The affair surrounding Israel Land Administration decisions made by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and suspicions that his involvement is an attempt to promote his and his family's interests, raise not only the subject of cleaning out the premier's stables, but also the subject of the ILA on the whole.
In the latest State Comptroller's Report, Eliezer Goldberg reported on the amazing disdain that the ILA holds for assets under its control. The ILA - which manages 91 percent of the state's land - is accustomed to handing out parcels of land to public bodies for knock-down or symbolic rents without batting an eyelid, when the same bodies lease out the land at a full price to others - and pocket handsome returns at the expense of the general public.
But the ILA doesn't win points just for its indifferent management. Its very veto causes havoc. The ILA determines how much land is put on sale, how much agricultural land is offered for rezoning, and at what price the public will pay for it. It does send out surveyors, but in effect it controls the price - and all of this in its antiquated Marxist approach that central planning is best (see Russia, Albania, North Korea and Cuba) while maximizing its income - at the expense of the public and the country's growth rate. An extra aim is to safeguard the large number of pencil-pushers, the vast mechanism, the arrogant power, and the fat cat managers, who determine fates and earn a nice living - all at the expense of the citizens.
Israel is the only country where it is impossible to buy land from the state. The ILA agrees only to rent out land for years in order to keep its power base, control our lives, and keep its workers employed. If the ILA were to sell off land completely, it would become obsolete; it wouldn't need all those clerks who make our lives bitter, who keep the registers, and who sue citizens to pay scandalous rents when all he wants is to extend his apartment.
The result of this is that the ILA is the central factor holding the economy back. It is one of the pivotal forces creating the recession. Because it is the determining factor behind the extraordinarily high property prices, it creates land shortages in highly-desirable areas, and pushes down the level of activity in the industry. It is similarly behind the superfluous and annoying charges that citizens must pay for "agreement fees" and long-winded, degrading bureaucracy, which only those "in the know" know how to overcome. The result is that private individuals choose not to extend and not to build, because who has the strength to fight an Israel Lands Administration clerk?
The answer is simple: Cancel the ILA. Just close it down; sell off all its land to the populace, as is done in normal countries - without leasing, without restrictions. This would be a significant shot-in-the-arm for the economy, but for this to happen, Industry and Trade Minister Ehud Olmert would have to waive his power in overseeing the ILA, and Sharon would have to stop interfering in ILA decisions, and Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would have to take up the challenge - to set off a true revolution.
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