Text size

The first thing Finance Minister Silvan Shalom will do, if the Likud wins the election and he continues to serve in the same office, will be to set up a new public relations office at the treasury. Shalom is convinced that if the ministry's PR was better, its plans would pass much more easily both in the Knesset and with the general public - and this would be better both for the economy and his own personal standing.

Shalom, who believes that the media hounds him unjustly, possibly to settle personal scores, thinks that such a plan would stir up opposition from the public and media who will claim that his program is simply expanding his fiefdom, wasting money and glorifying his own name.

So maybe we can provide a little surprise here for the minister. Economic reporters have known the truth for many years now. They see that the treasury stands alone, with two-and-a-half spokesmen, when it has to cope with a barrage of attack from some of the heavyweights of the economy, hiring top notch lobbyists to protect their own interests. See, for example, the phenomenal financial investment of the pharmaceuticals, who fought tooth and nail against the law allowing for over-the-counter drug sales in corner stores and supermarkets. (The law was passed, but has since been waylaid in the Health Ministry).

Currently, a treasury spokesman can hardly find enough time to release his own press reports. He cannot compete against the plethora of lobbyists in the Knesset "filling" the MKs with all their "facts" in order to prevent legislation that would improve the general standard of living. That's how the farmers have managed to keep their water prices absurdly low for years, and industrialists have succeeded in keeping the Encouragement of Investments Law just as they like it.

For as long as the treasury cannot pit the finest against the heavyweight lobbyists, politicians will only receive slanted, interest-oriented information, which is why necessary bold reforms don't get passed in the Knesset, and the taxpayer suffers.

Clearly two-and-a-half spokesmen cannot learn all the topics that the treasury deals with in depth. They cannot provide the facts to the press, inform the public, and at the same time attend all the conferences and conventions. So the treasury leaves the public platform to the likes of interested parties, various government ministries, and non-governmental organizations - without getting the chance to put their spin over to the public.

So there is a need for an extra couple of people in the treasury, but of professional standing only. They should be accessible to the press, articulate, with excellent personal skills, but also, and first and foremost, fine economists, possibly graduates of the treasury's budget division.

It is equally clear that the minister cannot increase the ministry's payroll, so he will have to cut a couple of positions elsewhere. Let's not forget that 2003 is going to be a tough year for the economy and the budget.