The Economy - Treasury chief Ram Belinkov

Ram Belinkov  credit: Gil Gibli

Belinkov's comeback is proving itself in budget reallocations and institutional reforms after years of delay.

Less than six months have passed since he took up his post, and it seems that Ministry of Finance director-general Ram Belinkov could not have asked for a more tumultuous opening to his tenure. A national budget laden with reforms, an emergency plan to deal with the housing crisis, a package deal between employers and the Histadrut and - the cherry on top - stewardship of over 70 state-owned companies as acting director of the Government Companies Authority.

This is Belinkov’s third round at the Ministry of Finance, and the second time he has been considered to head it. Before he was 30, he was already Deputy Budgets Commissioner in charge of transport, water, and communications. In 2008, he returned as Budgets Commissioner, a post he held during the global financial crisis. In 2009, he announced his resignation, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his economic adviser Uri Yogev intervened on budget issues and negotiations with the Histadrut, held without the Finance Ministry’s participation.

After that, Belinkov went back to private enterprise, but returned to public service as chairman of the Israel Ports Development & Assets Co., and from there, at the request of then-Minister of Transport Israel Katz, served as chairman of NTA Metropolitan Mass Transit System, the company responsible for the design and construction of a mass transit system for the Tel Aviv metropolis. When Katz was given the finance portfolio, he wanted Belinkov as director-general, but this was vetoed by Netanyahu.

Belinkov's relationship with Katz did not prevent current Minister of Finance Avigdor Liberman from offering him the ministry's top position, on the understanding that Belinkov could express his views freely behind closed doors, but would never publicly criticize or oppose political decisions. In an interview with "Globes," Belinkov said that, in retrospect, he felt he gained twice over, in not having been appointed the previous time, and in being appointed this time.

Placing the keys of the Government Companies Authority in Belinkov's hands (until a permanent replacement is found) is the clearest evidence of the confidence Liberman has in his Director-General. This trust stood the test when Liberman agreed to the defense establishment’s demands on matters such as the budget and pension arrangements. Belinkov did not utter one word of criticism publicly about the decision, even if it was personally gut-wrenching.

Word from inside the Ministry of Finance is that his temporary and partial involvement in government companies has become his primary focus. Belinkov's conflict of interest arrangement forbids him from making appointments at the companies, but there is plenty to do reviving Israel Post’s privatization, speeding up Israel Aerospace Industries’ IPO, privatizing the Port of Haifa and, of course, matters related to Gush Dan-Tel Aviv Metro and light rail, which he dealt with in his previous position at NTA.

In his internal relations at the Ministry of Finance, Belinkov is considered a manager who knows how to support the professional staff, and "is able to work with everyone", not something to be taken for granted in a workplace filled with high-ranking officials, egos, and power struggles. In the meantime, he has already succeeded in passing reforms such as raising the retirement age for women, cancelling designated bond issues for pension funds, and imposing a congestion charge on vehicles entering Gush Dan - measures that were politically unfeasible with previous governments and ministers. A government housing program has been launched and the Ministry of Finance is planning measures to combat black market capital - which he was forced to exclude from the Economic Arrangements Law. Belinkov has said he wants to take advantage of his term to introduce far-reaching reforms in the capital market and the health system as well.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 30, 2021.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2021.

Amiram Barkat and Oren Dori

Ram Belinkov  credit: Gil Gibli
Ram Belinkov credit: Gil Gibli
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