This week Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein published an unusual, 25-page document sharply criticizing the decision-making process that ended in a NIS 67 million grant to the Central Bottling Co. for transferring its Coca Cola plant from Bnei Brak to Ashkelon.
Rubinstein notes that the Investment Center's decision was based on an outdated, irrelevant feasibility study regarding a possible move to Kiryat Gat. He even added that there is no national economic benefit from the move, essentially supporting the Finance Ministry position that the Ashkelon move won't increase productivity or employment, and that there is no logic in supporting a carbonated beverage monopoly, damaging competition in Israel. But Industry and Trade Minister Ehud Olmert says the move is worthwhile, aimed at creating 550 new jobs in unemployment-battered Ashkelon.
Olmert doesn't like to be bothered. He said about the attorney general: "Who does he think he is? He understands less about economics than the financial press" - and that is as low as you can go, because Olmert really hates journalists. He added that he hopes "the next attorney general will come from the private sector, will function differently and will be free of some of the dogmatic-domineering perceptions that have sometimes characterized some in the state legal system." So maybe the industry minister should also come from the private sector?
It's a reasonable assumption that Olmert wants to move the factory to Ashkelon since that would be "doing something." Someday there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony and it will be possible to harvest the political fruits. There is no new investment in Israel due to the security situation, so they should at least move factories from place to place. Maybe someday there will be an employment crisis in Bnei Brak and then they can move Coca Cola back with another grant and economic activity will increase. At least pretend.
Due to Rubinstein's intervention, Olmert will now have to reconvene the Investment Center for another debate. But he hastened to be interviewed and even issued a press release saying that completion of the updated feasibility study will "pave the way for the factory's transfer to Ashkelon after a detailed and exhaustive discussion - as is required." In other words, the Investment center will meet and debate, but the way is already paved and the conclusion is clear. It was dictated in advance by the minister.
Rubinstein responded yesterday that Olmert's comments "could constitute influencing and directing to the point of pressuring members of the Investment Center administration in their considerations." Rubinstein went on and explained that the administration must act as an independent authority that does not take instruction from ministers.
But the members of that administration work for the minister, not for the attorney general, and if I may make a wager, in the end, the Investment Center will again recommend the grant. So all that is left now is to pity us, the taxpayer, who must cough up NIS 67 million for Coca Cola.
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