Political Appointments? Don't Be Silly

Sometimes it's fun to spoil the conventional wisdom, so here goes. It is not true that the only thing Israel's ministers care about is political appointments.

In fact, one has to suspect that the last thing they care about right now is political appointments. The fact is that at least 200 political appointments are sitting there waiting to be manned, but the ministers are otherwise occupied with more important things.

Simply, some 200 directors' seats at government companies are sitting there empty. The state has the right (and the duty) to appoint representatives on its behalf to supervise affairs at these government companies. But it is ignoring the whole thing.

At five government companies, the un of unmanned directors' positions is so great that there is no quorum on the board of directors. A quorum is the minimal number of directors required under law to pass material decisions. In short, these companies are as paralyzed as mammoths in ice. No major decisions can be reached.

One of these paralyzed companies is a wee thing known as Israel Railways.

It is true that Israel Railways is in the middle of a gigantic NIS 20 billion investment plan, and that its managerial resources are being distracted by a police investigation into a train accident three months ago.

But as far as the ministers responsible for it are concerned (Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz and Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson), none of the above is reason to hasten to appoint directors to Israel Railways. Or, to appoint a chairman to its board: for half a year, Israel Railways has been muddling along with no chairman. We can definitely reach conclusions about the importance the ministers relate to this company, which transports 30 million passengers a year.

But to be fair, it is not that the two ministers ignore managerial issues at Israel Railways. The fact is that each of them suggested a candidate to chair the company, and each named the same type: a lawyer.

The Transport minister suggested the lady legal counsel of the Israel Land Administration, while the finance minister is plugging the lady legal counsel of the Finance Ministry. Note that word lady.

Cherchez la femme

Both women have excellent professional reputations and we can only regret on their behalf, and on behalf of the female sex, that the main reason they're being nominated is because they are female.

We can also only regret on behalf of the people of Israel, that in the competition between the ministers over who advances the cause of women the most, the burning needs of Israel Railways are being completely neglected.

The battle between the ministers over Israel Railways is no rarity. Among the missing 200 directors at government companies are at least ten chairs to lead the board.

The Israel Electric Corporation for instance, a company boasting NIS 18 billion in annual revenues and thousands upon thousands of employees -? there has been no chairman for two months.  We may assume that at least one more month will pass before somebody is nominated, probably the lead candidate Roni Milo (formerly the mayor of Tel Aviv). And the case of the IEC is a mild one, because it's so big and prominent, and because the prime minister himself intervened and pushed his candidate, Milo, down the ministers' throats.

The Ta'as Military Industries is not so lucky. It is at a critical stage of its career, teetering between utter collapse and privatization. But it hasn't had a chairman for three months, and in the absence of one, the board can't make the decisions it needs to. Yet the Finance and Defense ministers seem not to care.

The Rafael armaments authority has no chairman and no candidates, either, and that's been the case for two months.

The Israel Aircraft Authority, which is under a State Comptroller inquiry over political appointments and nepotism, hasn't had a chairman for a year. There the Transport ministry, Shaul Mofaz, does have a candidate: Ovadia Eli, who's already chaired two government companies, Oil Refineries and the Military Industries, with results that are mired in controversy.

We haven't even mentioned Mekorot (1 month no chairman), Israel Ports (year and a half, no chairman), or the Israel Broadcasting Authority. But you get the picture. Public assets worth tens of billions of shekels are ambling along with zero supervision, and without the state exercising its ownership rights or duties.

That is putting it politely. To put it less politely, the state has abandoned them. Why? Because the ministers in charge have more important things to do, than to manage the public assets for which they are responsible.