Last summer, the Israel Electric Corporation warned that it would have to initiate rolling blackouts because the country's reserve power production capacity was at an all-time low. A major reason why the development of Israel's electricity system has lagged behind is the dire financial situation of the IEC, which is mired in debt to the tune of tens of billions of shekels.
At the same time, IEC workers were enjoying the most generous pension benefits in the country. Workers' pensions were paid entirely by the company; they didn't have to contribute anything. And the terms were exceptional.
A grave report by the state comptroller, published on Wednesday, found that the IEC deposited money in a special account to ensure payments to workers and retirees for benefits like free electricity or holiday gifts. Some NIS 2 billion accumulated in this account, without any of the government regulators that are supposed to oversee the IEC knowing anything about it. Only thanks to the company's accountant, who was fired because he dared to expose the company's accounting tricks, did the government and the public learn about the existence of this secret account.
Nor is this the only thing the IEC concealed. For dozens of years, it paid its employees salary increments that were never approved by the Finance Ministry's wage director. These benefits inflated the pensions that the IEC then had to pay its retirees. The state comptroller estimated the pension inflation caused by these payments that were never approved at about NIS 3.4 billion.
At a time when the IEC was fighting for its financial life, it took care to set aside billions of extra shekels for its employees' salaries, and consequently, for their pensions as well. The IEC is poor, but its pensioners are rich. And all this, of course, was financed with the public's money: It's the public that pays the company's employees and retirees, via the electricity rates.
The comptroller didn't hesitate to point fingers at the parties that allowed this situation to develop - the company's management, which in practice worried more about the workers than about the company's financial stability, and its incompetent regulators who didn't succeed in supervising the electricity monopoly, which has the most sophisticated union in the country.
The time has come for the public to support the one and only solution for this situation: a reform of the electricity economy that would expose the IEC to competition. There is no other way.
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