(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Senior representatives in the business manufacturing community on Sunday raised much concern over Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's decision to leave the Finance Minister's post in a vacuum - even for a temporary period - following Avraham Hirchson's decision to suspend himself for three months while the investigation against him for alleged embezzlement continues.
"The State of Israel cannot allow itself to remain without a full-time finance minister for much longer given that already over recent months the finance minister has not been able to take up his post in full capacity, so within days a full-time replacement should be appointed who is able to take care of the problems in the economy," said Dan Propper, chairman of Osem Foods, at a business meeting with the Manufacturers Association of Israel on the eve of Independence Day. "It is not good that the Prime Minister should take up the Finance Ministry portfolio in the meantime as well as govern the country,"
In light of Hirchson's decision, Olmert announced that he would take up the post temporarily and immediately convened on Sunday evening the first in a series of weekly work meetings with the Finance Ministry's Director-General Yarom Ariav.
Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini also was adamant that a full-time replacement for Hirchson be named immediately.
"The Israeli government cannot allow itself to run without a full-time Finance Minister with clear powers and a clear policy," he said.
Also speaking at the business meeting, Eli Hurvitz, chairman of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., said the country was in need of a full-time Finance Minister who could keep and pass the budget.
"Without a full-time Finance Minister, we will see billions splashed out, which will spill over into the next year reversing it from a good year into a bad year reducing growth rates," said Hurvitz.
Shraga Brosh, president of the Manufacturers Association, was a bit more flexible in his view.
"At the moment the economy is strong and stable and the Prime Minister could take over the Finance Ministry portfolio for two or three weeks until Attorney-General Meni (Menahem) Mazuz comes to a decision," he said.
Earlier this month, the High Court of Justice gave Mazuz until the end of the month to decide whether he would force Hirchson to suspend himself, after two watchdog organizations - Ometz and the Movement for Quality Government - filed petitions requesting that the Finance Minister do so.
Discussing the right candidate for Hirchson's replacement, the manufacturers were divided over whether the position required a political personality or a candidate from outside the political system.
"I am in favor of a political figure rather than someone from the business sector as the position is still a political post. We have already had to deal with the failures of a defense minister who was not experienced enough. We don't want that the only thing that is still working in this country, the economy, to be in the hands of a person that is not experienced and professional enough," said Hurvitz, who himself was suggested as a potential replacement for Hirchson by Propper, Brosh and Dov Lautman, chairman of Delta Galil Industries.
"I don't want to be finance minister,"Hurvitz answered.
Potential candidates who have been suggested in recent weeks as potential replacements for Hirchson include MK Haim Ramon of Kadima, Minister of Housing and Construction Meir Sheetrit and Interior Minister Roni Bar-On.
"I believe that Ramon has the ability and the skill to take over as Finance Minister," said Hurvitz.
On the other hand Propper, said he saw no need to appoint a political person as such.
"The candidate needs to be professional. In our political situation there is the danger that a political figure could be using this post to further his own political ends," said Proper.