Convert Communications Ministry Into Agency, Treasury Staff Suggest

Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon has been an ardent supporter of transforming the ministry into a professionally-run authority.

Finance Ministry officials are pushing for the abolition of the Communications Ministry in favor of a professionally-run regulatory agency, as is common in other countries. Prior to the election, Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon announced that he would be leaving politics, and the Finance Ministry staff see this as an opportunity to eliminate the post in the next cabinet.

The proposal from the Finance Ministry may dovetail with the stance expressed by Yair Lapid, the head of the Yesh Atid party, which is expected to be a coalition partner. Lapid has called for a leaner, smaller cabinet, suggesting that it be limited to 18 members, in contrast to the 30 or so ministries that existed in the outgoing government.

Kahlon has been an ardent supporter of transforming the ministry into a professionally-run authority. He even proposed legislation that would have made the switch but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apparently put a halt to the process, out of concern that it would deprive him of a cabinet position that he could offer in the formation of the next government. A source at the Prime Minister’s Office said, however, that contrary to such reports, Netanyahu has not expressed a position on the issue.

The idea of converting the Communications Ministry into a government agency has been raised periodically since 1996, with widespread support at the professional level from communications companies and the Finance Ministry. About a year ago, the Finance Ministry commissioned a study from the Shaldor consulting firm on the prospect of converting the Communications Ministry into a government authority that would not be headed by a cabinet minister.

“Almost all of the developed countries have adopted the communications authority model,” the resulting study said. “Israel is being left behind. Of the 33 OECD countries [the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which represents the world’s developed countries, including Israel], 31 have communications authorities and Japan is currently setting one up.” Shaldor said the regulatory agency model provides the advantage that professional decisions would not be influenced by political considerations and would also create more certainty for investors.

Just over a decade ago, the ministry suffered a high turnover of ministers and had difficulty setting and implementing long-term policy. In 2007, then State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss issued a report supporting the switch, noting that it had also been backed by four separate cabinet resolutions and had reached the stage of draft legislation.

Moti Milrod