Transportation Minister Avigdor Lieberman has decided to appoint former Knesset speaker Dan Tichon as chairman of the Ports Authority, to replace Gad Jacoby. Reports of such appointments have long since ceased to stir public unrest, being accepted with widespread apathy, as Tichon is neither the first nor will be the last political appointment. But this indifference is a dangerous precedent, as every political appointment which passes quietly by is a feather in the cap to the system, encouraging politicians to claim more and more fiefdoms to wield their power. Every time a former politician is granted a cushy job without public fuss, this sets back any chance of qualified professionals to advance in economic institutions, and to reach the very top of the hierarchy.
On first glance, Tichon's resume would not disqualify him from the job as head of the Ports Authority. He has trained as an economist, he managed the Housing and Development company (albeit a long time ago) and he was a member of the Knesset Finance Committee. The world of figures and economics is not a closed book to him.
But if one considers the changes that are afoot in the Ports Authority, the plans to transform Haifa and Ashdod ports into independent profit-minded enterprises, then it is not so definite that he is the best candidate for the job.
The Ports Authority suffers very difficult problems concerning its shoddy levels of service, its tense industrial relations, its inflexible working agreements and its inefficiency. Plans to turn the ports into state-owned enterprises, making them concern themselves with profits and loss, is the first hesitant step to introduce welcome competition into the sector which would make things much easier for both exporters and importers. Successfully seeing this transformation through is conditional on achieving cooperation from the port workers, the backing of the government and primarily the ability of the chairman and director to confront and control the inevitable battle that making the ports efficient and competitive will induce.
Is a retired politician who has spent the past 20 years in the Knesset, away from the business world, the most suitable person to lead this campaign? Would it not be better to appoint a professional from the business world who would regard the job as a professional challenge of the first order, and not simply a cushy job with a pension?
Political appointments, such as Ranan Cohen to head the Industrial Development Bank, Benny Vaknin at Pelephone, Tichon and his predecessor at the Ports Authority, only serve to demonstrate that the overriding criteria for a job in one these bodies is tight links with the government and key politicians. In such a climate of cronyism and cutting deals, political connections become everything. The problem is that this becomes the message broadcast to young economists starting their careers: If they really want to succeed, to reach the top of the tree, then the way is through the Knesset cafeteria and the party central committees, and not a gradual ascent on the professional ladder.
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