Taking Stock / A letter to the prime minister
To: Prime Minister-designate Ehud Olmert
From: A worried citizen
Even before you finished assembling your new coalition government, you managed to dull a bit of the shiny halo that had been floating around you last week.
The speed with which you signed the land deal between the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) and the Dankner family, along with your hasty retreat as a result of the attorney general's instructions, reminded us once again why you are so well known as Ehud (money and politics) Olmert.
But now that you are about to become prime minister in your own right, it is the appropriate time to give up your old, bad habits. The time has come to try - to use a business term - to make yourself a new image.
I know it's not easy, but it is possible as Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu proved in recent years. Sharon turned himself from Mr. War to Mr. Diplomatic Breakthrough; and Netanyahu turned himself from Mr. Don't know how to act to one of the best finance ministers in Israeli history.
1. You are now about to become the prime minister, not the industry and trade minister. Not even the finance minister or head of the ILA. Get used to appearing authoritative, official and proper. Look at the big picture. Stop with your old hobbies - land, grants, trips around the world with businessmen.
Get rid of the old image of a seasoned lawyer who today happens to be a politician, but tomorrow might just return to his old haunts and deals. There are plenty of rich lawyers and politicians; but there are very few prime ministers who left their mark on the country.
2. The elections are over. You won, and soon you will have your coalition government. The time has come to stop making all sorts of empty "social" promises and tell the truth: only a long-term plan and basic structural changes will lower poverty rates. Only an improvement in Israel's competitiveness will bring continued growth.
All the other solutions have been tried here over the past 30 years, and they all have failed. You know that poverty in Israel was not created last year, or even two years ago, but is the result of decades of failed policies.
3. Let go of the Finance Ministry. Give up the huge power that the politician in charge of the treasury has, and appoint a professional finance minister. Abraham Hirchson, your friend and confidant, is the worst possible appointment for the job. His insistence on dealing personally with the bank reforms as chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee while his son was embroiled in huge debts to those same banks, proved that you have to keep Hirchson away from the corridors of economic power.
The Knesset Ethics Committee removed him from the center of decision-making on the bank and financial market reforms - don't put him back there.
The combination of prime minister Sharon and finance minster Netanyahu, who were certainly far from being political allies, certainly proved itself.
Appoint a strong and independent finance minister - and stand behind him. Professor Avishay Braverman, Netanyahu or Tzipi Livni are all much better choices. They are not your political allies, but they understand economics and are committed to responsible economic policies. Their success will be your success.
4. The Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported Sunday that the transition team - your "100 days" team - led by Yoram Turbovitch, Ra'anan Dinur and Tal Zilberstein already has come up with an economic plan. According to the report, the plan is based on tax increases, along with higher child allowances and pensions. It sounds great, but it is really sowing the seeds of economic failure.
Please hurry and deny the report, and make it clear that economic plans will be approved in the Prime Minster's Office, but will be formulated in the treasury by economists, in consultation with the Bank of Israel. They should not be made in your office by lawyers, media advisers or cronies.
The state coffers are full today thanks to the responsible fiscal and economic policies of recent years. It is much too easy to throw money around and make headlines, but it is not the way to manage the economy.
5. The leaders of the business community love you. Ehud is our friend they keep on telling us lately. This is the time to turn your back on your good friends in the business sector; they are already taken care of. They are strong and rich, and they can get by without you. Most of your friends can live until 120 on the interest of the money they have. Some of them can even make do quite well with the interest on the interest from their wealth.
The time has come to become the friend of those who don't have friends like you. The time has come to become the friend of people whom economics reporters also rarely meet. It is time to be the friend of the 690,095 people who voted for Kadima in the hope that they will have a better life.
It is also time to be the friend of hundreds of thousands of others who didn't vote for you because they feared that they could never be your friend.
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