Taking Stock / Four comments
l It is rare for ministers to exert their clout on behalf of fat-cat wealthy friends, the departing director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, Avigdor Yitzhaki, claimed last week. Mr. Yitzhaki, are you kidding? Are you kidding?
Mr. Yitzhaki, during your stint in office, the PMO became the main conduit between wealth and the government. One by one, the tycoons trooped through your office seeking help to promote their businesses.
Yossi Maiman was having trouble getting a tax exemption - Yitzhaki intervened. The Ofer brothers were being stymied by the Finance Ministry's accountant-general - Yitzhaki to the rescue! The Bank of Israel's Supervisor of Banks was choking off credit to the biggest borrowers - Yitzhaki lost no time leaking reports of intentions to fire him.
You won a lot of powerful business-sector friends during your stint at the PMO, Mr. Yitzhaki, and now you're returning to the business sector and can surely cash in on all that affection. Okay, to be fair, you didn't invent the wheel here. But please, don't try to market yourself as some shining light of economic reform.
l What a hullabaloo at the Yad Eliahu stadium last week! Half of Israel Discount Bank's employees showed up to protest the bank's imminent privatization. "The ones buying Discount Bank will do so enshrouded in complete fog: we will not transfer any information needed for the sale to MI Holdings [the government company in charge of the privatization]," vowed union leader Riki Bachar.
Ho hum. What fog are you prating about, Mr. Bachar? Potential buyers for Discount don't need any information from you. Everybody knows that Discount is a great bank, with a strong subsidiary in New York and a strong presence in retail banking. Everybody knows that the main problem at Discount is none other than Riki Bachar himself, the man behind the tremendously bloated workforce, inflated salaries, and growing gap between the education and professionalism of workers at Discount and at rival big banks.
The only fog enshrouding the bank is the question whether anybody will be willing to put perfectly good money into an organization with an organizational culture like Discount's.
l Where has Avraham "Baiga" Shochat gone to? The former finance minister, one of the leading and most talented economic legislators in Israel, has disappeared from the business sections of the papers. Well, the keen of eye will have noted his name is missing from the list of 51 legislators who signed a private bill calling for the provident funds to be severed from the banks. It is, apparently, no coincidence.
l Last week, Benjamin Netanyahu and Limor Livnat called it by name: the changes that Industry and Trade Minister Ehud Olmert has introduced into the bill that would replace the Communications Ministry with an authority render the authority hopelessly political, they charged. (A key intention behind abolishing the ministry had been to divorce communications regulation from politics.) Olmert has voided the bill of content, his fellow ministers charged.
But you can count on Olmert to ignore the criticism. As long as he can accrue power and as long as the nation's businessmen are lining up outside his office, he's happy.
The frightening aspect is that the rest of the nation looks at Olmert and how well he's doing for himself, and figure, if those methods works, I want to do it too.
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