Failure Has Many Fathers

The Israel Electric Corporation is a hot potato. Everyone knows that it requires a major reform, but the politicians are afraid to tangle with the company's powerful union. Therefore, they keep throwing the hot potato back and forth, hoping it will not end up with them.

Former finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu actually tried to deal with the problem. Three years ago, in May 2003, he enacted the electricity reform as part of the Economic Arrangements Law. It called for splitting the IEC in three - one company for production, one for conveyance, and one for distribution.

But the union exerted pressure, and Netanyahu got scared. He established a committee, headed by the Finance Ministry's director general, which included representatives of both IEC management and its workers. And that, of course, was a guaranteed recipe for killing the reform.

The main stumbling block was IEC management, which torpedoed every proposal - despite the fact that the IEC is a state-owned company obligated to carrying out government decisions. Former infrastructure minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer was another major obstacle: He sided with the union in the hopes that this would help him in the Labor Party primaries. It did not. But it did equally little to advance the reform.

The treasury is also guilty. Senior ministry officials fell asleep at their posts. They were not determined; they did not push the matter and convince their minister to move forward. Ehud Olmert, who replaced Netanyahu, did not advance the reform by a single millimeter.

Thus in the end, there was no choice but to postpone implementation for a year.

In one sense, the reform's chances now look better than before, because the IEC has a new CEO, and Ben-Eliezer is no longer infrastructure minister. But who knows who the next infrastructure minister will be? And the IEC's workers are lying in wait for him. Perhaps he will once again save them from reform.