Taking Stock / I, Speck of Dust

"Who are you?"

"I'm Gideon."

"That wasn't what I meant. Who are you, who's your contact, how did you get here?"

"I'm not connected to anybody. I'm a speck of dust, a little manufacturer who won a tender."

"But where did you pop up from?"

Gideon (who asked that his full name remain confidential) is a little Israeli manufacturer of infrastructure products. Two years ago he bid in a tender to supply a certain basic product to one of Israel's large national authorities. Moments before the tender closed, he decided that he had to win in order to bolster his status in the market: He lowered his price, and clinched the deal.

A few weeks later, when in mid-production, he was summoned by the procurement manager of the said authority, and held the dialog with which we began.

When asked, "but where did you pop up from?" he understood the direction of the conversation.

"I didn't pop up. I submitted a good price for the best product and I won."

The procurement manager was losing patience. "I think you should forget about the tender," he said.

"Why should I do that? I played by the rules and I won," Gideon said.

"You'll do it because there are large contractors that have been supplying the product for many years. That is how they make their living."

"And now it's my time. I also want to be big some day."

"No, chum, you're announcing that you're waiving the tender, or things won't go well for you."

Things didn't go well

Gideon decided to do no such thing, and a few months later he supplied the goods on time. A few days afterwards, he received a letter from the authority, announcing that the tender had been canceled and the goods were unneeded. He was therefore asked to come and take them back.

Gideon wasn't about to take that lying down. He sued and the case is ongoing. Meanwhile, he's told the authority that it should return the products.

But here he had another surprise in store. Out of the hundreds of products he had sold to the authority, a third had disappeared. Where were they? They had been sold, he found out. Units that had been supplied, but not paid for, had been sold by the authority.

Gideon asked why the authority had sold goods that it had not paid for, and was told: "They were lying around because nobody came to pick them up."

Last week Gideon told us his story, just as the civil service wages report was making waves. In TheMarker story on the report, Gideon read about a number of workers at that same authority, and on wage costs for hundreds of people, running between NIS 20,000 a month to NIS 40,000 a month (each) in the same sector.

He refuses to be named in full, as he hasn't yet despaired of getting most of the money he's due from the authority. They might even do business in the future, because now he understands how business is done.

How business is done

The inflated salaries in the public sector are the tip of the iceberg of rot at many government institutions and monopolies. The bigger problem is that there are thousands of unnecessary jobs and waste of billions on unnecessary procurement, not to mention bribes, big and small.

The wages report doesn't even touch on the rampant nepotism at the government authorities, companies and bodies. Nor does it mention the sick symbiosis between the party centers and the unions, and the power centers at the government bodies.

If the government would force private companies that win tenders to publish their financial statements, and the lists of their directors and managers, then the public sector wages report would pale into insignificance, next to the millions that cronies of government officials are raking in.

Last week the deputy major of Petah Tikva, Sinai Gilboa, who also served as the chairman of its Planning & Construction Committee, resigned. Gilboa had taken NIS 15 million from the Dan bus cooperative for helping it obtain building rights from the Petah Tikva Planning & Construction Committee, the State Comptroller reported.

"I decided to crack down on myself," Gilboa explains his resignation.

One has to laugh when reading that quote: a clerk who thinks that resigning after being caught by the State Comptroller taking an NIS 15 million bribe, constitutes a crack-down.

Then one stops laughing and starts to wonder how many Sinai Gilboas are out there, in the local authorities, the authorities, the public bodies, the Knesset, the government, at the Prime Minister's Office. How many people feel that a public job is simply a lever to feather their nests, and those of their friends, at the expense of the "specks of dust" - people like Gideon, who get up in the morning, go to work, pay taxes, serve in the army and think that everything will work out fairly in the end.