Taking Stock / Angel Who Winked at the Thief

1. An instructive lecture was delivered earlier this week on Channel 2 by retired judge Shlomo Shoham, explaining why he had decided to leave his legal career and devote himself to public activities. "Instead of chasing after the golden calf," he said, he had decided to deal with spiritual issues that bring true satisfaction and happiness.

For a moment one might have found this beautiful story convincing - a lawyer who had left the fleshpots, sitting today in a cave, eating carobs and enjoying the simple life.

But less than 12 hours later, the wage tables of the Knesset workers were made public - and we remembered the real story about Shoham. He was appointed three years ago, by then Knesset speaker Avraham Burg, to head a strange unit known as the Commission for Future Generations. The idea was that a professional would examine the bills being discussed in the Knesset and check out those that might harm the future of the country - and that he would act to minimize the damage or even to torpedo the bills.

Has anyone heard Shoham's voice in the past couple of years when dozens of crazy laws that will cost the country millions, were passed without any obstacles? Why does the taxpayer have to foot the bill for this strange unit? Why do the taxpayers have to pay the person in charge NIS 42,000 per month?

Apparently no one cares, except of course the "future generations" - those whose taxes will be used to fund Shoham and this expendable unit that costs us NIS 2.2 million per year.

2. Infrastructure Minister Benjamin "Fuad" Ben-Eliezer is determined: Not a day shall pass without him attacking the reform in the Israel Electric Corporation, buying more votes from the central committee members and large workers' committees and telling the whole world how he plans to use the position of minister that has fallen into his lap.

After coming to the help of the Oil Refineries workers, and those of Mekorot, Fuad has now started to ingratiate himself with the strongest committee of them all, the IEC workers' committee. The minister explained that he opposes "blind privatization that justifies itself as the be-all and end-all and thus fragments the social fabric."

Social fabric? Fuad? Electric Corporation? Can your ears hear what your mouth is saying? At best, it can be called "social fabrication."

How can it be that Fuad recalls the "social fabric" precisely when talking about the most satiated workers' committee in Israel? How can Fuad dare to speak about harming the "social fabric" when talking about the most corrupt corporation in Israel, which has blazed nepotism on its banner, and where hundreds of workers are relatives of senior workers on the committee and the management?

Apparently when Fuad says "social fabric," he means tens of thousands of families of the workers in government monopolies. The "social fabric" of hundreds of thousands of minimum-wage earners who pay taxes and pay for electricity, telephone services and the products of other Israeli monopolies interest him less. They are not sufficiently represented in the Labor Party Central Committee.

3. What stands out in the annual report by the director of wages in the treasury is the fact that while wages in the local authorities, the monopolies and the government institutions can reach NIS 50,000-90,000 a month, those with the most senior positions in government offices in general, and in the treasury in particular, are bound by the well-known ceiling of NIS 30,000 per month, known as "the director general's salary."

But this should not mislead you. The officials in the treasury, particularly the most senior ones, know that most of them can be assured senior jobs in the financial sector after they leave the public service.

The investment in a career in the treasury generally carries a very small profit; but it is likely to return itself very swiftly when the officials hop over to the business sector.

Indeed, it is very symbolic that on the day that the public sector wage tables were published, the salaries of the senior officials of Bank Hapoalim were also made public. That was the moment when it became crystal clear what the best paying job in the public sector is: the accountant general.

True the accountant general earns a mere NIS 31,000 per month, but ask Eitan Raff, Aryeh Sher, Eli Yones, Nir Gilad and Shai Talmon. They will tell you how one good year in the banking system quickly compensates for the lean years in the public sector. This week it became clear that one successful banking year is worth no less than 18 lean accountant general years.

Talmon, who left the treasury in 1999, joined Bank Hapoalim some four years ago

and was quickly promoted to deputy director general. In 2004, his salary cost NIS 2.9 million and his bonuses in shares in the past year stood at NIS 4.1 million. Altogether NIS 7 million in one year.

Talmon cannot rest on his laurels. He needs many more years like this to attain the financial riches culled in the past decade by his accountant general predecessors - Yones, Sher and Raff.

4. Yes, a little more Fuad for dessert. The infrastructure minister this week called together the media and shared with them his economic and social vision. He told them, inter alia, that he was not at ease with the thought that the IEC chairman was busy choosing the CEO of the corporation and that he had made it clear that it was not the board of directors' business to do so.

Were it not Fuad, we would be surprised. Every minister knows that the law and the courts have established that only company boards of directors can appoint CEOs, and that no other body has the right to intervene and influence the process.

But it is Fuad we are dealing with, and law or courts certainly do not interest him. Also they are not members of the Labor Central Committee.