Viewpoint / Fruit and Nut Allowance

What do you think about a workplace that pays you car maintenance, over and above your salary, and also gives you use of a company car? What do you think about an employer that plies you with bonuses on every possible occasion - a dried fruits allowance on Tu B'Shvat, a present when your child or grandchild has a bar mitzvah, is drafted or marries? What do you think about a company that lavishes an "efficiency bonus" on you, 10 years after the efficiency drive has ended? An automatic promotion as you retire that sweetens your pension terms? How would you like to pay of tens of thousands of shekels a month, over and above all that?

Sound tempting? Then move to Jerusalem and good luck to you. There is only one place in the country that offers terms like that, and it's the Bank of Israel.

It has no problem being so generous with its workers. The Bank of Israel is a public body, living on the public's back, but it is not subject to public supervision. It owes no explanations to anybody, and it sets its own budget. It is apparently the only body in Israel not subject to any budgetary constraints.

Inaccurate, to put it mildly

The bank also fiercely guards its independence, which it abuses to reject any supervision, including over its pay practices.

The public sector wages commissioner, over at the Finance Ministry, is supposed to keep an eye on central bank wages. He oversees the pay at the universities, the health services, the cities, the Israel Electric Corporation and more. As a public body, the central bank should have fallen under his purview. But, in practice, he's been fighting for years to get reports from the Bank of Israel and to stem the flow of perks, to little avail.

That is little wonder: The Bank of Israel has spent much of its time trying to bamboozle the wages commissioner. It admits it.

Jacob Danon, its new director general, recently declared at the Labor Tribunal: "When I took the job, I discovered poor functioning and degenerate norms at the human resources unit at the bank. The manager of the financial department told me there was a problem with annual reports delivered to the (treasury's) wages director, and that the data was incomplete. At my request, amended reports were prepared, according to which the data the bank had provided was inaccurate, to put it mildly."

We are given to understand that even the new Bank of Israel management admits that pay had been out of control. The problem is that it is not reaching any conclusions.

Or at least Governor Stanley Fischer is not reaching any conclusions.

War in Jerusalem

In these very days, as Haaretz reporter Moti Bassok has found, there is a war being waged in Jerusalem over the new Bank of Israel law. The battle is ostensibly over two disputes.

One is Fischer's consent that the monetary council, which will set interest rates, have a majority of external representatives. Thing is, Fischer apparently regrets that agreement and demands a majority of Bank of Israel representatives.

That would seem to be a weighty argument about the independence of monetary decisions at the Bank of Israel. In practice, it's a smoke screen, an artificial dispute. Jerusalem circles believe Fischer would have been prepared to compromise in order to prevail regarding the real dispute in the Bank of Israel law. Fischer demands that the Bank of Israel not be subjected to the treasury's wages director regarding pay.

That battle over pay supervision is threatening the new Bank of Israel law. The bank would compromise over a majority in the monetary committee, but not over being subjected to the treasury's wages director, Yuval Rachlevsky.

The central bank is even willing to stoop to pointing at its independence: If it were, heaven forbid, made subject to a treasury clerk - the wages director - then he could turn into a tool to persecute the central bank and impair its independence.

Its wage practices to date explain why the Bank of Israel is so insistent on preserving its independence in that respect. The bothersome thing is how Fischer, the brand new governor, has learned the lay of the land so quickly: Monetary independence is important, but it pales compared with independence regarding salary.

Instead of leading, instead of setting new norms at the Bank of Israel, Fischer is being managed by his workers. We can only hope this is not a harbinger of things to come.