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National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Thursday the Israel Electric Company should stay under government control and that he expects to reach an agreement with the company's workers over proposed structural reforms by March 2007.
"We need to understand that Israel Electric is an important strategic brand, like the IDF, and therefore I have no intention to hand it over to private hands," Ben-Eliezer said at a discussion in the Knesset's Economics Committee. "Israel does not have the ability to take electricity from its neighbors and we cannot afford to be in a situation of power cuts."
The minister added that he supported the reforms, which will see 51% of the company stay in government hands and 49% listed on the stock exchange.
"I never said I was against the reforms, the opposite, they are correct and I am in favor of them. IEC needs to be more efficient," he said.
Meanwhile, Israel Electric Chief Executive Officer Ori Bin-Nun expressed his doubts about whether an agreement could be reached by March.
"There has been no advancement in the negotiations between the Treasury and the workers over the reforms at Israel Electric. Nothing has been concluded," Bin-Nun told the Economics Committee. "The workers want one company to come out of the reforms and the finance ministry has its program, while I have presented another model. I cannot say what will be in March when Israel Electric's license expires."
Under the government's plan, Israel Electric will be transformed into a holding company with units for production, transmission and distribution. Later, the government will split the subsidiaries further, with at least four competing subsidiaries handling production.
Last month, the workers declared an internal strike cutting electricity at the company in protest of the government plan.