State Comptroller Yosef Shapira on Tuesday took the exceptional step of publicly
attempting to delay an anticipated ministerial decision to raise food and dairy
Shapira published a letter he sent to Finance Minister Yuval
Steinitz; Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon; and Agriculture
Minister Orit Noked. He requested that they delay an expected decision to raise
food and dairy prices.
The state comptroller said it was important to
hold public hearings on his recent report on the issue, particularly regarding
the problems the state has caused with deregulation – before prices are
Currently, the Knesset State Control Committee is not scheduled
to debate the issue until October 30.
Even that date could be pushed off
significantly if the Knesset dissolves in the current atmosphere, in which early
elections crowd the headlines on a daily basis.
Shapira added that it was
crucial to have advocates for those poorer sectors of the country – who would be
most adversely impacted by a rise in prices – as part of the public
debate. Only if such advocates are part of the policy decision-making
process can any decision on the issue obtain public support and maintain the
public trust, he said.
Shapira reiterated his contention from his earlier
report that providing food security is a crucial role of
Meretz party leader Zehava Gal-On echoed Shapira’s report and
his most recent letter, saying that the government was reaping the downside of
its miscalculated deregulation policies.
Gal-On added that the government
had pushed deregulation on the banner of “free market” reform, but did not check
whether there was actually a free market or whether a small and powerful few
dominated the market for their own gain, regardless of the impact on the poorer
sectors of society.
Shapira’s September 12 report had slammed the Finance
Ministry, as well as the Industry, Trade and Labor and Agriculture ministries,
for failing to control skyrocketing food and dairy prices during the years
“Social justice is not just an empty code word,” he said in
the report, declaring that the ministries in question ignored social justice
considerations in determining their regulatory policies.
report had been published against the background of protests and a public outcry
about the rise in food and dairy prices – among other problems falling under the
“social justice movement” umbrella.
Coming on the heels of the
government-commissioned July 2012 Kedmi Report on similar issues – named for
Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry director-general Sharon Kedmi – the document
was the first Shapira published since becoming state comptroller in
In both the report and in Tuesday’s letter, Shapira also said he
would be vigilant in addressing social justice issues in the future.
the report, Shapira had also noted that at the time he testified before the
Knesset as a candidate for comptroller, he emphasized that he believed the
social justice protest movement was a positive development addressing serious
issues confronting society.
The report said that the real price of food
during the period in question rose around 8 percent, while the average real net
wage fell nationally. The higher price-to-wage ratio hit the economically
disadvantaged the hardest.
Among the harshest criticisms aimed at the
ministries was that they had not remotely considered the social- or
health-related impacts on society as a whole by allowing the prices to spiral
out of control.
Opening with the words, “Food is a basic and fundamental
need of human beings,” the report said the ministries essentially had not
weighed the interests of consumers as a factor in their regulatory
Moving on from food prices in general to dairy products – on
which the report said consumers spend NIS 9 billion annually – Shapira said the
Finance and the Industry, Trade and Labor ministries had allowed an even worse
scenario to develop.
Shapira criticized the deregulation of the dairy
market by the ministries – done without first ensuring there was sufficient
marketplace competition to keep prices down. Had they done so, deregulation
might have forced sellers to keep prices low.
But without such a market
in place, the only beneficiaries of deregulation were the sellers, who simply
raised prices without having to worry about regulation or competition, said the
Shapira does not have the power to stop the ministers from
raising prices before his report is discussed. Nevertheless, his unusual step of
not only criticizing their policy, but intervening in the timing of their
decisions, could put the ministers in an awkward position in the eyes of the
public, particularly on the possible eve of early elections.