The Top Is in the U.S., the Bottom in Africa

New salary stars twinkle in the stock exchange skies every day, and even the bankers no longer shine brightest.

This time Jacob Gelbard, the CEO of Bezeq, broke the record. He received stock options worth an astonishing NIS 42 million. Shlomo Yanai, the outgoing CEO of Makhteshim-Agan, received an annual salary of NIS 24 million, and Avigdor Kaplan, the CEO of Clal Insurance, received the same. New salary stars twinkle in the stock exchange skies every day, and even the bankers no longer shine brightest.

Gelbard went too far, however, and the Israel Securities Authority entered the picture. The ISA investigated and found that the board of director's procedure for approving the options was flawed. It also found improprieties in the distribution of bonuses to senior executives, and Bezeq, therefore, will be forced to appoint an independent auditor to examine all the approvals of remuneration for senior executives. Gelbard will apparently receive less as a result.

But the main question stands: Why do those with a controlling interest in these traded companies - the private businessmen - distribute such huge sums to the salaried directors they appointed? Wouldn't Gelbard work with exactly the same dedication were he to receive options worth a quarter as much? Wouldn't Yanai and Kaplan make do with half the salary they received?

There appears to be an unholy alliance here between the salaried elites and capital. Sometimes the right hand distributes a high salary to the left, and sometimes the left hand returns a favor to the right. A substantial part of these sums comes at the expense of the general public, which holds the shares.

The public representatives on the board do not protest because they are part of the same elite; they also want to receive similar amounts at some point. The fact is that in private companies - companies that are not traded on the stock exchange - one doesn't find such high salaries and remuneration.

Alongside the astonishing salaries found at the top levels of traded companies, there are those in the public sector who also receive exaggerated salaries, exceeding any norm. Heading the list are senior executives of health maintenance organizations, followed by senior executives of the Bank of Israel. The highest earner is Azai Appelbaum of the Clalit Health Services, with a salary of NIS 111,000 per month, followed by Zvi Urbach of the Bank of Israel, with monthly earnings of NIS 103,000.

The Bank of Israel claims that the Finance Ministry official in charge of wages is "misleading the public" because Urbach's salary is lower, "only" NIS 55,000 a month, and the rest is money he received in consideration of his resignation from the bank: the benefits accruing from vacations, sick days and in-service courses, for a total of NIS 576,000.

But it is the bank that is being misleading, not the official in charge of salaries. Because all these benefits - which only take on such monstrous dimensions at the Bank of Israel - are the very story of corruption at the bank, which is the focus of the present salary dispute. And in any case, since when is there a difference between a shekel of salary and a shekel of benefits?

The problem with the salary report at the Bank of Israel and in the entire public sector is just the opposite. The report is skewed downward because it does not include the value of the budgetary pension, which workers are entitled to receive without having deducted even a single agora.

For this reason, the Bank of Israel must begin to publish the salaries of its senior executives in full, just as it demands of commercial banks.

It must publish the salary itself, all the expenses for cars, phones and other benefits, all the grants and loan subsidies, as well as the value of the pension.

Only this way will the public really know how much a senior executive in the Bank of Israel costs. And it's in for a surprise.

What is more infuriating - huge salaries in the publicly traded companies, or deviations in public sector pay? In spite of everything, the latter is more upsetting. Because with companies traded on the stock exchange, there is a system of reward and punishment.

Directors who are not successful are quickly thrown out. Even successful directors may find themselves outside, just like that. That was the case in Shari Arison's dismissal of Shlomo Nehama. In other words, directors of publicly traded companies live in a dangerous and unstable environment.

On the other hand, in the public sector there are inflated salaries at the top - but these come with stability and tenure. It is almost impossible to dismiss an employee in the Bank of Israel, in the Kupat Holim HMO, in the ports, in the oil refineries, or in the Airports Authority, even if he doesn't do his job properly.

But in both sectors, differences between the top-level employees and those at the bottom are too great.

This causes anger, a sense of deprivation and undermines solidarity. Gaps that are too large are a symptom of a sick and unstable society. It is unconscionable for the top echelon to live as in America, and the bottom as in Africa.