The High Court ruled that the Prime Minister’s Office would have 90 days to hand the NGO 220 previously unreleased invoices from the famous residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem.
https://www.jpost.com/-By IDAN ZONSHINE
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu boarding the plane to Athens(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Israel’s High Court of Justice on Sunday evening accepted an appeal by the Movement for Freedom of Information NGO, ruling that the Prime Minister’s Office must supply 220 expenditure invoices for the Prime Minster’s residence from 2015, – which opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu had previously refused to release on privacy grounds – overturning a previous district court ruling and ending a 6-year legal saga.
The High Court ruled that the PMO would have 90 days to hand the NGO the 220 previously unreleased invoices from the famous residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem.
In addition, the court mandated that the PMO would, in the future, release a more detailed expenditure report, as was the case in years prior, instead of only releasing a general summary of expenditures.
The High Court ruled that as far as the publication of the invoices is concerned, there is a public interest in disclosing the items in the invoices paid for the by Prime Minister’s Residence, for the reason that it is taxpayer money, and the public should be allowed to monitor how these funds are used and allocated as part of its role as a government symbol.
The court further clarified that the transparency of expenses could also be important for strengthening the public’s trust in the government, with a special emphasis on lowering public fears of government corruption.
The ruling stated that the publication of information in general terms – as the Netanyahu-led PMO has done in recent year – does not allow an in-depth examination in regards to compliance with government protocol and procedures.
Also on Sunday evening, a second appeal by the movement – which called to overturn a previous ruling by the Freedom of Information Commissioner that states that the publication of all the invoices of the Prime Minister’s Residence constitutes an constitutes an unreasonable allocation of resources – was rejected by the High Court.
The court did, however, allow the movement to make another appeal for more specific invoices, criticising the PMO’s “unreasonable allocation of resources” defense as one which could provide an incentive for bad data-handling practices.
The Freedom of Information Movement’s Director-General, Attorney Racheli Edri, sais in a statement response to the ruling that “For a long time we have been waiting for a decision in the case regarding the Prime Minister’s residence expenses paid from public funds.”
However, she also stated that while the ruling partially accepted the movement’s position, “for those seeking information,” she said, it is still lacking.
“At the same time,” she added, “we look forward to the new government and call on it to act in accordance with the requirements and standards expected around the world and to act with maximum transparency, seeing as the High Court in its ruling supports and understands the importance of reporting and public oversight.”
Edri concluded her statement with a tip for the new regime, saying that “in this spirit, the Prime Minister, the current and the alternate, would do well to report proactively and in detail on their publicly paid expenditures and work for a clear separation of private expenditures from public ones, since public funds must be treated with reverence, and if it is a ‘change government,’ it is time to change this as well.”
The Netanyahu family has long held a reputation for a lack of transparency with their invoices, with Sara Netanyahu pleading guilty and being convicted for the infamous “Bottlegate” scandal in a plea deal in 2019, resulting in a NIS 55,000 fine – forgoing the original, more serious charge of fruad and lowering the fine from the initial sum of NIS 359,000.
In his 2018 indictment, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit alleged that from September 2010 until March 2013, Netanyahu acted in coordination with the other defendant in the case, former Prime Minister’s Office deputy director-general Ezra Seidoff, to falsely misrepresent that the Prime Minister’s Residence did not employ a chef.