Local authorities riddled with violations and corruption

Comptroller’s Report cites probe finding 209 local council members from 67 councils had not paid arnona or water bills for over a year.

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October 14, 2010 02:39
3 minute read.
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss.

Micha Lindenstrauss 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )

 
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The local councils and municipalities are riddled with violations by candidates and elected officials, ranging from widespread conflicts of interest to dozens of candidates who ran for office after having served in prison, the 2009 State Comptroller’s Report found.

The violations covered a wide range of regulations placed on local council members and mayors. For instance, even though they are required by law to declare their personal worth, only 40 percent of local council heads did so in the past year, as did less than 20% of deputy council heads.

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Conflicts of interest were also widespread and loosely policed, with the report stating that 20 local council members had been found who were employed at the same time as contractors, and that out of 150 conflict of interest complaints submitted since 2008, 28% resulted in rulings after six months, while the rest took over a year.

According to the law, mayors and local council heads are not allowed to have additional forms of employment while in office. Nonetheless, the report found that out of 50 local officials examined, 13 had other jobs in fields ranging from finance to construction. These 13 officials served on the boards of a total of 30 companies and three of them were listed as CEOs.

In addition, state law stipulates that a candidate cannot run for a local council seat if he or she is bankrupt or has been sentenced to serve time in prison. Nonetheless, the report found that in 2008, 29 candidates for local council seats had previously filed for bankruptcy, and 44 had been sentenced to jail terms. Of the candidates who had been bankrupt, two were eventually elected to local councils, as was one of those who had received a prison sentence.

The Comptroller’s Report also cites figures from an Interior Ministry probe in 2007, which found that 209 local council members from 67 councils had not paid their arnona (property tax) or water bills for over a year, with the delinquent bills totaling some NIS 8.4 million. The findings included seven members of the Jisr e-Zarka council, who collectively owed NIS 703,000 by the end of 2009.

The city of Ramat Gan earned a special place in the report, with an entire section devoted to violations by the municipality dealing with a lack of transparency in the authorization of building projects.



State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss contends in the report that local leaders such as the city’s head engineer, Haim Cohen, “failed in his position” and that the lack of transparency and secretive nature in which projects were pushed through and approved violated the basic rights of local residents to protest such moves.

This isn’t the first time the Ramat Gan municipality has been at the center of controversy. In April, police reported that Mayor Tzvi Bar, who had been the subject of a lengthy bribery investigation by the Israel Police, worked to expand the size of a residential project in the city to over triple its original size, all at the expense of other municipal projects.

The Savion Tower project was initially meant to include 44 residential units, a number that later ballooned to 156 units on 35 floors. In time, builders realized that the project was too large for the lot that was then slated for development. Contractors then requested that the city allow them to build on an adjacent lot that was slated for the construction of a recreation center for senior citizens. The city granted the request.

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