New Heights of Hypocrisy

So who wants privatization anyway? Who is the idiot who wants to replace the excellent service that is provided today by the public sector?

There is nothing more frightening than privatization. It is a truism that the public receives excellent services at the highest level from the state. Similarly, it is a truism that state employees are the most trustworthy workers in the world and would do anything in their power to better serve the public. Politicians, too, are all saints: They have no personal aims or conflicts of interests, and their only desire is to promote the public good. So who wants privatization anyway? Who is the idiot who wants to replace the excellent service that is provided today by the public sector?

So what if for decades we have been grumbling about the shameful state of the prisons but doing nothing about it? And what about the prisoners, the vast majority of whom grew up disadvantaged, and who are sleeping six to a 10-square-meter cell with a stinking hole in the floor for a toilet? So what if some of them sleep on the floor, in extremes of heat and cold? So what if some of the facilities are left over from the British Mandate or even from the Turks? So what if the prisons have long since become universities for criminal studies because there are no rehabilitation programs?

On one hand, the weeping will continue over the prisoners' cruel fate and loss of humanity, while on the other hand, whenever a practical solution is proposed, the "social welfare camp" will rise up in protest.

This week the justices of the Supreme Court ordered the state, within 30 days, to justify its intention to establish a private prison and to explain why such a prison would not violate the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty. The justices did not ask why this constitutional law is being violated on a daily basis in the prisons operated by the beneficent state, without privatization and without greedy capitalism.

The "social welfare" types oppose all privatization. They opposed the privately built and operated Highway 6 (which brought the country's periphery closer to the center). They opposed the privatization of Bezeq, the national phone company (which advanced telecommunications by decades). They opposed the privatization of Egged, the national bus transportation cooperative (despite the fact that the price of a ride from Tel Aviv to Be'er Sheva dropped from NIS 22 to NIS 13.7 as a result). And now they are opposing the privatization of the prisons. They claim that a private prison would damage the fabric of democratic life, because questionable economic interests would persuade the justice system to prefer longer custodial sentences to rehabilitation. So what has prevented them from promoting rehabilitation up to now?

About six months ago, a company controlled by Africa Israel Investments Group was awarded a tender to build and operate the first private prison in Israel. The privatization model is a British one that calls for close supervision of the private operator by the Prisons Service, in order to ensure that prisoners' rights and proper conditions are maintained. A consultative committee headed by a retired judge will submit an annual report to the Knesset on conditions in the facility.

To prevent any undue influence from being exercised over any judge or parole board, the operator will be paid according to the number of available cells and not according to the number of prisoners being held. The tender defines the minimum living space for each prisoner as 4.5 square meters, but Africa Israel, that wicked capitalist entity, will provide 5.28 square meters. Visits will be allowed five days a week - far more frequently than what is currently permitted under the merciful and compassionate management of the state.

The franchisee is obligated to comply with 71 different guidelines or risk immediate and significant fines. Violations include, for example, failure to provide food in accordance with detailed specifications, failure to uphold any of the prisoners' rights or a reduction in the number of hours devoted to vocational training. Is there such a standard today?

And if all this were not enough, due to the government's well-known efficiency, the state will be able to save NIS 320 million over the course of the 25-year franchise as a result of privatization.

But why provide so many facts? Why bother with logic? Opposition to all privatization is the knee-jerk response of all those who claim to be "socially" oriented. The way they see it, the state is the best manager of all (as in the Soviet Union), while businesspeople are evil, greedy capitalists and Thatcherites.