Fischer praises Lapid’s 2013-14 budget

Commenting on Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s proposed 2013-2014 budget for the first time, Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer called it a “courageous” plan that has the basis for putting Israel back on track toward a responsible fiscal framework. The governor expressed absolute support for the new budget, adding that it would ultimately enable the government to resume cutting its debt as a proportion of gross domestic product. “It’s natural that the general public will mainly feel the sting that every household in Israel will experience as a result of the plan’s implementation,” he stressed. “But it’s important to remember that the budgetary challenge we are facing can’t be met while focusing only on one sector or another of the population. As pointed out by the finance minister, the entire public needs to carry the burden.” ‏(Moti Bassok‏)

PM says he’ll choose next central bank governor by end of May

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday that he expected to choose a new Bank of Israel governor by the end of May to replace Stanley Fischer. Fischer, who announced in January that he would step down early before his second term is over, will leave office at the end of June. Netanyahu told reporters in Beijing that he had interviewed several candidates, without offering any hint of who they are. Among those widely considered to be the top candidates for the job are Karnit Flug, now a deputy governor at the central bank, and Manuel Trajtenberg, one of Netanyahu’s former economic advisers. ‏(Sami Peretz‏)

Discount branches shut as union calls meeting

Most Israel Discount Bank branches were closed yesterday morning as staffers held a rally at Tel Aviv’s exhibition grounds marking two weeks since they declared a labor dispute by its workers’ committee, the mandatory cooling-off period before a strike can be called. Workers’ committee chairman Ricky Bachar didn’t mince words, attacking the bank’s management and threatening to call a strike because management wants to end the long-standing policy of granting every employee an annual pay raise averaging 5.8%. “The time has come for the current controlling shareholders to go and for us to be given ownership of the bank,” Bachar declared. “If a single employee is fired, the bank won’t open.” ‏(Sivan Aizescu‏)

Peretz calls for higher domestic gas quota

Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz has weighed in on the controversy over how much natural gas Israel should export, saying that 600 billion cubic meters of the country’s offshore reserves should be set aside for domestic use. That is far more than the 450 BCM recommended by the Tzemach Committee last August. Peretz told an environmental conference Wednesday that the committee didn’t adequately consider the energy needs of Israel’s transportation industry. The Tzemach Committee, basing its recommendations on the likelihood of gas reserves amounting to 950 BCM, said 500 BCM should be allocated for export. ‏(Itai Trilnick‏)

Braverman: Lands administration providing misleading data on homes

The Israel Lands Administration has been providing misleading data on land approved for residential construction, Avishay Braverman, chairman of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee, has charged. Last year, ILA data included the sale of land for 39,000 homes, but only 15,000 were approved for construction, Braverman said Wednesday. The year before, the numbers were 36,000 and 25,000, respectively. ILA Director Bentzi Lieberman acknowledged that his agency’s data did not reflect the number of units actually under construction. “Over the past four years, the government’s sales volume has been almost twice what was usual, but the major problem has been [construction] delays,” he said. ‏(Ranit Nahum-Halevy‏)