Jewish Agency, health ministry blasted over failures in watchdog report

Comptroller blasts gov’t for deficiencies in medical, natural gas and Jewish Agency areas in annual report.

Israeli soldiers of the Caracal battalion carry their comrade on a stretcher during a 20-kilometer march in Israel's Negev desert, near Kibbutz Sde Boker (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli soldiers of the Caracal battalion carry their comrade on a stretcher during a 20-kilometer march in Israel's Negev desert, near Kibbutz Sde Boker
(photo credit: REUTERS)
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira published his annual report on Tuesday, slamming the government for a variety of deficiencies in the arenas of medicine, cyber crime and others, while also calling on the attorney-general to investigate Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel.
Shapira said the report reflected his focus on the “two flagship issues” of “struggling against public corruption” and “defending human rights, with an emphasis on protecting the rights of weaker sectors” of society.
In the electricity sector, the report scrutinized the country’s principal gas purchasing agreement, which resulted in a contract signed between the Israel Electric Corporation and the Tamar reservoir partners in 2012.
Shapira criticized the process of formulating that agreement, which he said led to overly high gas prices and caused harm to the public welfare.
Shapira explained that initial negotiations on the contract took place at a time when there was minimal competition in the gas sector, a shortage of gas and a change in fiscal policy related to gas. While the report acknowledged the agreement led to development of the Tamar Reservoir and the flow of gas to Israel earlier than the initial target date, Shapira said the resultant rise in gas prices cost the IEC between $820 million and $1.5 billion – likely influencing electricity rates as well.
Shapira found that ministries granted the Jewish Agency exemption from tender bids in a number of areas – only some of which were permitted according to an agreement reached with the government.
In 1952, the state granted the Jewish Agency a unique status, which among other things allowed it exemption from tendering contracts in specified areas. The agreement was renewed in 1979.
The audit found, however, that ministries allowed the agency to implement some projects in areas that were incompatible with functions listed in the agreement and others which were clearly not permitted.
The comptroller explained that having automatic control over such a large range of areas undermines competition on those projects and can even prevent the ministries from attaining advantages inherent in public tendering.
Shapira also tackled the issue of cross-boundary water pollution, describing the problem as Israel’s most serious ecological hazard that crosses the Green Line. Blaming a variety of government authorities for failing to coordinate their activities or set specific policy for handling the treatment of such resources, the state comptroller called upon relevant officials to join forces immediately.
Shapira called upon all relevant parties to take “systemic action” and unify under one inter-ministerial team, as well as enlist international support, to find solutions to what has become one of the gravest problems in the region.
The report warned that poor management of water resources could also inflame the Palestinians and cause broader diplomatic and security problems.
The report was scathing in its criticism of irregularities and apparent corruption in kashrut supervision provided through local rabbinates under the auspices of the Religious Services Ministry and the Chief Rabbinate.
Some of the worst findings included kashrut supervisors who designated working hours among the different businesses they supervise of up to 24 hours a day; inspectors who were responsible for evaluating the performance of other kashrut supervisors who also serve as supervisors; a majority of kashrut supervisors who do not have the necessary qualifications; and a failure of the ministry to oversee the proper functioning of kashrut departments in local rabbinates.
The report also discussed discrimination against women in general and more specifically against girls in the haredi school system.
Judy Siegel, Tovah Lazaroff, Anna Ahronheim, Jeremy Sharon and Eliyahu Kamisher contributed to this report.