State Hiding Criticism of Gas Deal’s Costs for Israelis

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Weekly cabinet meeting in June, 2015.Credit: Alex Kolomoiski

The “public hearing” about the proposed gas deal is turning into an unfunny joke. The start of the week marked the end of the very brief time period – 21 days – allotted by the government for submitting positions and objections to the proposed gas deal. Due to High Court intervention, two days of hearings were also allotted – but the state reserves the exclusive right to say who gets to appear before it. And it appears that even this little bit is tainted by an extreme lack of transparency: The Energy Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office are determined to conceal from the public the opinion submitted to the hearing by the Electricity Authority. And they have very good reason to keep it in the dark.

The Electricity Authority is a state regulatory authority under the jurisdiction of the Energy Ministry. Among its tasks is examining and approving purchase agreements between natural gas consumers and suppliers. Last year, authority head Orit Farkash-Hacohen commissioned a report by international energy expert Sergio Ascari, whose analysis pointed out numerous problems with the local gas market.

The Electricity Authority was asked to present its official position in preparation for the public hearing. And last week it submitted such a document to the Energy Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office – which are compiling the material for the hearing. The document is lengthy and detailed, and explicitly critical of the proposed gas plan, charging that in the coming years it will pass on billions of dollars in costs to electricity consumers in Israel. Which was apparently an excellent reason to shelve the document.

Contrary to the public interest, as well as to the basic fairness required for the hearing to serve its purpose, the Energy Ministry and Prime Minister’s Office decided not to inform the public of the position of the regulatory body that officially, on a daily basis, deals with gas agreements and their implications for electricity production and costs.

The Electricity Authority: “At its last meeting on July 20, the Electricity Authority decided on its official position. This position was sent to the minister of national infrastructure, energy and water.”

Minister Yuval Steinitz’s office says, “The energy minister continually consults on various matters that concern his ministry with the professional bodies such as the Gas Authority, the Electricity Authority, the Electricity Administration and so on …”

Haaretz requested comment from the Prime Minister’s Office but none has been received. The same goes for the request to see the position paper submitted by the Electricity Authority.

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