PM's reform opponents use Holyland affair

Coalition for Responsible planning says scandal should be a lesson for reform

By RON FRIEDMAN
April 12, 2010 03:57
2 minute read.
The Holyland real estate project (Ariel Jerozolims

HOLYLAND 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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Opponents of the prime minister’s planning and construction reform are taking advantage of the controversy surrounding the Holyland affair, in which government officials are suspected of taking bribes to issue building permits, to try and derail the reform.

On Sunday, the Coalition for Responsible Planning sent a letter to the legal adviser to the Interior Ministry, with copies to the Prime Minister’s Office and the ministry’s planning authority, asking to have the period during which the public can submit objections to the reform bill extended by a month, to allow the consideration of lessons from the Jerusalem corruption case.

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“Over the last weekend much information has been revealed about the Jerusalem construction permit affair (the Holyland affair). In light of this information and in light of the fact that more is likely to be revealed in the near future, which will shed new light on the bad practices of the local planning committees, we call on you to halt the promotion of the planning and construction reform, for now, until all the hidden facts and shortcomings are found out,” the letter read.

“The Holyland affair exemplifies the great danger that lies in giving power to unprofessional elements and the lack of sufficient oversight. We call on you to replace the speedy legislation process currently under way with a more steady and ordered course, with full transparency to the public and civil society groups, that will guarantee that common assets are not given up to special-interest holders, and so that the dark practices that were revealed in the Holyland affair do not turn into the norm.”

Sunday was the last day the public could submit objections to the bill. The original deadline was more than three weeks ago, but the government agreed to defer the cut-off date after the Coalition for Responsible Planning, an alliance of 30 environmental, social and civil groups, filed a petition to the High Court of Justice.

While the court did not order the government to move the deadline, the justices used strong language suggesting it was the right thing to do.

The reform bill was originally drafted by members of the Prime Minister’s Office and was made public on February 10. According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the reform aims to ease bureaucratic procedures in the planning and construction sector by restructuring the planning committee system, giving more power to the local planning committees and reducing layers of oversight.



The reform’s opponents say they agree that the process should be improved, but that the legislation currently proposed would lead to mismanagement, corruption and the wholesale turnover of state land to contractors and real estate tycoons.

The Interior Ministry spokeswoman denied receiving the letter and said she failed to see a connection between the Holyland affair and the planning reform.

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