Danon: Ministers Folded, Bill to Abolish Bank Fees Died in C'tee

Two legislative proposals to abolish service fees on checking accounts are probably dead in the water after the Ministerial Committee on Legislation rejected both yesterday without a single voice of dissent.

The bills can still be brought before the Knesset as private member bills. But the committee's rejection means that the coalition has officially turned down the proposals.

As private member bills rather than legislative proposals approved by the government, the process in parliament is different. A government bill goes directly on the agenda and then straight for its first of three readings.

A private member's bill must go before the Knesset speaker, who must approve putting it on the agenda. It then waits at least 45 days for inspection by the legal adviser and only then comes up for a preliminary reading by the Knesset. If it passes all those hurdles, it either gets sent to committee for further work or put up for its first reading.

"The ministers folded before the steamroller of the bank managers and decided to continue increasing the private bank account of the CEOs at the expense of the public," said Danny Danon of Likud, father of one of the bills.

The second bill had been submitted by Faina Kirschenbaum of Yisrael Beiteinu.

Banks weren't the only ones heatedly opposed to the bills. So were Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer and supervisor of banks Rony Hizkiyahu.

Both Danon and Kirschenbaum suggested abolishing 13 service fees charged by banks, including on withdrawing cash, printing out bank-account information, transfers from one account to another, making deposits, cashing checks, depositing a check whether through a teller or bank machine, paying bills, making change, credit-card charges, and providing information of any type.

Both Knesset members had a number of MKs behind them and plan to proceed with the legislative process. But without the coalition's support, their chances are slim.

Following the committee's rejection, the two asked the coalition authorities for permission to allow Knesset members to vote freely, without imposing coalition discipline. The answer was no.

However, Carmel Shama of Likud, who had endorsed Danon's bill, said it had been unwise to insist on raising the proposals at the legislative committee at this time. He had urged that the move be postponed. "The outcome is damage to the legislative process and to the concept itself," Shama said yesterday.

Shama proposes a meeting with Hizkiyahu to reach a meeting of minds on the issue.

Kirschenbaum accused the Bank of Israel of protecting the banks while ignoring the public interest. "Even sadder, the ministerial committee decided to support that narrow, biased behavior, instead of considering the public good," she charged.

The Association of Banks in Israel said that the committee's decision shows that common sense won against the "insane campaign" by the Israel Consumer Council. "The Israeli consumer receives good banking services at low cost (NIS 18 a month, according to Bank of Israel figures) compared with the global average. Legislative intervention was unnecessary from the outset," the association said.