One of Benjamin Netanyahu's unofficial advisers is Moshe Leon, who served as director-general of the Prime Minister's Office when Netanyahu occupied that office. Leon regularly appears at the informal meetings held at the Finance Ministry or at Netanyahu's home. Leon advises, expresses support and listens - because friendship is an important value.
The Bezeq workers council recently decided to hire Leon's services to handle the company's privatization - or, to be more precise, to undermine it, or at least win improved terms for Bezeq workers.
On the other hand, there is the prime minister, who is also currently filling the role of communications minister, as the director-general of his office, Avigdor Yitzhaki, handles this area. Yitzhaki is a friend of Leon and is his partner in a joint accountancy practice (though Yitzhaki is now an inactive partner). This relationship led the attorney general to prohibit Yitzhaki from handling the Bezeq privatization. But what about handling the implementation of the Grunau committee's recommendations on Bezeq's rates?
This rates issue became especially salient after the Grunau committee recommended lowering Bezeq's rates by 5.5 percent and not to compensate the telephone company for the inflation of the past year. This means that Bezeq's rates would be cut by 13 percent in real terms.
The recommendations call for lowering rates during peak hours and raising them during off-peak hours, raising the monthly service fee, and canceling the minimum rate - thereby correcting correct a gross inequity. Since today, if you make a mistake dialing or reach an answering machine, or the person you wish to speak with is not home, and the call lasts only a second or two, you'll still be charged the minimum price of NIS 0.225 - and this is a travesty.
Bezeq was shocked by these recommendations. The company presented the committee with a document explaining why rates should be raised by about 20 percent - a request similar to the inflated demands of another monopoly, the Israel Electric Corporation.
But the Grunau committee produced a professional report and Bezeq is already girding up for war. The company has passed the report on to a consulting firm that will write just about anything Bezeq wants - in return for cash.
The ball is now in the hands of Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu. Yitzhaki should be prohibited from dealing with this issue due to his close relationship with Moshe Leon, and Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein should clearly stipulate this. The setting of rates for Bezeq is closely connected to its privatization because it will determine Bezeq's value. It is also impossible to precisely define what constitutes consulting work.
But most important of all is the implementation of the recommendations. Yesterday, at an intimate dinner at Grunau's home, the members of the committee discussed ways of promoting their recommendations with the prime minister. But Sharon does not need to wait. He should sign the order to lower Bezeq rates and Netanyahu will sign after him. And in this way, Bezeq will be forced to operate more efficiently. The public and businesses will profit from lower rates and economic activity will be encouraged.
And what about friendship? It will withstand this.
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