The Bottom Line / Seven Lean Years

Last week, Jacob Razon announced he plans to step down as CEO of the Israel Electric Corporation in June. should Razon be asked to stay?

Last week, Jacob Razon announced he plans to step down as CEO of the Israel Electric Corporation in June. National Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer asked him to stay on in light of the company's major upcoming projects: converting electricity generation to natural gas, building reserve capacity and implementing reforms in the sector.

Considering these three issues, should Razon be asked to stay?

The Electric Corp. is way behind on gas conversion. The Reading generating plant was supposed to switch to natural gas from crude oil on January 1. Nothing doing. Reading continues to foul the air and ruin the health of residents of Shikun Lamed, Ramat Aviv and the rest of north Tel Aviv.

This wasn't the first hold up. Back in `93 the Electric Corp. promised to install equipment to reduce particule emissions at Reading. But the installation wasn't put in because in `95 they started to talk about going over to natural gas.

The gas project has also been pushed back year after year. Meanwhile, air pollution kills 1,500 Tel Aviv residents each year. Car exhaust is the main culprit, and Reading is number two.

Nepotism has also raised its ugly head at IEC. Father brings son, brother, uncle and friend. Zion Lugsi, chairman of the IEC's Southern District workers committee, has managed to get 15 relatives jobs at the company.

The state comptroller has knocked the phenomenon, saying the corporation is run as if it were the private property of its senior staff. Management's shameless response: "There is a long-standing tradition of sons following in their fathers' footsteps at the corporation, and this practice should be encouraged."

The company rarely places want ads in the papers. Nepotism at the expense of the public has turned into a guiding principle on Razon's watch.

The IEC is also way behind on building up its reserve generating capacity. Every year there are power outages in entire areas, in the depths of winter or at the peak of the summer. This kind of thing is no longer acceptable in modern societies.

The IEC is currently running a campaign telling us that, "It's important to us to give you a reliable and professional service, everywhere and all the time." What's more important to customers than reliability? Reliability!

Last Thursday there was a power outage in Ramat Aviv. Suddenly at 1:30 in the afternoon, the electricity went off. The PC went dead, data was lost, everything in the house stopped. The power came back after two minutes. But only for two seconds. Every appliance in the house received a shock and turned off again. This time they took time to start up again.

The IEC didn't say a word. It didn't apologize either. Everyone had to pay for appliance repairs on their own.

Razon is quiting in an attempt to delay reform of the electricity market, to stymie the intentions of IEC Chairman Shlomo Rothman. These are important reforms needed to introduce competition to the generation and distribution of electricity, to lower prices and improve customer service and reliability. Reliability!

A similar process is taking place now at the ports. The reforms are good for the customers and whoever gets in the way - should quit.