Hello, Ariel Atias.
They say he likes suits more expensive than Versace's, but he claims he's only had two suits in his whole life. He still drives an ancient Skoda because the Volvo they offer brand-new ministers seems too ostentatious to him. He's 35 years old and his previous position was general manager of the Beit Yosef rabbinical court. When the Shas council of sages decided to nominate him as a minister, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef summoned him and warned him to "adhere to the law in all things".
We may assume that Israel's tycoons and media people assiduously read the profile that Shahar Ilan wrote of Atias in Haaretz yesterday. They probably needed the information: until a month ago nobody had ever heard of the man.
Since Atias is a new quality in the media and business spheres, we would like to offer the brand-new minister some ideas.
Mr Atias, even though you are a complete tyro on communications matters, you have a great starting point. Since Limor Livnat, communications ministers have been one of two types: the ones frozen into inaction by the tycoons and the powerful Bezeq union, and the ones spending their time groveling before the media barons.
You could be the first who has focuses his attention on consumers.
◊ The bread subsidy makes headlines, but bread is a mere iota in the consumption basket. Even among the very poor, communications services are eating up more and more of the disposable income of households. The war over bread prices is sexy, but attacking the prices the cellular operators charge would contribute far more to the people Shas says it wants to help.
◊ Tell the Apax-Saban group that appointed Dov Weisglass to chair Bezeq for NIS 3 million a year though he has zero experience in managing giant companies, that they're wasting their money. The group thinks Weisglass can wield influence over the prime minister's bureau and various ministries, and reflect inconvenient regulation. Preempt them: advise them you won't meet with Weisglass as long as he's an insider of the Prime Minister's Office and the ministers. You'll only meet with professionals.
◊ Summon Stella Handler, the CEO of Golden Lines, and tell her you're giving her permission to compete with Bezeq in the domestic communications market, using voice over Internet technology (you do know what that is by now, right? If not, this is the time to learn). A license for Golden Lines has been held up forever for no obvious reason, other than the desire of previous communications ministers to avoid a confrontation with Bezeq.
All three of Israel's big communications companies have highly dominant owners, with links and ties high up in government. Cellcom has Nochi Dankner, Bezeq has Haim Saban. Golden Lines has Eliezer Fishman, but right now he's vacationing in Turkey.
◊ Wave goodbye to Communications Ministry director-general Avi Balashnikov and thank your lucky stars that he decided to relieve you of one decision before you even sat down. He is a bureaucrat who excelled mainly at hopping from one minister to another but who never did manage to consolidate a clear strategy for the communications sector. His main strategy was to delay, delay and then delay some more, to avoid clashing with the rich and powerful media barons. Go find yourself an expert who wants to leave his mark on the market, and who is not fixating on his next job with the people he's supposed to be supervising.
◊ Remember that the biggest achievement you can mark up as communications minister is abolishing the Communications Ministry entirely It should be replaced by an apolitical authority, which is how things are run in the normal world. The government resolved to abolish it more than two years ago, but then Ehud Olmert took over the ministry and he is not the man to forgo the power that the portfolio gave him in the business world. He shelved the idea and it dropped from the agenda. Ariel Atias, put it back. And if you do, you will go down in history as Israel's first minister who placed the general good first, not himself.
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