corridors were decorated with posters capturing the journey of a citizen, residing on the Via Dolorosa, seeking approval to enclose a balcony in his home. This is how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu found a way to express the absurd twists and turns of the process. The goal of the exhibit: shortening the construction licensing process.
Despite the support of government ministers, the streamlining issue was a failure. After numerous meetings and discussion, accompanied by legal, economic, social and technical arguments, the battle ended with an absolute victory for the bureaucracy, which determined in advance that the licensing process would not change.
Earlier in the last decade, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government decided to establish a water desalination facility, and approved the budget allocation for it. It never happened, however, as the implementation of the decision was delayed. Sharon summoned the relevant official from the budget department to his office, to inquire as to why. The official politely explained that with all due respect to the government, their vote is not binding over the budget department, whose members believe there is no urgency for the facility. Sharon, according to those in the room at the time, banged on his table so hard that the ashtray went flying. That didn’t help.
Many government decisions (80 percent according to the Israel Democracy Institute) are not implemented by government bureaucrats. I can only imagine the high cost of the desalinated water shortage that followed that decision. The public, which was required to pay a “drought tax” in 2009, raged against its elected officials who failed to act in time.
The “new politics” ministers will discover that, on the one hand, they have almost no influence over many of the fateful broad decisions, for example, the raising of the water and electricity tariffs. On the other hand, their important decisions are no more than recommendations to the bureaucratic leadership. Politicians enter office thinking the budgets are in their hands, but they are not. They will learn that they are solely responsible for the failures of their office; the authority to make decisions is scattered between statutory authorities, legal advisors and department bureaucrats.
Former Justice Minister Daniel Friedman read the situation correctly: The bureaucrats expect the government to accept its decisions, not the opposite.