Saturday September 5, 2015
Israel Hayom
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MK Itzik Shmuli

Naming a bank chief requires due process

It is enough to review the prominent role former Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer played over the past few years as the "responsible adult" vis-à-vis the government, to realize that Professor Jacob Frenkel did the right thing by withdrawing his candidacy for the position, ending perhaps one of the most awkward confirmation proceedings ever seen in Israel.

The most important asset any bank chief has, as far as the business sector, international credit rating agencies and the public are concerned, is his credibility; and even if the Public Service Nominations Committee had confirmed Frenkel's nomination, his term in office would have been clouded by the scandal in which he was embroiled.

Over the past few weeks it was attempted to ascertain what exactly was taken, allegedly, from the Hong Kong airport's duty free shop -- perfume or a garment bag; but the real issue here, as evident by Frenkel's decision to drop his bid, is the covert selection process, which is flawed in and of itself. His personal embarrassment is also that of the government, which rushed forward with his nomination in the absence of a clear election process.

The process of electing the governor of the Bank of Israel is outlined by the Bank of Israel Law, but it does not delve into any actual criteria or timetable, sufficing instead with stating that the government submits its recommendations to the president who, in turn, names the bank chief.

The list of candidates is compiled away from the public eye, and how close the candidates are to policymakers is a major factor, which at times supersedes clear professional considerations. Can anyone name the other candidates who vied for the position, the relevant criteria that made them suitable for the job or why Frenkel was chosen over them, even if rightfully so? The answer is no.

Beyond the issue of naming the next central bank chief, it is just as important to amend the existing process and set clear, transparent, professional and fair guidelines by which the candidates will be chosen.

Several weeks ago, before we became familiar with the details of the Frenkel affair, I presented the Knesset with a bill to that effect. The proposal seeks to put in place a professional committee, comprising MKs and public officials and headed by a retired judge, to vet potential candidates for this position. The committee's recommendations will be presented to the government at least six weeks ahead of the end of an incumbent bank chief's term, to further ensure the proper transfer of office -- an issue that is currently not addressed.

The legislation's potential affect on the government's authority is smaller that its critics might think, since it maintains the government's exclusive authority to be the one that recommends a candidate to the president. The process aims to ensure that the government's recommendation will follow professional due process.

It will also ensure the Public Service Nominations Committee's involvement in the process before a person is named for the position, and not after the government has named its candidate without doing due diligence.

Due process will save us all from the next debacle and will ensure that the most qualified person is elected for the job and that he will enjoy the full support of the public.

Itzik Shmuli is a Knesset member from the Labor Party.

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