Taking Stock / The Power Monopoly's Corrupt Power

We have known many sad moments in recent years as corruption spread throughout Israel, becoming more brazen than ever before.

One of the worst offenders of all passed away two weeks ago: the chairman of the Israel Electric Corporation workers committee, Yoram Oberkovitch.

They say a society is measured by the way it treats its elderly. You could also say that a society is measurable by its treatment of the dead: who gets a pauper's burial, and who gets royal treatment complete with eulogies by the nation's dignitaries.

Oberkovitch passed on to the sound of speeches from the nation's political leaders, who waxed eloquent on his tremendous contribution to the economy, his sense of justice and his unparalleled achievements.

What exactly was Oberkovitch's contribution? That he roughly wrested inflated salaries and undeserved bonuses for the power monopoly's employees? He was not a classic labor leader, he was the chief of a powerful clique of bloated, rich government workers.

How did his purported sense of justice come into play? Was it through his criminal conviction? The corruption charges, which were voided by his demise, or his reputation as an absolute master at wheeling, dealing and getting jobs for the boys?

One is not supposed to speak ill of the dead. Death is a time to comfort the bereaved family and forgive and forget past sins.

But the gushing, effusive embrace of Oberkovitch by public figures is sickening and the idea of renaming the Rutenberg power facility in his honor is the ultimate symbol of the rot spreading through Israeli society.

Yesterday, when the State Comptroller published his report, we were reminded that Oberkovitch was more than a ruthless workers committee leader. He was emblematic of a whole system that watchdog Eliezer Goldberg exposed when describing the stunning scope of nepotism at the IEC.

With Oberkovitch ruling the roost, the IEC hired 1,100 sons and daughters of IEC employees. The best treatment was reserved for the kinfolk of the IEC workers secretariat, headed by Oberkovitch. No less than 65 percent of them have at least one family member working at the IEC, and 11 have three offspring on the payroll.

Here's more. No less than 44 percent of the human resources managers, and 41 percent of the retirees from the utility's upper echelons, and 37 percent of the incumbent management have at least one relative on the work force. Some 200 employees have three relatives they could meet in the company lunchrooms.

The numbing details go on and on, but the message is clear as day: the IEC is a government monopoly financed by taxpayers' money in which the jobs and perks are passed on from generation to generation.

The comptroller found similar shenanigans at El Al, just on a somewhat smaller scope. One may assume that the same is true of the other government monopolies at which officials get salaries double, triple and five times the average wage.

Is there some problem here?

The nepotism so deeply ingrained in the IEC workers committee is corrupt and aggravating. But the really astonishing thing is the unwavering support the practice has at the management echelon, which is supposed to supervise the workers while guarding the interests of shareholders and taxpayers too.

Instead of the IEC's chief executive immediately advising the State Comptroller that he will uproot the nepotistic culture that has spread throughout the IEC, instead of submitting a plan to the government to abolish the practice, what the management immediately set out to do was defend the habit:

"Granting priority to a worker's relative in hiring, assuming the candidate has identical skills to those of an external candidate, complies with the principle of organizational commitment in which the IEC believes," the company wrote in response to the charges.

Two weeks ago, Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spearheaded a courageous move to replace the managers of Israel's veteran pension funds with trustees, acting in the treasury's name. The appointments followed the consistently dismal mismanagement and looting of public money by the Histadrut's managers.

The same should be done at the IEC. Its board should be disbanded, its management ousted, its workers committee liquidated and the whole enchilada placed under the supervision of trustee managers who will keep in mind that the power monopoly is not their private domain.