The Israeli government team that has been negotiating with firms that have the natural gas monopoly did not keep minutes or recordings of its meetings over the past six months, according to information provided Tuesday morning to the State Control Committee by Finance Ministry deputy budget director Udi Adiri, following repeated questioning from MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz).
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In response, Eli Marzel, deputy director of the State Comptroller’s Office, said, “With such a senior team discussing such a major issue, there ought to be a detailed protocol so we could examine the decision-making process.”
State Control Committee chair MK Karin Elharrar (Yesh Atid) also voiced criticism, saying that a trillion shekels are involved, and it is inconceivable that no minutes exist of the discussions concerning critical decisions about the proposal.
“Even now, officials are still denying the existence of the team, while others held a long discussion on the team’s work,” Zandberg told the State Control Committee. “Now it’s clear why it was so important to the government to hold the discussions while keeping up the denial – so it could avoid keeping minutes. From one moment to the next, the decision-making process on the gas issue is becoming more suspect and dubious. The most important economic decision in decades is being made through an improper process.”
Marzel said that there is a governmental void in regulating the natural gas that will harm competition and prices. “According to the findings so far, there are many flaws in the area of regulation,” he said.
Marzel said that State Comptroller Joseph Shapira is compiling a report concerning a number of aspects of the natural gas issue, including government policy, the policy of the Energy Ministry, regulation of the natural gas market and coordination between the decision makers on the natural gas issue. “The report will also address the inter-ministerial work on this issue,” he said.
The report is due to be made public within a few weeks. In the coming days, the comptroller will send a draft copy to the subjects of the report for their comments.
MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union) called on the state comptroller to publish the report on the gas now, warning that time is of the essence. “The comptroller should muster all the manpower of his office to quickly complete the report on the gas issue. Otherwise, no matter how harsh it is, it will only be a useless post-mortem,” she said.
Yacimovich also asked the comptroller to examine why powerful regulators were banned from the government team’s discussions. Orit Farkash-Hacohen, chairwoman of the Public Utilities Authority, confirmed that she had not been invited to attend any discussions.
“Farkash is a strong and opinionated regulator. That didn’t suit them,” Yacimovich said.
Meanwhile, Economy Minister Arye Dery praised the decision to present the gas proposal to the public. “I am glad a decision was made to present the full gas proposal to the public, and of course to the MKs, with total transparency,” Dery said Tuesday morning at a meeting at the Economy Ministry. “I am certain that once the outline of the agreement with the gas companies is presented to the citizens of Israel and the whole world, it will be easier to have a public debate on the issue which is of such security, diplomatic and economic importance to each and every Israeli.”