Taking Stock / Door to Corruption

A few hours after the cabinet approved one of the biggest reforms in the history of Israel's capital market on Sunday, the legislative ministerial committee convened.

Its agenda included a bill by Knesset members Gilad Erdan, Inbal Gavrieli, Daniel Benlulu and Michael Gorlovsky.

What did the foursome want? In one sentence, to go back in time. In two sentences, to give a perk to the Likud Central Committee members. And, in three, in the guise of improving the criteria for appointing directors to government companies and bodies, they wanted to make it easier to appoint Likud Central Committee members, like in the bad old times of yore.

After nepotism and cronyism spiraled out of control in the 1980s, the Knesset enacted a law about 12 years ago dictating special criteria under which affiliated party members and friends of politicians could be appointed to the boards of government companies and bodies.

The law ruled that any person with a political affiliation had to prove the possession of special skills for the job, beyond those of the other nonaffiliated candidates.

The Erdan-Gavrieli & Co. bill pretends to raise the bar even higher - not only would an academic degree be required, but so would three years of experience in the area relevant to the company's activity.

But the bill's real agenda hides in Article 81.C. Originally it stated: "If the appointments committee finds that the candidate for director, chairman or CEO at the government company has a personal, commercial or political affiliation with a government minister, his candidacy shall not be proposed unless he is found to possess special skills in the company's area of operations, or he has some other special skills beyond those required under this law for the position."

The change is subtle, very subtle. The Erdan-Gavrieli bill deleted the words "personal" and "political."

Meaning, Likud Central Committee members would no longer have to prove their "special skills" to the Ravivi committee, which vets civil service appointments. They would be exempt.

The very same Netanyahu

Erdan and Gavrieli's agenda is crystal clear. The central committee members are hungry for jobs and the Knesset members want to show they're working on their behalf.

Nor was it surprising to watch all the Likud ministers who sit on the legislative committee falling all over themselves to vote in favor of the bill.

But it was disappointing to see that Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was also one of its supporters.

Mere moments before, that same Netanyahu had pushed through a huge reform that tackles the tremendous conflicts of interest tainting the banks, a reform that seeks to birth a whole new capital market that protects investors' rights. Yes, that same Netanyahu who was prepared to take on the big banks is bowing to the Likud Central Committee and their envoys in the Knesset.

Questions to the finance minister's office yesterday resulted in the answer that the finance minister believes the law should be changed so he can appoint people affiliated politically or personally to himself. Netanyahu explains that he wants to copy the American system, where politicians appoint their loyal followers to office in order to implement the politicians' policies.

The American system

That may sound plausible in theory but reality is otherwise. What Erdan and Gavrieli want is to make it easier to appoint party people and their relatives to plum positions that today the Ravivi committee wouldn't give them, because they lack the fundamental skills.

Moreover, Netanyahu has proved in the last 18 months, in the professional appointments he has made to the civil service, that a finance minister can bring excellent people to implement his policy, without surrounding himself with cronies.

The finance minister, we were told, is aware of the difficulties inherent in appointing central committee insiders, so he suggested an amendment to the bill. In the future, too, central committee members would have to undergo the test of special skills.

So Bibi went half way. But he should go the other half, too. The Justice Ministry and the attorney general have already announced they will appeal the legislative committee's decision regarding the bill, because it creates opportunities for corruption.

They say, and rightly so, that the special requirements should apply not only to central committee members but to any person with any affiliation to the appointing politician. Netanyahu would do well to join them. He may lose points with the party but he will gain them with every single person he has been trying to persuade for two years now that he isn't the same old Bibi.