Roni Bar-On, scourge of the munificent
Roni Bar-On is about to wrap up his career as finance minister after a year and a half, smeared with mud and rotten tomatoes.
While the media lavishes labels such as "economic leader" on Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer, it mentions Bar-On almost as an aside. His frenemy, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, takes every opportunity to shoot him down, sneering that he'll call the shots "because the Finance Ministry isn't doing what needs to be done."
Shraga Brosh, president of the Manufacturers Association, also spent Bar-On's entire stint at the treasury casting aspersions at the minister, while Ofer Eini, chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, complains that Bar-On is condescending. The two made a joint effort to weaken him to squeeze more and more concessions from him, more money and subsidies. They even acted against him during the Kadima primary.
But Roni Bar-On is very different from his image.
Bar-On took the job at a very difficult time and found himself struggling in a maelstrom of pressures that few could have survived without drowning. The whole world lined up against him and he received no backing from the prime minister. Every Sunday, at the weekly cabinet meeting, "good cop" Olmert would push through all sorts of plans at the expense of the taxpayer. "Bad cop" Bar-On was left with the thankless responsibility of quashing them.
Never before has a finance minister had to operate under such conditions - a dysfunctional coalition in which the prime minister couldn't even control the Knesset members of his own party, Kadima. Bar-On didn't have a majority in any of the Knesset committees, not the Finance Committee and not the Economics Committee. Time and again the coalition voted against him as each Knesset member did as he pleased. Sometimes even the prime minister's office openly opposed him in the Knesset.
Yet despite this insanity, Bar-On managed to keep the year-to-year increase in government spending within the limit mandated by the cabinet itself - 1.7% annually.
True, there were few reforms, but how can you reform the Israel Electric Corporation or the cellular phone sector without the support of the relevant ministers and the backing of the prime minister?
Yet he fought on. It wasn't easy, but Bar-On never gave in to the alien interests trying to suffocate him. He fought on for a year and a half against the irresponsibility of the ministers and the Knesset members and the prime minister himself. He could not always prevail.
The naked truth is that if Roni Bar-On had bowed before the prime minister, before the labor leaders and the rest of the pack, our economy would be in far worse shape. But over here facts aren't what counts, only image.