Feb 13, 2011

I Must Get this Off My Chest - The Water Swindle

At the outset, I admit I am not objective.  I believe that anything in Israel called a "Reforma" makes things worse than they were before.  Now to one of the latest swindles, removing water distribution from the local authorities to new "Water Companies".  This enables the government to charge the consumers much more for the same water, while piling tax (VAT) on tax.  

What happens when a consumer complains to the Water Company about his outrageously inflated water bill?  He gets a call from a nice young clerk, reading from a script prepared by the Water Company, who tells him that he must have a leak and he should hire an installator (plumber) at his expense to check it out.  This fiendishly clever response must have been prepared by a top advertising or PR mind.  In one moment it achieves multiple purposes.

1.   It puts the blame on the consumer for the inflated bill.
2.   It tells him he has to pay money out of his pocket to check the accusation of the Company, made automatically, without any knowledge of the real situation.  
3.   They also tell him that if he is late in paying the bill they will charge him interest.

The intended effect on most consumers is that they figure it will cost less to pay the bill than to hire an installator and they give up.  Score 3 points for the Water Company and its genius PR advisor.

The proper consumer response should be, "I have nothing personally against you young lady, but your company charges me exorbitant fees and claims in expensive advertising handouts to give me service.  So let them hire an installator to check whether there is really a leak."  Also demand a written answer.

When I did this the clerk asked me plaintively, "What do you want me to write?"  I told her to pass my complaint to her superior or her legal department and let them decide what to write.

In a recent story which was reported on the radio, the Bat Yam Water Company sent a bill for NIS 30,000 (yes, thirty thousand new shekels) to a senior couple living on Bituah Leumi old age pension.  Even with the intervention of the radio program they decided they could only reduce it to NIS 12,000 and all the wise men of Chelm could not find a legal way to solve the problem.  They offered the old couple the chance to pay it out over time, but then (of course) they would have to pay interest!

In too many cases enacting a law means that the Treasury text automatically becomes the Knesset text, without going through the minds of the MK's.  Charles Dickens wrote in "Oliver Twist", "The law is an ass."

Yitzhak Heimowitz

Feb 9, 2011

Israeli Democracy

This is an article I originally wrote in 2007.  Nothing changes.

Israel is a peculiar kind of democracy. In practice, ultimate power does not rest with the Knesset, the Cabinet or even the Prime Minister. It is held by a small group of highly paid appointed officials in the Treasury. Every time there is a strike in Israel you will note that the relevant Minister is powerless to negotiate a settlement. Instead, the appointed Treasury official has total discretion.
            Years ago, the Cabinet decided to fortify Sderot against the Kassam rockets fired from Gaza, but almost nothing has been done because the Treasury officials have not allocated the necessary money. Similarly, the Israel anti-missile defense program is years behind, because the Treasury officials have not allocated the funds, as though nothing was learned from the Second Lebanon War. Another example is the “Chok Hahesderim” (The Arrangements Law) which is submitted to the Knesset together with the government budget.
            In the Arrangements Law, the officials can and do nullify legislation and change government and Knesset decisions as they see fit. There are laws which were adopted by the Knesset years ago but their implementation date is postponed time and again by the Arrangements Law.
            The appointed Treasury officials are a tough bunch who are not known for making any concessions. I think we should send them to negotiate with the Arabs while having other government officials negotiate with the Israelis strikers.
            Meanwhile the length of public sector strikes can be reduced remarkably by lowering the salary of the Treasury officials who are negotiating, to the average monthly salaries of the strikers (e.g., NIS 5,000 for teachers, NIS 4,000 for social workers) for the duration of the strike.