Former Likud Activist Sent to Probe Political Appointments at Ashdod Port

The Government Companies Authority, which intervenes elsewhere when necessary, is reluctant to intervene at the Ashdod Port.

The problematic response to the goings-on at Ashdod Port has taken a new and disturbing turn, this time from the government’s direction.

Last week, the Government Companies Authority sent its new coordinator of ports, Rafael Shukrun, to a meeting of Ashdod Port’s board of directors. The meeting was called to address complaints that high-ranking Likud officials were being appointed to positions in the port for political reasons. Now it has been learned that Shukrun is himself a former Likud activist.

Port officials say that Shukrun is a former member of a Likud group at Bar-Ilan University. He was hired by the Government Companies Authority about eight months ago and has not yet received a permanent appointment. Before coming to the Government Authorities Company, Shukrun was an assistant of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud). Yet despite his political background, Shukrun was appointed to the sensitive post of ports coordinator.

Two weeks ago, TheMarker published a six-page letter that Shuki Sagis, CEO of the Ashdod Port Company, sent to the port’s board of directors accusing board chairman Gideon Sitterman and his office of improper management practices.

In his letter Sagis claimed that Sitterman had asked him, supposedly on behalf of Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, to give a young woman who was close to a prominent Likud activist a job in the port’s communications department. Sagis wrote that the board chairman’s chief of staff had even said, “It’s important that she receives a salary of NIS 20,000 per month and a car.” He claimed further that Sitterman met in his home with Alon Hassan, the chairman of the port’s operations committee, about appointing the woman to the position.

Sagis also wrote that at one point Sitterman gave him a list of six candidates for jobs as stevedores at the port, describing them as “important to the minister.” Among the candidates was the son of his own bureau chief, Likud activist Daniel Halfin.

Sitterman and Katz strongly denied the accusations. In a response to a call from TheMarker, Sitterman said, “It’s my word against theirs. I never received any request from the minister about influencing the outcome of a tender or an appointment to a position, and I never gave a list to anyone.”

Regarding the request to give the young woman a job at the port’s communications department – which did not happen in the end – Sitterman said the post was a temporary position offered through a personnel contracting firm. “People made a mountain out of a molehill over it,” he said.

Last Thursday, Sitterman responded to the accusations against him at a special board meeting held at the port. The Government Companies Authority chose not to send a special inspector of its own to the meeting. Instead, it sent Shukrun, despite his lack of experience.

Shukrun refused to comment.

A Finance Ministry official commented, “According to the civil service bylaws, there is no obstacle to Shukrun serving as a coordinator in the Government Companies Authority.”

The Government Companies Authority does not intervene
Despite the reports about what is happening at the port, including the sanctions it has imposed, the Government Companies Authority does not intervene in what goes on there. This lack of intervention is not a recent occurrence.

For about a year and a half, the port has had no deputy director general or legal adviser, in violation of directives from the Government Companies Authority itself. Although the authority has intervened in similar cases in the past that involved other government companies, this time it has refrained from taking similar enforcement measures. In addition, the Ashdod Port had no chairman of its board of directors for about a year, between 2011 and 2012.

In the past, ports industry officials have said that political pressure applied by the port has made government officials reluctant to intervene. As a consequence, the port has been left to its own devices and the state has lost control of all that happens there.

The Government Companies Authority has had no permanent director general for almost a year since Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz disbanded the search committee he appointed and made Roni Friedman, the ministry’s deputy director general, its temporary director general. Also, the authority has had no legal adviser for several months since Avigail Zarbiv, who held the position, left several months ago over internal conflicts there.
 

Ilya Melnikov