People like to judge the honesty and seriousness of their fellow man by asking the simple question: Would you buy a used car from him? This is the situation of the Industrial Development Bank, a bank that collapsed just a year and a half ago with a loud crash. The bank has been functioning for the last few months in "run off" mode - a condition in which the bank is unable to accept new customers or make new loans, but is only allowed to collect debts and gradually close out its loan portfolio. However, the bank still has the sole franchise to prepare economic surveys for the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor's Investment Center.
The bank, or, as it should more properly be called, the collection agency, is for all practical purposes a monopoly in determining the priorities for state investments in companies and factories and whether such investments are worthwhile. This is a historical mission that the bank received dozens of years ago, and it is the bank's source of influence over decisions affecting the fate of many investments. The bank determines which investments will receive government benefits, which factories will be built and how much support they will receive, and which factories will not be built.
Just in the last few weeks, two controversial investments made the headlines. The ministry's Investment Center supports both investments - Tower Semiconductor's Fab 2 plant, and the Coca Cola plant's relocation to Ashkelon - and the bank's survey unit prepared economic studies determining whether the investments were worthwhile. The organizational affiliation of this unit, which conducts 150 economic studies a year, makes one wonder. Even though the unit is independent of its parent, and there are those who claim that it is professional, it is nevertheless impossible to ignore the fact that it operates as part of a bank that collapsed because of management failures, irresponsible credit risks and an inefficient organizational structure.
There can be no doubt that this is an inappropriate address for making investment decisions involving billions of shekels of national resources, and it is completely unclear why this bank should have such an important responsibility. Even though the bank's management has changed, and the new bosses are not responsible for the bank's collapse, nevertheless, once the bank was sentenced to liquidation, there is no longer any reason to leave such important responsibilities in its hands.
The unit has accumulated valuable data on many sectors of the economy and individual companies, and it would thus be a very valuable asset to any buyer. If it were put up for sale, buyers would line up for the chance to acquire the unit and its information.
The Investments Law is at the center of a battle between the Finance Ministry and the Industry Ministry, and in any case the law will be changed. It seems reasonable that as part of the new Investments Law, which will update the criteria used for determining investment grants, the procedure for preparing the surveys should also be changed. This change should include the identity of the body that performs these economic studies. Leaving a monopoly on setting priorities and judging the value of investments in the hands of a failed bank is a dangerous message for anyone who wants to see a rebirth of economic growth.
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