State Comptroller Report on fire services: ‘Very severe'

Lindenstrauss warns of serious failures in report which is expected to blame mismanagement of fire services lacking manpower and funding.

December 8, 2010 06:30
4 minute read.
Firefighters try to put out flames in the Carmel.

fire fighters_311. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The State Comptroller’s Report slated to be released Wednesday afternoon will point to “very serious” failures regarding Israel’s fire services, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss warned Tuesday.

The report, which is being rushed to publication in the shadow of the Carmel fire, is expected to point fingers at governmental mismanagement of the cash- and manpower- strapped fire services.

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Lindenstrauss appeared before the Knesset’s Finance Committee Tuesday in order to discuss his office’s budget for the years 2011-2012, but the debate was dominated by the anticipated report.

“We offer our opinions on topics that we run into that involve serious failures and we will present a very serious report that everybody will see tomorrow,” Lindenstrauss told the MKs.

He took the opportunity to protest the fact that his office has no “teeth” to enforce the recommendations made in such reports.

MK Amnon Cohen (Shas) complained that if the government had adopted the recommendations of previous comptrollers’ reports on the fire services, “we would not currently be in a state of tragedy on the scale of the Carmel fire.”

Finance Committee Chairman MK Moshe Gafni (Shas) said that the government “should not establish an investigative commission on the Carmel tragedy, but should rather carry out the recommendations of the upcoming report, and provide the State Comptroller with ‘teeth’” to enforce those recommendations.

Others in the Knesset, however, were adamant Tuesday that the upcoming report must serve as the jumping-off point for a governmental investigative commission. State Control Committee Chairman MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) has reportedly already prepared the official mandate for such a commission, including authorizing personal conclusions and professional recommendations and definitions for the fire services.

But while Finance Committee members voted unanimously to approve the budget for the State Comptroller’s Office, a Tuesday debate on funding for the Interior Ministry proved much more explosive in the shadow of the disaster. MKs refused to approve the ministry’s proposed budget until it included a much strengthened budget for fire services.

“The Finance Committee has an opportunity to pass a clear message that the budget will not be approved until the necessary addition has been made in order to ensure the daily existence of the fire services,” said MK Ya’acov Edri (Kadima), who spearheaded the effort to stop the vote on the budget.

Embattled Interior Minister Eli Yishai reiterated during the hearing that the fire services had been at the top of his office’s priorities, and that this was obvious to anyone who saw the working papers drafted by the ministry.

“You can complain to every minister about why they don’t deal 100 percent of the time with 100% of the areas for which they are responsible,” said Yishai. “But when a minister struggles and his opinion is not accepted, and the government makes a decision, the collective responsibility is on the entire government.”

Yishai received reinforcement from fellow Shas member MK Yitzhak Vaknin, who blasted the opposition for “unrestrained attacks against the current government,” arguing that the failures are the responsibility of previous administrations. He also received a leg up from MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor), who said that the attacks against Yishai were unfair, and that the responsibility “stemmed from the Treasury’s scandalous decision to make the budget dependent on carrying out reforms.”

Finance Committee members also discussed the subject of financial aid to fire victims, calling on the government to streamline the bureaucracy to enable victims to get funds as easily as possible.

Deputy Interior Ministry Dir.- Gen. Shuki Amrani told MKs that there are approximately 219 people who are entitled according to the initial criteria to receive immediate aid grants of NIS 2,500. Although the scale of the disaster is still being assessed, Amrani said, the total amount of compensation requests received thus far is approximately NIS 160 million.

Also on Tuesday, debate continued over Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s appointment of Netanya Mayor Miriam Fierberg to coordinate the government’s aid efforts to the Carmel region. Hof Hacarmel Regional Council Head Carmel Sela reportedly barred Fierberg from joining a visit to burned areas of the council, arguing that “he could take care of his own citizens’ needs.”

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin joined the fray Tuesday night, asking why it was necessary to appoint Fierberg to head an inter-ministerial committee when there were a number of ministers who could have performed the same service.

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