Transport Projects and Ports Fall Victim

The new economic plan will cut a total of NIS 850 million from the Transport Ministry's budget this year and next - about 18 percent of it, Transport Minister Ephraim Sneh said yesterday. About 1,000 workers may be fired and many infrastructure projects will be delayed.

The emergency plan includes a NIS 300 million cut from the Ports Authority in 2002, and a similar cut in 2003. This is the amount generated by usage fees, originally meant for the development of ports. Some of this money was earmarked for the Jubilee Port in Ashdod, which is supposed to overcome the shortage of available docks. The budget cut will also make it difficult to implement plans to raise $400 million from the ports in order to build railroads, Sneh said.

The government has also cut NIS 50 million this year and NIS 200 million in 2003 - money intended to buy new buses for the Egged and Dan public transport cooperatives. As well as reducing the quality of public transport, the cuts also herald a lethal blow to Haargaz Incorporated Industries and Merkavim Metal Works. These two plants will have to close and send 1,000 workers home, Sneh said.

The budget cuts also include an NIS 8 million slash in the Ministry's operating budget.

The Histadrut labor federation is trying to get an approval to declare a labor dispute at the ports to try and revoke the biannual NIS 600 million budget cut, said the leading Histadrut representative in Haifa, Baruch Zaltz. The total budget cut for the ports is likely to be about NIS 1 billion. Six months ago NIS 350 million was transferred from the Ports Authority to the Defense Ministry.

"On one hand they make grandiose statements about investing in infrastructure to pull the market out of recession, on the other they take the money from infrastructure," said Eyal Malmud, who chairs the association of marine transport users. "The finance minister is losing it. He may as well quit," Malmud said.