What inspired Finance Minister Silvan Shalom and Industry and Trade Minister Dalia Itzik to spend millions of dollars to encourage the likes of Coca Cola Israel to set up a plant in Kiryat Gat instead of Ashkelon?

And why promise special grants to Tzabar salads to build a plant in Kiryat Gat instead of Ma'alot? Is taxpayers' money going toward a new strategy in the battle against rising unemployment, or is it being used to pursue some other political agenda?

Following waves of job losses in Kiryat Gat, the two ministers ordered their staff to persuade Coca Cola and Tzabar to relocate there, even if it meant granting special benefits. The treasury estimates that initial promises to Coca Cola were in the region of $50 million, while several million more were guaranteed to Tzabar. The two ministries do not see eye-to-eye even now on whether the special benefits be given as tax exemptions or one-time grants, but they do agree on th need to provide new employment opportunities.

Sources at the Industry and Trade Ministry's Investment Center pointed out this week that Coca Cola, at any rate, had planned to transfer its Bnei Brak plant since it cannot be expanded, and the company had intended relocating to Ashkelon.

"Ashkelon also suffers high unemployment levels, but there the company would not have received special breaks," a source said. "Anyway, since when does a company of the likes of Coca Cola need government support to set up a plant? And what about the workers who will be left behind in Bnei Brak without jobs when the plant moves south?"

The picture is a little different with Tzabar. According to sources in the food company, the firm had agreed to establish a plant in Ma'alot with a government grant covering 30% of the investment. Then the government put pressure on Tzabar to relocate to Kiryat Gat, but this would have reduced the company's tax breaks and led to higher costs. Tzabar was reluctant to start negotiations on the matter without improved incentives from the public purse.

The question of what was behind Shalom's and Itzik's decision to grant NIS 250 million to two well-off companies was answered by the Investment Center. "Apparently the two ministers would rather, for political reasons, present the public during their terms of office with concrete immediate achievements on cutting joblessness in the worst hotspots."

Staff at the treasury and the Industry and Trade Ministry are slaving over a comprehensive understanding with the two companies over their special government grants. Both ministries have stressed the severe job shortages in the city, adding that the benefits granted will be based strictly according to the law, i.e. granted to companies that promise stable employment, and that the final sums involved had not yet been decided.

However, before signing, maybe someone should go back to the basics and ask whether it is reasonable that millions of shekels of taxpayers' money be spent simply to transfer jobs from Ma'lot and Ashkelon to Kiryat Gat.

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