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Green body petitions High Court over right to info on Israel’s natural resources

With so little money paid into sovereign wealth fund, Adam Teva V’Din seeks to fix transparency rules for details on natural resources owned by public, exploited by private sector

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

The Dead Sea Works viewed from an overlook (Shmuel Bar-Am)
The Dead Sea Works viewed from an overlook (Shmuel Bar-Am)

The environmental advocacy organization Adam Teva V’Din filed a Freedom of Information petition at the High Court on Monday to clarify the status of natural resources in Israeli law and the obligation for transparency, given that those resources are owned by the public.

In 2014, the Israeli Citizens’ Fund Law was passed, setting out the mechanism for the creation of a sovereign wealth fund aimed at ensuring that Israeli citizens — not only investors — reap benefits above and beyond corporate taxes and royalties from the massive natural gas reserves discovered off the Mediterranean coast in recent years.

The law was subsequently amended to add levies on profits from natural resources such as mines as well.

The wealth fund needs NIS 1 billion ($291 million) to start operating. But despite predictions at the time that it would contain billions of dollars by 2022, to date only around NIS 450 million ($130 million) has been collected, 75 percent of it paid in 2013 for the Mari-B Yam Tethys gas field, which closed in 2012. The rest came from ICL, which, in addition to the Dead Sea Works, also mines phosphates in the Negev Desert.

The petition addresses the balance that should be struck between commercial confidentiality and the duty of transparency where publicly owned natural resources are concerned.

It names the Tax Authority, the official in charge of Freedom of Information at that authority, and seven companies that have franchises to explore for, or mine, natural resources, including gas.

“This is another step in our long journey to ensure that the public receives its share of the profits from natural resources,” a statement from the organization said.

An aerial view of the Israeli ‘Tamar’ gas processing rig 24 kilometers off the Israeli southern coast of Ashkelon. Noble Energy and Delek are the main partners in the oil field, October 11, 2013. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

The filing came the same day Israeli energy giant Delek Drilling announced that it had signed a memorandum of understanding to sell its entire stake in Israel’s Tamar offshore gas field to the Abu Dhabi government-owned Mubadala Petroleum, potentially handing the United Arab Emirates a major share in one of the Jewish state’s key strategic and economic assets.

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