The Bottom Line / Make Way! Small Country Coming Through

A visitor from Mars swooping down on a UN conference or IMF get-together would think that the world was controlled by the African states.

Sharon. A visitor from Mars swooping down on a UN conference or IMF get-together would think that the world was controlled by the African states. Because these nations send vast delegations to these affairs, while the European delegations are more modest. The joke goes that the poorer and less developed the country, the more bloated its delegations are.

Of course the joke is only funny if it doesn't rebound on ourselves. But Ariel Sharon, with characteristic contempt for state money or public opinion, will be leaving this week for a visit to India with an entourage of 150 (!!) people, including ministers, advisers, business people, figures from the arts world, journalists and security personnel. A veritable Byzantine souk. The king distributes gifts to his subjects, and they swear allegiance to him. And all at the expense of the taxpayer.

Netanyahu. There is nothing a finance minister enjoys more than appointing a tax commissioner or head of the VAT department. These are hotly contested posts, and with them come opportunities to fill other positions, so more chances to pay back favors to party cronies. So it is all the more commendable that Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to merge the tax departments and abolish the treasury's Incomes Department. The shake-up will make the work more efficient, as well as saving hundreds of jobs in one fell swoop. The same goes for combining the Wages section with the Civil Service Commission. It will cut the number of those enjoying director-general rank in the treasury by a third, and make it all that more difficult for other cabinet ministers to prevent similar cost-cutting measures in their own backyards, which the treasury hacks are now preparing.

Ben-Chelouche. Members of Histadrut-run pension funds - that's half a million people - are about to get a triple whammy. Their contributions to the funds are to jump by 2 percent, their retirement age is going up to 67 and those already receiving pensions, will have to pay a "management fee" of 2 percent.

Eyal Ben-Chelouche, the treasury's supervisor of the Capital Market, Pensions and Insurance, wants to improve the way pensions are updated, which currently depends on whether an economy-wide cost-of-living bonus is paid. And what if it isn't? There are occasions, after a dull year, when a symbolic one shekel C-o-L increment is paid, and that then allows all the pensions to be updated. And this is exactly what happened in recent years. So when an uneventful year passes, and no C-o-L increment is paid, the pension loses value, and the pensioners suffer.

Ben-Chelouche proposes that the update be automatic, with no conditionality on the C-o-L bonus. He suggests that if inflation goes beyond a certain level, then the pension automatically goes up, to minimize the erosion.

But this doesn't seem quite right. People make their contributions to the pension funds each month, so why aren't the pensions updated accordingly? Actually the new pension funds, run according to actuarial balances, are upgraded monthly according to the rate of inflation, so why not let the new funds do so too - once they clear their deficits by implementing their recovery plans.