For almost four years the Israeli government took steps to expose the banks to competition. Two committees – the Baris Committee and Strum Committee – published a long series of recommendations designed to encourage the entry of non-bank credit providers, new banks and new technology (fintech).
But this step, with all its components, is now about to be halted due to the weakness of the new Capital Markets Authority chief, Moshe Bareket. The new head is avoiding supervision of non-bank competition and in effect is not promoting it. He is turning out to be the most significant threat to competition among the banks, and at the same time is taking steps to prevent competition in the insurance industry. Bareket is thereby joining a long series of weak regulators operating today in the government. Matanyahu Englman was appointed state comptroller by the Knesset, and his first step was to stop the publication of critical reports and demand that employees of the State Comptroller’s Office write more positive critiques. The Civil Service Commissioner, Daniel Hershkowitz, has not been in evidence at all since his appointment about a year ago, and has already been dubbed “the missing commissioner.”
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Although Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has been consistent in advancing the investigations of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he is turning out to be irresolute in other areas. Mendelblit finds it difficult to decide and tends to devolve responsibility onto others, as in the case of the ouster of Justice Ministry director-general Emi Palmor.
Netanyahu’s “spirit of the commander” – the choice of subservient regulators, yes-men – is permeating the other government ministries. It was Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon who appointed Bareket to his position, and the assumption is that Kahlon was also looking for an easy-going supervisor for himself after the dynamic, aggressive tenure of the previous supervisor, Dorit Salinger, on behalf of the insured.
The replacement of Uri Yogev by Yaakov Quint is another example of the same mindset. Yogev was a dominant head of the Government Companies Authority, one who dared to stop the wave of political appointments in the government companies made by the hand-picked boards of directors. Quint is far less active and far more easy-going. He suffers from the same syndrome: getting rid of independent, opinionated regulators who advance the public good rather than that of the political leadership, in favor of pliant regulators who serve private interests.
A government of weak officials is the overt aspiration of the Netanyahu government. After it crippled the Supreme Court, the Civil Service is now being crippled as well – the main thing is that nobody will curb the ministers, or bother them with issues of checks and balances in a democratic regime.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.
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