The Knesset Economic Affairs Committee, headed by Avishay Braverman (Labor), approved on Tuesday a government proposal to widen the antitrust commissioner’s powers to investigate the level of competition in any industry at his or her own initiative.
The amendment to the Antitrust Law calls on the antitrust commissioner not only to report back his findings to the relevant cabinet minister and the finance minister, but also to make the information gathered available to the public through the Antitrust Authority’s website and other channels.
Until now the law has restricted the antitrust commissioner from investigating competition issues only when a formal complaint has been filed by one company against another.
“The more information that is available to the commissioner and the more he is able to undertake fundamental investigations, the economy and the public will benefit,” Braverman said after the vote. “We are talking about granting the commissioner critical powers he needs to do his work.”
The amendment will now go before the Knesset plenum for a final two readings before becoming law. Lawmakers begin a marathon session of voting starting Wednesday before going into summer recess on Thursday.
The Economic Affairs Committee is also working to approve the Food Law and the Farm Products Exemption Law in time for the Knesset to vote on them this week, as Braverman promised voters. The two pieces of legislation are aimed at introducing more competition into food retailing and manufacturing.
Orit Israeli, an attorney representing the Manufacturers Association, a trade group comprising Israel’s biggest industrial companies, said the group opposed expanding the antitrust commissioner’s authority, saying it would hurt business.
In addition, the association regards penalties that could reach 300,000 shekels ($86,700) under the amended law for companies refusing to provide information as excessive, Israeli said. She said the law needed to be balanced by a requirement for businesses affected by antitrust commissioner’s conclusions to receive a hearing.
But Ori Schwartz, the Antitrust Commission’s legal adviser, rejected the claims, saying that regulators would be abiding by rules already in place protecting proprietary information gathered by the government from being released to the public. Adding restrictions to the amendment would be unnecessary, he said. Schwartz said the penalties were a critical part of the law, which is aimed at enhancing the commissioner’s power to collect information.
Asaf Eilat, who heads the authority’s economics unit, said regulators have been holding hearings as a matter of practice and would continue to do under the amended law.
In a related development, Braverman warned on Tuesday that the Economic Affairs Committee would begin deliberations on a law regulating natural gas prices within three months if the joint price supervision committee of the finance and energy ministries do not propose a maximum price.
Alon Itkin, acting chairman of the price committee, warned lawmakers that the issue of gas prices was complicated and that it would take “several months” to reach its conclusions. He hinted that other government agencies were opposed to price supervision altogether.