Gov't Cos Authority wants new company to run Metro project

Tel Aviv Metro project credit: Tali Bogdansky
Tel Aviv Metro project credit: Tali Bogdansky

The Authority is formulating a government decision to remove the project from NTA, which is responsible for building the Tel Aviv light rail system.

The Government Companies Authority is formulating a decision for the government on setting up a new company to lead the Metro mass transit project in the Greater Tel Aviv area, to replace the decision to give the task to NTA Metropolitan Mass Transit System. The threat issued by acting Government Companies Authority director Yanki Quint at the "Globes" Infrastructure Conference is thus materializing.

"NTA is a problematic company," Quint said at the conference. "A new company needs to be formed. I have formed government companies in the past; it’s not complicated. We need to set up a company of ‘stars’ and get the Metro project underway. To leave it with a company that does not speak in a clear voice and has no vision or leadership is not what will get the project done."

Noa Segal, deputy director general for coordination of national infrastructure at the Ministry of Transport responded, "In all the companies and in all the ministries there are so many dedicated people who get up in the morning wanting to make the country a better place. There’s a great deal to improve, and we’re prepared for that. You can’t say things against this or that person. We need to get out of the discourse of blame. It doesn’t work and it’s bad. We need to focus on the project itself; only that way will we surmount the obstacles."

Oshrat David, head of the infrastructure and projects division and senior deputy to the Accountant General at the Ministry of Finance added, "How are we supposed to advance such a large project when we don’t talk in a united way? NTA is a good company. What good will it do if we set up a new company with more appointments? The light rail Purple Line and Green Line will be transferred to concessionaires shortly. Will we form a new company so that NTA will remain empty? We have accumulated experience; it would be as well to use it. We need to conduct a united policy."

"The aim is not to strengthen NTA, but to get the project done," Quint retorted. "To take a project like this and not form a new company is to have regard for trivialities and not the main thing. There’s no getting away from it, NTA has other tasks, and we see how it carries them out," he said, referring to the Greater Tel Aviv light rail lines, which have suffered from delays and budget blowouts.

Quint also thinks that there is no need for the Metro Authority, the government body that is meant to lead the project, calling it "a bureaucratic fiction that has no purpose other than to provide jobs for the guys at the Finance Ministry," and he blamed the Ministry of Finance for the delays in national infrastructure projects.

At any rate, sources inform "Globes" that the Government Companies Authority is working on making the threat a reality, and formulating a decision the purpose of which, as mentioned, is the formation of a new government company to run the Metro project. Under the proposal, the Metro Authority will be subordinate to the board of directors of this company, the members of which will be representatives of the Ministry of Transport and of the Budgets Division and the Accountant General’s Office at the Ministry of Finance, in effect abolishing it, which will require legislation.

The Ministry of Transport can be expected to support such a decision. The ministry’s director general Moshe Ben Zaken said at the conference, "We think that the Metro is a national infrastructure, and it should have a separate company." Ben Zaken rejected the claim that this was meant to threaten NTA chairperson Maya Liquornik at a time when a new CEO of the company is about to be chosen, as the NTA board has independent views and has not come into line with the Ministry of Transport under minister Miri Regev.

"That’s not our style and not our methods," Ben Zaken said, although history shows the opposite, when in her previous period in office Regev transferred the fourth rail line along the Ayalon river between Israel Railways and Netivei Israel - National Transport Infrastructure Company in accordance with her interests at these companies. She did not invent this way of operating. When he was transport minister, Israel Katz used it a great deal, the peak coming when he promoted a government decision that forbad Israel Railways from building any new track.

Industry sources believe that Quint and Ben Zaken are in cahoots, and that they seek to counter the Ministry of Finance, which argues that NTA should lead the Metro project.

Industry insiders did not fail to observe that the person who led the talk in the government about forming a new company, even before Quint and Ben Zaken, was Nisim Peretz, the obedient CEO of Netivei Israel - National Transport Infrastructure Company, who reports to the company’s chairperson, Likud member Yigal Amadi, who is close to Regev.

Following Quint’s remarks at the conference, Liquornik wrote to NTA’s employees, "Quint chose to express himself hurtfully and to incite against NTA and its employees. The board takes a grave view of his remarks, and rejects his claims. You should know that Quint has not visited the company for years, is not familiar with its activity and the status of the projects entrusted to it, and has held no professional discussions with anyone from NTA for years. His conduct is unprofessional and irresponsible towards a government company in his charge (even if temporarily)."

It’s hard not to understand the NTA chairperson, who heard about the intention of removing the huge project from her via the media, but it must be admitted that NTA does struggle to fulfil its tasks. According to figures reported by "Globes", its performance lags that of other government companies. The score it received from the Government Companies Authority last year for meeting its targets was just 67, which compares with scores of over 90 at other infrastructure companies. Its performance is evident in the series of postponements in the Tel Aviv area light rail project.

Not all the delays can be blamed on the company. There were many external bottlenecks that the Metro Law is designed to solve, if it passes in its entirety, but professionals in the government are not content with the way the company has been run.

Nevertheless, most of them will continue to support leaving the Metro project in its hands, for fear of delays, and subject to substantial change at the company. They can cite Israel Railways, for example, which changed from being a spurned company constantly in dispute with government ministries, incapable of carrying out projects, to a company advancing an investment program of over NIS 50 billion, and the turnaround there starting from the term of its previous CEO Michael Maixner.

For his part, Quint can cite the number of years that went by from the time that the light rail Red Line was approved by the government to completion of the project - two whole decades - and the danger that the Metro will meet a similar fate unless it is managed by the "stars" that he intends to put in charge of the project.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on March 25, 2024.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2024.

Tel Aviv Metro project credit: Tali Bogdansky
Tel Aviv Metro project credit: Tali Bogdansky
Twitter Facebook Linkedin RSS Newsletters גלובס Israel Business Conference 2018