The Bottom Line / Not the Very Modern Model

Deputy Attorney-General Davida Lehman-Masser last week disqualified the candidacy of Major General Yaakov Raz for the position of CEO of Israel Railways. Lehman-Masser considered Raz's candidacy according to the criteria as set down by the Government Companies Authority, and found him wanting. The examination arose in connection to Raz's corporate experience and his suitability for the position.

Lehman-Masser determined that the railways board had insisted that the main condition (with 35 percent weighting) for the job was proven and significant business management ability. She further determined that Raz failed to meet this minimum qualification, and that his former positions (in the police force) had been characterized by command.

For this reason, Lehman-Masser concluded Raz could not be awarded the full points for this category, nor the higher points awarded by the railways board.

Raz, head of the police traffic department since 2001, was recommended to the post by Transport Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and was chosen by the railways board in December 2003.

Raz's attorney Moshe Israel, responded to the disqualification: "Apart from the personal circumstances, the opinion has far-reaching and serious implications, as, among other things, [Lehman-Masser] disqualifies the most senior officers of the police force and the army - including the chief of staff - from filling managerial positions in the public-business sector."

Raz's attempt to drag into the argument police major generals and army officers is out of place as the decision was quite specific to him, and not a disqualification for the entire defense establishment.

Nevertheless, the position of Lehman-Masser and the Government Companies Authority is refreshing as it reflects a repudiation of the old agreement that any retired general be appointed to some comfy post in a state-owned company with no experience or business background. One does not have to stand to attention every time an army or police officer becomes available, particularly as it often involves positions of moving large sums of public money.

The railways case is a fine example when administrative ability is not enough, but a business background and understanding is also required. The railway network faces its largest investment program ever, with estimated figures of over NIS 20 billion for the coming years. Such plans involve tenders, contracts, supply deals, financing, marketing and planning. Could you really consider someone with no commercial mileage up for the job?

The railways board has been exposed in its nakedness, because despite the board agreeing that the post calls for business acumen, it nevertheless subordinated its requirements, and tried squeezing the wrong foot into the slipper. Now there is no campaign here against army officers and police major generals, but Raz, simply, was no Cinderella.