"I hope I will be the last communications minister," said Reuven Rivlin back in 2002, when he understood that political control of the ministry was causing the sector heavy damage, that professional decisions were prey to political pressures and every new minister put the brakes on plans already gone over and agreed, in an industry so dynamic that timing is of the essence.
Rivlin appointed the Olenik Committee, which recommended an independent communications authority to replace the ministry. In January 2003 the government accepted these recommendations and the bill was drafted. But in September Ehud Olmert was appointed minister (in addition to a slew of other positions) and immediately stopped the process. Because Olmert knows better than everyone. He knows every subject from industry (see the Coca Cola grant affair) to trade (see his attempts to cancel the price labeling law) to communications. If he had lived in biblical times, the Queen of Sheba wouldn't have been so enamoured of Solomon's wisdom, because who is King Solomon compared to the likes of Prince Olmert?
As soon as he was ensconced in office, Olmert declared that he was not prepared to pass decisions to clerks (the word clerks he spits out with contempt) "because who says that wisdom is found with the clerks?" And what about accumulated knowledge? Or specialist understandings? The Olenik Committee had several experts from all relevant offices as well as the public, and unanimously recommended the setting up of an independent body - as is common in the West.
But Olmert listened patiently to Uri Olenik, while laughing to himself. Is he, the all-knowing Olmert, likely to hand over professional management to clerks? Then why did the prime minister give him the job, if not to make political points out of it? Let the likes of Eliezer Fishman, Noni Mozes, Uri Shenar and Shlomo Kfir make homage and understand exactly who calls the tune. Let every radio and television channel be clear on who makes the decisions, and who would consider giving up the chance of appointing cronies on councils and boards of directors? So Olmert held up the legislative process, until we reached the stage where a month ago the bill had been amended to effectively leave all control of communications-sensitive issues in the same hands, so that no change could be made without his say-so.
Fortunately we have a finance minister that isn't ready to join Olmert's gang. Both together could have decided to make the authority subordinate to the two and divide up the spoils. But instead Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (and Education Minister Limor Livnat) object to Olmert's changes, because Netanyahu is interested in a lively feisty communications sector that will lead to growth and development, and in lower prices on communications and television broadcasting for all Israel.
Netanyahu recently sent Olmert a harsh letter expressing his "concerted objections to the bill currently prepared," and asked Olmert "to go back and stick to the original phrasing." The question now is will Netanyahu stick to his guns for the good of the sector and Israel.
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