Comptroller: Fire draft report uncovered grave mistakes

Probe uncovers negligence on part of police, prison service; Environment Ministry blames Treasury for failure to budget Carmel rehabilitation.

July 25, 2011 14:31
3 minute read.
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss

311_Micha Lindenstrauss. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

An in-depth investigation into the Carmel has uncovered “very serious evidence of negligence,” State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss told his Knesset committee on Monday.

Lindenstrauss told the Knesset State Control Committee that he “could not say and would not hint” at specific details of the auditors’ findings, which have been compiled in a draft report.

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In two weeks, he expects to send the report to the various bodies and organizations who were investigated for comments. The final report will be published at least a month later.

Committee Chairman MK Yoel Hasson told Lindenstrauss the public is waiting for the report.

“The Israeli public and especially the bereaved families of the victims very much deserve to learn the truth,” Hasson said. “The tragedy is etched in the public’s mind as something extraordinary, and the committee will not rest until the truth is revealed, until we all know what caused this disaster, who failed and who was negligent.”

Forty-four people died in the fire last December, the deadliest in Israel’s history. Among the victims were 37 prison service cadets and their commanding officers, who died when their bus was engulfed by flames.

The fire also caused widespread damage, totalling millions of shekels, to land and property. An estimated 1.5 million trees were destroyed.

According to Lindenstrauss, over the past months a team of 30 auditors from the office of the state comptroller have been working “day and night” on the investigation.

“This is a very significant number of auditors and reflects the importance that [the comptroller] places on this investigation,” added Lindenstrauss.

“All of our investigations have been in great depth, and have examined every single aspect of what took place in order to get to the truth of the matter.”

Lindenstrauss said the team has investigated all of the many organizations and bodies involved in the fire, including the police, the Prison Service, the fire service and the Home Front Command.

“We have interviewed a very large number of witnesses. We have interviewed almost all of the families of the victims. I want to say that we received an enormous amount of assistance from the families. There was a great deal of cooperation between them and our auditors,” Lindenstrauss said.

Boaz Anar, who led the team of auditors into the Carmel fire investigation, noted that the state comptroller’s office has examined the inquiries into the fire made by the various bodies to see whether they were sufficiently in-depth or if anything had been covered up.

“We cross-checked the incident tapes with various testimonies, minute by minute, and we compared the directives and procedures with what happened on the ground,” Anar said.

MK Majalli Whbee (Kadima) criticized the length of time it is taking to produce the report, and said gaps exist between government reports about implementing lessons learned from the Carmel fire and the actual facts on the ground in the north.

“The fires continue, and the government is asleep,” Wahabi said. “If, God forbid, a fire breaks out tomorrow in Isfiya, where there aren’t any firefighters to save its residents, the government will have to answer for the consequences.”

MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima) asked how, in a developed country like Israel, such a tragedy as the Carmel fire could have happened. “The level of firefighting was as if this were the Third World, from the equipment to the Interior Ministry,” Solodkin said.

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