Millions of shekels wasted on unbuilt residence for PM

Had the project been built, protests would not be taking place in a residential neighborhood.

An image grab taken from an AFP video shows a vehicle belonging to the Israeli police at the entrance to the residence of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 2, 2018. (photo credit: AHIKAM SERI / AFP)
An image grab taken from an AFP video shows a vehicle belonging to the Israeli police at the entrance to the residence of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 2, 2018.
(photo credit: AHIKAM SERI / AFP)
The process of building a new Prime Minister’s Office and Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem has carried on for a quarter century, wasting millions of shekels without making progress, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman said in a report released Monday.
The office and residence are set to be built in close proximity to one another for security reasons and convenience. The location chosen was in the government quarter, across from the Foreign Ministry. The lot, which remains empty, is far from residential neighborhoods such as the current official residence in Rehavia, where the ongoing demonstrations bother neighbors.
But after years of planning, preparations to begin building have not begun. Due to changes in the entrance to Jerusalem, including large office buildings and the light rail that are being built, an alternative site is being sought.
“The project of forming an office and official residence for the prime minister has been on and off the government’s agenda for 25 years,” Englman’s office wrote. “At the time of this report, the project is frozen, its planning has not been completed, and the construction has obviously not yet begun. This is a complex and sensitive project that involves many technical aspects, security concerns and the demands involved in conducting future ceremonies.”
The comptroller’s report reveals a comedy of errors in government offices, the National Security Council and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Service) working on the project without coordination while wasting millions of shekels.
The project was initially set to cost NIS 650 million, but it is now estimated at 1.2 billion. About NIS 6.5m. has already been spent on architectural plans, with NIS 50m. more still expected.
In 1995, the site was set for the project as part of plans for the government quarter and new offices built for cabinet ministries that relocated to Jerusalem.
In February 2009, the caretaker government of then-prime minister Ehud Olmert approved the project before he left office, because he believed it was essential and that a new government would face criticism for the plan.
Three months later, shortly after Netanyahu became prime minister and the plan’s large costs were condemned in the media, he canceled the plan. But he allowed planning the project to continue.
The project was approved again in December 2015. But in 2017, the Shin Bet added NIS 270m. in additional security costs that skyrocketed the cost of the project. Meanwhile, more and more millions of shekels were allocated for security upgrades in the current official residence.
The comptroller urged the government to make decisions as soon as possible about the fate of the project and to learn lessons from mistakes made over the past 25 years.