The Mossawa Center has filed a petition against the Ministry of Finance demanding that it provide information about the status of the implementation of government resolutions 550, 1279, and 1804 in 2022, which are dedicated to developing Arab society towns and cities.
The Mossawa Center accuses the Ministry of Finance of withholding information about the budgets allocated for the development of Arab society under the government resolutions made by the previous government. The centre has filed an administrative petition against the Ministry of Finance, demanding to receive the budgetary regulations intended to implement the government resolutions. Over the past year, various ministers and members of the Knesset from both the coalition and opposition have made different claims. During the elections campaign, Prime Minister Netanyahu claimed that "the government gave 52 billion shekels to the Arab citizens." Government resolution 550, which was made on October 24, 2021, allocated sums that were smaller than 6 billion per year. The resolution was made before the approval of the state budget, so the funds allocated for the implementation of the resolution were not included in the budget and were supposed to receive the approval of the finance committee.
Government resolutions 550, 1279, and 1804 were supposed to address a wide range of areas to close gaps in Arab society compared to the general population, such as the housing crisis, educational gaps, poverty and welfare, closing gaps in healthcare services, economic recovery, and promoting rights, culture, sports, digital services, economic development, employment incentives, and improving human capital.
In the coalition agreements approved by the Finance Committee on October 28, 2021, it was written: "It should be noted that on August 1, 2021, Government resolution No. 292 was made regarding the Quintet Plan for the Arab society, and on August 24, 2021, a government resolution was made on economic development in the Arab society until 2026. As stated in the latter resolution, each ministry will operate in its field of expertise, subject to all laws and relevant guidelines provided by the advisor."
Furthermore, on July 21, 2022, the Mossawa Center organized an economic development conference in Arab society in partnership with the Committee of Heads of Arab Authorities and Tel Aviv University, during which Mr Yogev Gardos, head of the Budget Department in the Ministry of Finance, discussed budget transfers to the Arab society. The Director of the Authority for Economic Development, Mr Hassan Tuafra, who was supposed to include the government resolution on behalf of the Ministry of Social Equality, also did not present clear data, and to this day, has not provided the requested data to the Mossawa Center.
Following a government resolution and the approval of the state budget for 2021, the Mossawa Center contacted the Treasury in November 2021 and requested to receive the budgetary regulations. The Treasury claimed that the regulations were not yet ready. Throughout the year, the centre contacted the Budget Department several times and requested to receive the regulations, but only partial information was provided. In monitoring the budget transfers in the Finance Committee, it was discovered that only a portion of the budget approved by the government was transferred from the Treasury to government ministries. The government ministries themselves did not report on the investments they made.
On December 20, 2022, the Mossawa Center contacted the Treasury again and met with the budget team. They claimed that 95% of the 2022 budget had been transferred to the government ministries. Prior to the meeting, the economic unit of the Mossawa Center requested that the budget team provide answers regarding the budgetary regulations for all government resolutions intended for the Arab society for 2022, budget estimates for 2023-2024, and the actual implementation status of the government ministries. The official responsible for the freedom of information department in the Treasury requested an extension for the transfer of the information, but in practice, the 2022 budget year ended without the information being transferred.
The speech given by then-Israeli Minister of Finance, Mr Avigdor Lieberman, in the Knesset, confirmed concerns of the Mossawa Center and announced that the investment in the Arab society in 2022 will amount to 3.4 billion shekels, out of which 2 billion shekels were invested in infrastructure through the Netivei Ayalon company in interurban roads, about 0.5 billion shekels for the fight against crime, and a total of 1 billion shekels will be allocated for employment and education in the Arab society.
The district court was requested to order the Ministry of Finance to provide the required information, data, and the status of the implementation of government resolutions 550, 1279, and 1804 for the year 2022 in the Arab society, in addition to receiving the regulations and amounts in the state budget for the years 2021-2022.
The petition filed by attorney Marianne Abi Nader is based on the Freedom of Information Act, which serves as a tool for shaping the proper conduct of public authorities. This tool serves public scrutiny, grants the public the right to information, increases trust in the governing authorities, and strengthens the structure of the government and administration. Greater accessibility to information assists in promoting social values and fundamental legal rights such as equality and freedom of information, all of which are intended to ensure governmental transparency, which is one of the foundations of a democratic society.
Nibal Aradaat, the Legal Advocacy Coordinator at the Mossawa Center, stated, "Discrimination in education, health, welfare services, housing, and industry is outrageous. The government's resolution, which was supposed to close some of the gaps, was not implemented by the previous government, and the new government has already declared that it does not intend to fully respect it. It's a shame that the Ministry of Finance is misleading the public with data that has no basis. They have something to hide. The concern is growing that only half of the budget that was supposed to be invested in education, health, welfare, and infrastructure was allocated and reached its target. The government is responsible for systemic discrimination in the allocation of budgets in almost every area, and we will expose this discrimination and demand that it’ll be rectified."