The Bottom Line / Wrong on Every Count

Israel is a corrupt country, says the World Bank, and they're right.

Israel is a corrupt country, at least according to the accepted norms of the Western world, the latest World Bank report released this week concluded. On every count, we ranked worse than the average in the West. Israel is regarded as a state with an unstable regime, bloated bureaucracy, high levels of corruption in government, and a low rate of law enforcement.

Israeli bureaucracy is notorious worldwide. International investors are prevented from investing here because of myriad laws that keep changing (and aren't enforced), and unclear regulations.

In Holland, you can sign a property deal within a day. Here the process takes months, with an army of lawyers and accountants hacking their way through the interminable government jungle. When red tape is so complex, there are some clerks who wield enormous power - power to harm. And when a clerk can, at the flick of pen, change a worthwhile investment into a dead dog, the temptation for bribery rises.

We all know the phenomenon of unenforced contracts and bounced checks of millions of shekels. Has anyone been sent to jail for these crimes? Because of the corruption and low level of enforcement, investors demand a high risk premium, which means a higher cost of goods and services and a reduction in the economy's activities - in other words, a halt in growth. In addition, those who are less efficient - particularly those - but are willing to pay, will be the ones to win tenders - to everyone's loss.

Corruption 2. While discussing corruption, one must remember that at the top of the pyramid is Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his sons. Gilad escaped by the skin of his teeth on the Greek island affair, despite achieving the world record for money paid for an Internet search.

Omri, meanwhile, has been served with an indictment of his own. He claims that it is impossible to meet the limits on campaign funding as laid down by the law, because the sums are too low. Surely he is unaware that behind that ceiling was Shinui MK Avraham Poraz, who headed the relevant committee 10 years ago. Back then, running for party chair required convincing about 3,000 members of that party's committee. But since then, the parties have moved to the primary system, so each candidate must convince some 100,000 voters, and that is truly another story altogether.

That is, there's something in what Omri says, although that does not justify such a blatant violation of the law: Omri raised NIS 6 million when the law allows NIS 830,000. The other two candidates at the time running against his father - fellow Likud MKs Ehud Olmert and Meir Sheetrit - managed to keep within the law's ceiling. And if buying power is not corruption, then what is?

Corruption 3. Neveh Dekalim in Gush Katif has already turned into Neveh Shekalim, a delightful turn of words from PR man Reuven Vimmer. As each day passes, the compensation and tax breaks for the settlers gets bigger and bigger. An average family will get some NIS 2 million, much more than what they invested, and a lot more than what the evacuees from Yamit received. In addition, the will get - at a quarter of the price - a half-dunam plot of land in Nitzanim, by the sea, next to a nature reserve. And if that isn't enough, they will be exempt from taxes on the personal compensation, and will pay just a symbolic 5 percent tax on business compensation.

But apparently even that isn't enough. If the family succeeds in a bid for a lot in Savyon or Kfar Shmyryahu, the family will have approved - in an unprecedented move - a swimming pool next to their villa. And as we are talking about the pseudo-agricultural towns, they will be getting their water at only a third of the price, directly from the new desalination plant at Ashkelon that opened yesterday. Instead of paying NIS 3 per cubic meter of water - the cost of desalination - they will pay only one shekel, because as everyone knows, we live here in Norway, surrounded by icebergs and a water surplus, and not in a desert country, a third world state.