The Tycoons' Best Friend

It's Yachimovich who pretends to fight the tycoons and ends up serving their interests.


At long last, the real culprits have been found out. No, it's not E.O. or S.Z. The culprits are the economists at the budget department and senior treasury officials who MK Shelly Yachimovich recently anointed a bunch of frauds and conjurors, people who work solely to benefit themselves. Yachimovich said they work for the tycoons so that when they leave the treasury they'll get high-profile jobs and hefty salaries.

I was naive enough to think that the finance minister would cry out and put Yachimovich in her place. Then I hoped that the prime minister, who is after all our economics-minister supreme, would protest against such slander. To my disappointment both remained silent, because it's unpopular these days to protect a treasury employee.

So I'll take up that unpopular role myself, because in our topsy-turvy world, it's precisely the budget department and accountant general's staff who protect the public from the tycoons. It's Yachimovich who pretends to fight the tycoons and ends up serving their interests. The wealthy seek to emasculate the budget department. They want the staff there to lose their reputations and fighting spirit so they'll never pass another reform. That would allow the tycoons to keep on robbing the public.

Allow me to demonstrate. When cable television came to Israel, this strong strong monopoly provided bad service. The remedy was an initiative by the budget department to introduce a new operator into the multichannel television sector: satellite company Yes. The tycoons in charge of HOT fought tooth and nail. They convinced MKs, worked ministers and recruited the best lawyers. Nothing helped. Those corrupt schemers at the budget department held their own, Yes was set up, and service provided to the public improved immeasurably.

Now the budget-department frauds are fighting against both Yes and HOT, trying to force the companies to offer the public a cheap, slimmed-down channel package. But who's opposing the move? Yachimovich's own friends on the Knesset Finance Committee. So who really represents the wealthy and who the consumers?

Let's take another example, from cellular communications. Many of us will remember how not too long ago we had only one cell phone company, Pelephone, which charged NIS 8 per minute. The owners made millions. But then the budget department joined the fray and introduced Cellcom, and then Orange. Since then, prices have dropped and service quality has risen. And that's far from the end of it, because at this very moment, corrupt budget-department officials are trying to bring down connectivity rates even lower, and the tycoons are screaming bloody murder.

And if we go back a decade or so, we might recall the days when we had only one commercial TV channel, Channel 2, which provided mediocre service and charged exorbitant advertising rates. The budget department went to war against Channel 2's owners (particularly powerful individuals), and managed to get Channel 10 into the market. And when Channel 2's license expired, the communications minister at the time, Reuven Rivlin, wanted Reshet, Keshet and Telad to receive permanent broadcasting licenses, without tenders. But the department insisted on a tender, so the tycoons had to pay NIS 300 million to keep on broadcasting.

So who's really taking care of the public coffers? And let's not forget the Bachar Committee's vital reform that forced the banks to sell their mutual and provident funds. This came against the strongest possible opposition - the bank owners. And how can we leave out the pitched battle between those conjuring clerks and the markets' greatest tycoons who wanted the state to give them guarantees of tens of billions shekels during the economic crisis?

Seven years ago, the Coca-Cola bottling plant sought to obtain a NIS 76 million grant for moving from Bnei Brak to Ashkelon. The budget department rebelled: Why should we pay such a sum to such a wealthy monopoly? They can sell their expensive land in Bnei Brak and profit from the move. Ehud Olmert, then the industry minister, ignored the department and allowed the grant. But the conjurors didn't give up. They got attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein to intervene. Then they secretly approached the Movement for Quality Government and urged it to petition the Supreme Court. Only then was the request to move the plant withdrawn. So how does this jibe with Yachimovich's slander?

At any rate, her claims show that she doesn't know a thing about how the private market operates. Tycoons don't want cowards as managers who didn't stand their ground as treasury officials. They're looking for fighters - people who didn't fear to go head to head with the tycoons, trade blows and get what they want - because such public servants make the best managers. But Yachimovich doesn't seem to want to comprehend that simple fact.