Gilad Erdan: Port delays causing 'serious damage' to economy

Health, Justice Ministries given 48 hours to solve dispute.

The Knesset's Economic Affairs Committee held an emergency meeting Tuesday to try and settle an ongoing dispute between the Justice Ministry and the Health Ministry over the state attorney's indictment of Health Ministry inspectors in the Remedia scandal, which has delayed delivery of imported food products for weeks. Committee chairman MK Gilad Erdan led the hearing, which examined the implications of the products being delayed at ports of entry due to the ongoing slowdown strike currently being maintained by Health Ministry inspectors. "The disagreements between the prosecution and the Health Ministry have led to serious damage to Israel's economic interests," said Erdan. "The public and industrial leaders are not the guilty parties in this legal battle between government ministries. In this situation, the prosecutors must sit with the Health Ministry until 'white smoke' rises and determine what the inspectors must do and what can be done for them "It is impossible to leave this in its current foggy status and to allow such a serious effect on the economy." Justice Ministry representative Shaul Cohen said that "the accused admitted to the police that if they had checked the product, they would have prohibited the formula from being placed on shelves in Israel. In the case of Remedia, the internal regulations of the Health Ministry were violated. "This crime of negligence is not simple, it is only applicable when the public well-being or health is endangered, and with this kind of offense we must create a deterrent effect and sometimes there is no choice but to act on the basis of this." Dr. Boaz Lev, assistant director-general of the Health Ministry, said that in his opinion, the ministry employees acted in accordance with ministry regulations, professionally and as well as they could have with the resources at hand. In the meantime, the various economic sectors that rely on food imports - from restaurants such as McDonalds (which is suffering from a shortage of packaged mayonnaise) to importers of specialty and custom foods for resale - are suffering. Oriel Lin, the president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, proposed short-term solutions including quick release of food products considered "non-sensitive," such as rice, sugar and legumes, as well as enabling importers to put down a deposit and then transfer their containers to other warehouses to await inspection, thus avoiding the costs incurred by having their products sitting at the port. "Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann is responsible and must immediately address this issue," Lin added. At the conclusion of the hearing, Erdan said that the committee demanded that the attorney-general and the state's attorney meet with Health Ministry representatives within 48 hours and come to an agreement regarding clear instructions for the inspectors. Erdan emphasized that if the sides failed to meet, the committee members would begin to draft amendments to the law, making the state - and not the importers - responsible for shouldering the added costs of the delays at the ports.