"The Netanyahu household's water utility bill was paid by the family, and the reported figure refers to the amount for which they were reimbursed," David N. Shimron told Channel 2 on Saturday, countering allegations of wasteful spending at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's private residence in Caesarea.
Shimron, who is Netanyahu's attorney and a friend of the premier, said that under the existing law Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife can be reimbursed by the state for various personal expenses, including water utility bills. According to Shimron, the reported figure of 80,000 shekels ($22,852) refers to the water Netanyahu and his wife paid for over a period of four years, representing about NIS 1,600 a month. He suggested that faulty water meters may have inflated the water consumption level. "An engineer has been asked to check it out, to see whether the meters are malfunctioning," Shimron said.
According to Shimron, the Netanyahus paid by pre-authorized debit for their water usage and the unusually high figure became apparent only after the expenditures for the past four years were scrutinized. "The water expenses should have been much lower. They should be been like those of any other person -- any other resident of Caesarea," he said. "The public relies on the information it is fed, but it was misfed erroneous information that did not accurately represent the facts."
Shimron said that the media should look into the expenditures of other premiers and of the current president. "Expenses are on the rise, that is just a fact of life; the President's Residence has seen bills rise from NIS 20 million ($5.7 million) to NIS 63 million ($18 million). The supplemental budget the president asked for amounts to NIS 4 million ($1.1 million)," Shimron said. "I am not criticizing; all I am saying is that scrutiny must be applied across-the-board to include past occupants of the Prime Minister's Residence and the President's Residence."
Shimron said the prime minister and his wife are not oblivious to the criticism and have already managed to cut back on household expenses by about 20 percent in the Prime Minister's Office and by about 40% at their private residence in Caesarea.
"That the Prime Minister's Residence is no White House is an understatement. Time magazine said so too. It is not fancy, nor has it undergone major renovations. The official residence is Israel's face on the world stage; and now people are focusing on the cost of candles and the flower arrangements?" Shimron lamented.
Shimron defended the use of taxpayer shekels to cover activities at the Caesarea home, saying that "Israel, unlike other countries, does not have a special resort for its head of state [or head of government, in this case]. The state could have done what other states do by covering weekend stays at various hotels, but many years ago it decided that it would be better to partially reimburse the premier for his or her household expenditures at the private residence."
"Paying NIS 1,500 ($428) a month for landscaping-related expenditures is not unheard of when it comes to such private residences," he said, referring to the prime minister's home in Caesarea and the cost of watering the plants there.
According to an Israel Hayom-New Wave Research poll, an overwhelming majority of Jewish Hebrew-speaking adults in Israel believe public officials should be more transparent when it comes to their private expenditures. When asked, "Would it be proper to have senior officials such as the president disclose their personal expenses," 82.4% answered "yes." Some 12.7% disagreed and 4.9% had no opinion. The poll, conducted on Dec. 4 using a random and representative sample of 500 respondents, has a statistical margin of error of +/- 4.4%.