Who do the MKs really represent? Their close colleagues, the wealthy or the general public? The bank fee affair, which reached its conclusion yesterday, raises some thoughts on the matter.
The story started some six months ago when the Knesset Finance Committee decided that from July 2003 the banks would have to tell their clients how much they charge for each transaction, before the transaction is done.
But as soon as the decision was made, the banks ran to their lobbyists and pressured the committee members to postpone the requirements until January 2004. An extra half-year of non-reporting is a clear profit, because when the customer finds out how much he is likely to pay for a transaction, he will raise the roof, threaten to move banks or even demand a discount - which is always worth trying.
Informing clients of bank charges before the transaction has similarities with the pricing tab policy. This was only introduced into shops and supermarkets after a fierce consumer battle against the large supermarket chains and industrialists.
The banks claim that they would not be able to put the necessary mechanisms in place after recently having to comply with both new capital gains taxes and the anti-money laundering requirements. The Bank of Israel accepted a compromise according to which banks would have to disclose some of their fees now, and the rest from January 2004. But the Knesset committee members were more generous - Chairman MK Avraham Hirchson (Likud) and company decided to postpone all the requirements until next year.
So bank customers are still none the wiser, and the banks are meanwhile criminals since the Bank of Israel governor, David Klein, was adamant about not signing the regulations that approved the postponement. A week ago, two lawyers filed a class action suit against the banks on this very issue.
Yesterday the Knesset committee acquiesced to Klein's proposal to force the banks to inform in writing the charges for the 12 most common and basic bank transactions as of September 15. These common actions include withdrawing cash, cashing checks, paying bills or buying foreign currency. The remaining charges must be pre-reported by January 2004.
The Knesset members did not like Klein's arm-twisting, so they took the opportunity to attack Klein on ... interest rates. Committee member MK Haim Oron (Meretz) said that the governor knows how to confuse them on all sorts of matters, but when they have something to say on interest rates, he chooses to shut his ears and keep quiet.
But let's assume Oron is right about interest rates. What exactly is the connection with bank charges? Why did Oron vote against and why did Avraham Shochat (Labor) abstain? Do they not want the customers to know how much they are paying?
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