Habayit Hayehudi party leader Naftali Bennett is not only slated to become the new government’s minister of industry, trade and labor − he is also tabbed to head a cabinet committee to seek ways of reducing the cost of living and breaking up the concentration of economic power. Meanwhile, Bennett’s ministry is to be renamed the Economics and Trade Ministry.
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In negotiations on the formation of a new government, Bennett demanded that efforts be made to pass legislation already submitted to the Knesset on the issue of corporate concentration of economic power. The bill would limit the number of tiers of corporate control that consortiums could maintain. It would also curb joint control of financial firms with companies engaged in businesses beyond the financial sector. Bennett has sought to have such a law passed before the Knesset approves the budget for this year and next.
As of the end of last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party had not responded to Bennett’s demand, which also included tougher terms for an economic concentration bill than outgoing Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz had advocated. Steinitz wanted the ban on cross-ownership of financial and non-financial companies to come into effect after six years, while Bennett demanded a four-year limit, as proposed by an official committee empanelled to make recommendations on the issue.
The economic concentration bill received preliminary approval in the last Knesset, but Netanyahu and the Knesset speaker at the time, Reuven Rivlin, agreed to delay final passage until after the January Knesset election. If the legislative process is not to start from scratch in the new Knesset, the new government will have to invoke a procedure to have the bill carried over to the new parliament for consideration by the new Knesset Finance Committee. If that is to be done, the new finance minister, slated to be Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, will be required to formally make such a request to the Knesset secretariat.
The ministerial committee to be headed by Bennett is not expected to be the only cabinet-level committee formed to deal with economic issues. Yesh Atid’s coalition agreement also calls for the convening of a ministerial committee on housing issues to be headed by Lapid himself. Yesh Atid expects to deal with the cost of housing through this group as the Housing and Construction Ministry is locked in for Habayit Hayehudi’s Uri Ariel.
Yesh Atid sources say Lapid’s cabinet-level committee will be used to further the party’s plans to encourage rental housing. Its program calls for construction of thousands of new rental housing units in the major cities.