It's only a week to elections and Ariel Sharon and Silvan Shalom are acting a ridiculous charade about changing the structure of the government. Sharon suddenly wants to position himself as the gate keeper at the public coffers.
He would have us forget that only two years ago he was the one to put together the biggest government in Israel's history - 22 ministries, 28 ministers and 12 deputies. His cynical attitude was that once they were in, they wouldn't want to give up their seats and so would keep his cabinet together.
Now Sharon tells us he will close down five ministries and split another, so that the next government will have 18 ministries and four deputy ministers. His proposal omits to mention a maximum number of ministers - there can be countless ministers without portfolio.
If Sharon meant business, he would have waited until after the elections, and had he been entrusted with setting up the next coalition, he would then inform all potential negotiators that only 18 ministries and 18 jobs as ministers were available, as Netanyahu did before.
This is the only time when a prime minister is king, when he alone hands out jobs and no other politician has any stronghold anywhere.
But Sharon's intentions are not as sincere as all that - all he has in mind is January 28. After that, his so-called reform will be forgotten. Eli Yishai has already said "closing the Ministry of Religious Affairs is nothing more than a whim. Shas will get this portfolio again after the elections and will also keep all the other ministries that are important to the party. After all, without the Ministry of Religious Affairs, how can babies be circumcised?"
Two of the items in Sharon's reform merit careful attention. One is his refusal to transfer the Government Companies Authority back to the Finance Ministry. The Authority was made subordinate to the Prime Minister's Office in 1996 under pressure from Netanyahu, who said he intended to privatize as many companies as possible - but in fact privatized only a single esoteric one.
Nothing could be further from Sharon's mind than privatization. In the last two years not a single state corporation had been privatized - not Bezeq, not the refineries, not El Al, not Israel Electric Corp., and not the Mekorot water utility.
Sharon wants to keep the Government Corporations Authority under his control because this enables him to influence dozens of political appointments of CEOs, directors and employees in government companies. In our warped reality, this a way to gather political clout.
The second threatening item in Sharon's "reform" is the transfer of the planning administration, which is in charge of the implementation of the planning and building law, from the Ministry of Interior to the Prime Minister's Office.
This would dangerously increase the power wielded by the prime minister. He who controls the planning administration and the Israel Lands Administration (even indirectly), controls all of the land in Israel and can thus work wonders for cronies and other eager "bad apples" waiting in line.
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