Moshe Gafni, head of the Knesset Finance Committee, refused yesterday to approve a NIS 3.5 million payment for an expert to advise the Kedmi Committee on food prices.
"It is completely insane to hire a consultant for eight weeks at a cost of NIS 3.5 million," Gafni said.
There are plenty of people who would be delighted to advise the committee on how to lower food prices in Israel, he said: "Give the money to dairy farmers, not to advisers," the parliamentarian said.
Noam Stern, a representative of the Finance Ministry, had told the Kedmi Committee that the money was meant to hire an adviser to the committee headed by Sharon Kedmi, director-general of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor. Uncowed by Gafni's outrage, he told the committee that the issues are "highly complex" and involve international comparisons, which is why the ministry preferred to hire an Israeli consultancy for assistance.
"We aren't sure we'd use the entire amount," Stern said. "But we want the committee to approve NIS 3.5 million."
"I am prepared to come myself and advise the Kedmi Committee on a voluntary basis," Gafni answered him. "This request is insane and senseless."
The Finance Ministry commented that the ministers directed the Kedmi Committee to thoroughly investigate the food industry and consumer goods sector for the purpose of consolidating recommendations: "Because of the complexity of the area, which involves thousands of elements - manufacturers, importers and retailers, as well as regulatory aspects - thorough, fundamental market analysis is needed, including a great many international, sometimes complex, comparisons."
The Finance Ministry added that because of the tight timetable set for the Kedmi Committee, and because of the unique nature of its inquiry, connections with international research agencies are necessary in order to obtain data on prices in other countries, and to study alternative market structures and regulation, for instance.
Because the committee will be dealing with research agencies in Israel that have their own interests, the committee wanted assistance from an objective, experienced and reputed advisory body - the Israeli arm of an international consultancy, the ministry explained.
It also clarified that the amount wasn't necessarily intended for one person, but several: What the Finance Ministry wanted the Knesset Finance Committee to approve was a ceiling of expenditures for a number of possible consultants. "Because of the nature of things, we set the ceiling high to enable maximal flexibility and minimal loss of time on administrative procedures," the ministry stated.
The Kedmi Committee is studying why dairy prices have risen to their present levels, and it is supposed to advise the government on how to act.
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