Could do better

The Jerusalem comptroller’s annual report reveals flagrant abuse of public funds

Council member Fleur Hassan-Nahum, chairwoman of the council’s comptroller’s committee. (photo credit: PR)
Council member Fleur Hassan-Nahum, chairwoman of the council’s comptroller’s committee.
(photo credit: PR)
The annual city’s comptroller’s report focuses on the deficiencies of the different administrations at Safra Square. City comptroller Malka Dror last week published her report covering the year 2016, along with the reaction and remarks of Mayor Nir Barkat and of the specific heads of the subsidiary administrations and companies named in the report. Each chapter focuses on a specific issue or department and includes the responses of the persons and/or department heads in question. The report also includes Barkat’s overall response to the findings.
Never a pleasant moment for the controlled and the inspected, a comptroller’s report is essential in a public institution such as the municipality.
Council member Fleur Hassan-Nahum, chairwoman of the council’s comptroller’s committee, says that the most important issue addressed in this report is the amount of public money lost due to the lack of coordination, control and oversight by different elements in the municipality. According to the report, municipal tenders for positions in departments or contracts for services or goods lack control and follow- up to ensure that public money is used appropriately.
Hassan-Nahum says that the findings reveal that millions of shekels are wasted as a result of lack of preparation and coordination between departments. The municipality relies too much on public tenders published by various departments instead of creating a database of the exact needs of the city and publishing its own tenders. Due to the lack of coordination between departments, public tenders do not always fit the exact needs of the city. They are not well enough presented to all departments, causing redundancy. New projects undertaken may already exist or at least have elements that can be re-purposed.
“Taxpayer money is not optimally used. Tenders must be coordinated and checked inside the system before being published,” says Hassan-Nahum.
There is a troubling reality of repeated irregularities and deviations from proper management and normal procedures. One example is the parking problem. According to the comptroller’s findings, the lack of parking places reflects the lack of a comprehensive parking plan for the city. There are no figures regarding the number of parking places needed now or in the future. Beyond that, the municipality is not implementing one of its best tools – to ensure that adequate parking is provided for in every new construction project, as required by regulations. In one case, an employee of the legal department responsible for enforcing these rules repeatedly canceled reports and fines issued to relatives or friends. She also canceled a parking violation fine issued to the son of a high-ranking municipality employee. Confronted with her acts, that employee had to resign.
In another case, the municipality lost revenues due to mismanagement of school transportation. Lack of coordination by the Education Ministry (which finances this transportation) cost the city NIS 11.5 million. The education administration (Manhi) failed to report the exact numbers of pupils concerned and to collect the payments. Since the contract between the municipality and the ministry was not properly executed, it couldn’t be funded, and in fact, was not even legal, as it lacked the approval and the signature of the party responsible for that kind of contract (in this case, the city’s legal adviser).
Perhaps the most egregious case reported is that of the deputy CEO of the Mass Transportation Master Plan, a municipal department. Three years ago, upon being hired for the position, he claimed that he had a BA in philosophy and an MA in urban planning, when actually he had no academic degree at all. Moreover, he was at the same time employed as a deputy CEO for finance management in another firm and therefore had to be absent frequently. On the days he was not at his Master Plan office, he had his secretary sign his employee’s card so that his salary was not harmed.
About a year ago, somebody at the office saw his photo in the staff of the other company and made a remark – to which he responded that it was his twin brother. Still, nobody thought that the matter should be investigated. In addition, for three years, he was being refunded for car expenses even though he didn’t own a car. The comptroller submitted a complaint to the police and canceled his severance pay, since he was fired.
Dror ended her report with recommendations, such as installing a system of coordination and pre-engagement checking for any tender published by the government or any other public institution. She explained that even though the current method helps to obtain some of the best candidates and conditions, the lack of coordination that ensues when large public institutions prepare them may negate the advantages.
Another recommendation is to establish a precise map of the various needs of all municipal departments before publishing any public or private new tender so that the exact needs of the city are clarified before any engagement is undertaken.