The Knesset Economic Affairs Committee, chaired by Shama Hacohen, held a follow-up meeting on the competitive branch of currency exchange at Ben Gurion Airport (BGA). The meeting, Shama Hacohen said, was held because over half a year ago a discussion on the subject was initiated, on the eve of announcing the winner of the tender, in which the Airport Authority canceled the maximum commission clause for exchanging currency at Ben Gurion. Shama Hacohen added that the meeting was held after receiving complaints that the commission rate jumped by a considerable amount.

The Deputy Director-General of trade in BGA, Yorem Shapira, said the interest of the authority is that the public receive the best deal. He admitted that there are unreasonable disparities in commission rates ever since the Spanish company Global Exchange became active. “In the last two to three months we have been working on several levels in order that the public will not face a loss from the competition,” said Shapira. According to him, the main problem is for those entering Israel, who face a differential of 10% “which, to us, is unreasonable.” Shapira added that the authority put up posters in four languages next to all the counters, requesting the public to check conversion rates; if there is a need, the authority will take additional steps. Shapira stressed that “If we cannot reach reasonable commission rates, we will take legal action. In the coming months, if there is no change, the Authority will weigh its options, including canceling the contract.” He admitted the problem, saying, “Either the Spanish company will find a solution, or we will begin judicial proceedings.”

The Spanish company’s legal advisor, Shy Deel, said the company had lowered prices and made changes, and is still testing the market. He added that the company is running on a loss. He pointed out that commission rates at the leading world airports stand at 30% or more, while Global Exchange’s rate stands at 11%.

Chairman Avi Greener of the Change Place company, the former franchisee at BGA, spoke of an Israeli soldier who flew to Thailand on vacation an exchanged 2,000 dollars to Thailand currency. According to Greener, when the soldier arrived in Thailand, the soldier discovered he had paid a commission of almost 1,000 dollars. “There is complete frenzy in exotic currency,” said Greener. Shama Hacohen stressed this had been the concern of the previous Committee meeting.

In view of the situation, Shama Hacohen said that “to take 50% from a soldier travelling to Thailand is not commission, it’s robbery.” Regarding the claims to commission rates in airports worldwide, the Chairman replied that it does not justify having the same situation in Israel. “A commission of over 10% is a situation which cannot continue and I am happy to hear from that the Airport Authority is monitoring the situation, and stated that the sanction of cancelling the contract is on the table. The Committee hopes that even before Passover the required balance will be found; it is a pity that Israelis and tourists who arrive in Israel lose money,” concluded Shama Hacohen. He added that the Committee would hold another follow-up meeting on the subject after Passover.