The Bottom Line / Too Creative for Our Own Good

It is not at all clear why the state cannot sell the controlling stake in Leumi in a straightforward way.

After 22 years, the state finally intends to sell Bank Leumi. But even this time the sale is tainted by an overdose of creativity. It is very nice to be creative, it is much more interesting, much more fulfilling, but it usually results in making things unnecessarily complicated and pushing costs higher.

It is not at all clear why the state cannot sell the controlling stake in Leumi in a straightforward way, just as it sold banks Hapoalim, Mizrahi and Discount. Do they always have to find a way to complicate matters? Do they always have to be creative?

As a result of all the previous creativity, we wasted two full years when we could have completed the sale via a normal process, including all of the Bank of Israel's vetting.

All this happened because the treasury's accountant general, Yaron Zelekha, wanted to turn the Israeli economy into an experimental laboratory, and to distribute the shares free of charge to the general public - a process that was disqualified, luckily, by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The process that Zelekha unveiled this week proposes that 9.99 percent of the bank's shares will be sold by November 7, without any conditions or commitments on the part of the buyers. The buyers will also receive an option to buy the state's remaining 10.01 percent share of the bank, after receiving approval from the Bank of Israel, and thereby becoming the controlling shareholder in the bank.

But there is a fear that the purchaser will buy the shares only as a financial investment, and not continue the process of buying out the controlling shareholding; or even sell part of the shares. This means that the bank would continue to function for a long period without owners and this is bad for the bank and the economy.

Leumi's shares are now trading at a record price. Also the international political climate is good, now, after the disengagement. Therefore, the correct thing to do is to sell the controlling interest in a simple, one step manner by publishing an international tender. Enough with the creativity.

Club Med

The Club Med chain wants to rebuild its club on the beach at Achziv. The chain ran the local club until June 1995, when a Katyusha rocket from Lebanon killed one of the employees and wounded eight people.

The club closed officially in August 1997. Since then the situation in the north has changed completely. The 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon has breathed new life into the north, and now the chain wants to return to the good old days and completely renovate the vacation village.

The problem is that Club Med's management does not want to do it for nothing: It is demanding 10 million euros from the state to refurbish the Achziv hotel. According to Club Med, this is a third of the total investment planned for the site; a brand new club of the highest standard, with 400 employees.

Why should Israeli taxpayers pay one third? Will they also receive a third of the profits?

They should come, invest and profit, but leave us, the taxpayers, alone. We have much more important things to do with our tax money.

New Orleans

A lot of people think that the cause of the failure in dealing with the results of the hurricane in New Orleans is that the victims were poor and black and that the government in Washington doesn't really care about them. This is a tempting explanation, but maybe it's not the whole story.

No one can claim that oil - and its rising prices - are not important to the U.S. government. There are those who claim that Bush went to war in Iraq due to his desire to guarantee America's oil supply. If so, then how can it be that today, three weeks after the hurricane, many of the oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico are still not producing? How can it be that during the first two weeks 90 percent of the drilling platforms along the Alabama and Mississippi coasts were out of business and 20 rigs were completely destroyed?

Bush is not interested in seeing the price of a barrel of oil hit $70. All of America sees the rise in gasoline prices as Bush's personal failure.

Therefore, alongside the social explanations, it is best to remember that the Bush administration is slow, fat and apathetic. It is an administration incapable of responding quickly, and not built to take shortcuts and speed up processes. It does not know how to improvise and all of America is paying the price.