Central Bank on the Rampage

Corruption, concealment and deception have permeated an institution that is supposed to serve as a beacon of justice and ethics.

It is quite hard to decide which is the bigger thief: Bank Hapoalim officials or Bank of Israel officials. They are running head-to-head in the pursuit of profit and cynicism, and only a sophisticated photo-finish camera will be able to determine the winner.

We'll actually start from the end, from the reaction of the Bank of Israel management to the state comptroller's report. "The comptroller is bursting through an open door," say Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer and its director general, Yaakov Danon. "The subjects that needed to be dealt with have been dealt with or are being dealt with."

But the truth is that the door is not open, and the treatment is failing. Danon has announced that the bank will demand that only workers who have left since mid-2005 return money because "we cannot go through the pockets of the veteran workers who have already resigned." This shows that the bank management has learned nothing, has internalized nothing and still does not understand the intensity of the shock the public felt when it learned about the major robbery that took place in the bank.

The comments of Fischer and Danon recall two incidents from the past. In the Yefet case, in January, 1987 Haaretz published the details of the large pension Ernst Yefet was receiving following his term as Bank Leumi chairman. The information led to an immediate public outcry, demanding that Ernst return the millions, but Bank Leumi director general Moshe Zanbar said, "We cannot change the past and we must uphold contracts." The bank did not want to deal with the past. It's unpleasant, and what are friends for? But the public pressure was too much to withstand, and Bank Leumi was forced to give in and sue Yefet. And Yefet returned millions of shekels after a long legal proceeding.

The Gadot case was similar. In September, 1995 Haaretz published the retirement conditions of Gideon Gadot, chairman of Mifal Hapayis, the national lottery. The sums were astonishing, but the Mifal Hapayis chairman at the time, Avraham Katz, said, "He has no plans to initiate pension changes." In this case, too, public pressure forced Katz to act. Mifal Hapayis sued Gadot and the labor court ruled that he had to return millions of shekels.

Danon, therefore, can not only go through the pockets of the "veteran workers who have already resigned," but is also obligated to do so. Not everyone's pockets, just the senior officials. He must understand that he will not be able to lead the bank without first burning the leaven. He is the director, and he has to get his hands dirty in order to return the bank to its ethical posture - or else no one will listen to Fischer anymore.

To remove all doubt, it should be pointed out here that the governor and the director general are not at all linked to the affair. They came to the bank less than a year ago, but nonetheless they knew from the beginning that there is a rotten smell coming from the bank and that they must clean it up. For that reason, Fischer and Danon must deman d that all senior officials who have resigned since 1985 return the surplus money they received unlawfully. And if the officials don't agree to hand the money over, Fischer and Danon must sue them for it - just as happened in the Yefet and Gadot cases, because in these cases the law will triumph.

The second stage must be to construct a reasonable salary scale, with the governor at the top and the rest earning less than him. The current situation, in which 100 senior officials earn more than the governor, is corrupt. Why are senior bank officials making NIS 55,000 a month while the director general of the Finance Ministry makes do with NIS 33,000? Does the director general, Dr. Yossi Bachar, work less hard than they do? Is he less successful than them?

But the exaggerated salaries are only a small part of the issue. In the morning the senior officials were preaching to the public about why salaries must not be raised in the public sector and why the minimum wage must not be increased, and in the afternoon they would sit with the committee to "give in" to exaggerated demands, while knowing that their concessions directly increased their salaries.

They took advantage of their knowledge of economics to raise their salaries in underhanded and deceptive ways and utterly refused to report it to the wages director - because they're the elite, better than the masses, and without supervision a bank will go on the rampage. They made it possible to redeem days allotted for continuing education courses, vacation days and sick days for money, contrary to civil service regulations. They turned a month into 20 days so as to inflate the calculations. They invented an artificial seniority of 40 years for senior officials, cheap subsidized loans and loans that don't need to be repaid. They made up a hundred different perks, like an encouragement salary paid just for showing up at work, vehicle costs that go twice to the same person, long vacations for every family event, an events grant, funds for summer camp, gifts for those joining the army and dozens more outrageous fabrications.

Therefore, the photo-finish camera decides that in the race between the Bank of Israel and Bank Hapoalim, the Bank of Israel wins. That's because corruption, concealment and deception have permeated an institution that is supposed to serve as a beacon of justice and ethics.