The Bottom Line / Dopey, Grumpy and Greedy

Ehud Olmert. Last week, ministers Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu removed state regulation of flour prices for three months.

Ehud Olmert. Last week, ministers Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu removed state regulation of flour prices for three months. This is something that should have been done a long time ago, because there is an excess supply of some 60 percent in the market and deregulating the sector will lead to efficiencies and lower prices - and the consumer will benefit.

All of which is true for a free market. But there has long been a suspicion that the flour sector operates as a cartel, with state regulation aiding the culprits to stitch up the market by fixing the price too high. To ensure fair competition, Antitrust Commissioner Dror Strum sent in his officials to several of the largest flour mills on the same day (May 12) that the government removed regulation. During the raid, they collected documentation and questioned managers under caution, to check whether there truly is a cartel operating.

Olmert did not want to deregulate the sector. He wanted to see the price of flour rise 5 percent, and to continue regulation, because then he can keep his political oar in, with the flour mill owners paying him homage. But the treasury was agin, and the regulation fell.

The raid did its job. Despite the flour manufacturers claiming that the price needed to rise some 20 percent just to cover their costs, behold, up to today the price has not edged up one agora.

Effi Eitam. The ministerial committee on the constitution approved a bill this week proposed by Avraham Poraz to keep summer time all year round. In other words, in winter, the clocks will be one hour ahead, and in the summer two hours. This would save the country millions of shekels a year.

Netanyahu did not attend the meeting. Could he be sizing up the religious vote already? Natan Sharansky, Yehudit Naot and Avraham Poraz voted in favor. Effi Eitam and Benny Elon voted against. They have a problem with the shaharit morning prayers in the winter. Maybe they should consider the following: Keep the current system but move the clocks two hours forward in the months June, July, August. Then we wouldn't get up when the sun's already hot, and in the evening we will have time to spend with our families and what have you before it gets dark.

Uri Yogev. At the end of April, Yogev resigned as budgets director of the treasury. However it so happens that he is still trawling the corridors there but now as a "special adviser" on port reforms. Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander approved this exceptional arrangement until the end of July. In employing Yogev there is clearly a conflict of interest, as he is now on the way to the private sector. The whole thing smacks of providing a job at the going director-general's rate (NIS 32,000 a month) for his "cooling off period" [between a senior position in the public sector and a job in the private sector].

And it's difficult to be impressed with Yogev's achievements regarding the ports reform. Netanyahu promised that the reforms would be implemented by January 2004, and if not, he would introduce immediate legislation. Four months have since passed and nothing has happened. That's some success!