Comptroller: 95% of playgrounds unsafe

Report also says J'lem municipality failed in historical building's handling, sanitation of capital.

playground 248.88 generic (photo credit: Ruth Eglash)
playground 248.88 generic
(photo credit: Ruth Eglash)
Ninety-five percent of children's playgrounds examined in 33 local councils were found to be unsafe, according to a report on municipalities and local authorities published Wednesday by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss. He described it as one of the most problematic sets of findings he had ever published. In addition, the report warned parents of unregulated summer camps, while blasting authorities for bad water quality, unfair collection processes and poor urban planning. Not only are the playgrounds dangerous, but Lindenstrauss also found that local municipalities fail to install signs alerting parents to the dangers of using their facilities. During 2006, the State Comptroller's Office examined 223 playgrounds in 33 local councils. All were found to have serious security risks. In 2007, another 196 playgrounds were checked and only three were found to be safe. After those initial findings, Lindenstrauss asked officials from the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry to carry out sample examinations of playgrounds. The results reinforced his initial findings - 95% of the playgrounds were unsafe. The officials discovered playgrounds with fractured and protruding parts, without barriers preventing children from running out into the road, without layers of sand, rubber or gravel thick enough to absorb the shock on a toddler should they fall, and even 11 with power lines passing low over playgrounds - a problem that he described as justifying the closure of those playgrounds. "The playgrounds in some of the places that were checked were built at sites without normal approaches, and are full of obstacles and dangerous," wrote Lindenstrauss. "In the local authorities that were examined, there were no playgrounds found with special resources for children with special needs." But the very existence of playgrounds - safe or otherwise - was shown to be a privilege enjoyed by only some of Israel's children. In Umm el-Fahm, they are almost nonexistent, with four playgrounds for the city's 17,500 children. Children in Bnei Brak may have a slightly shorter wait at the swing set, with a ratio of one playground for every 2,895 children. The comptroller said that as playgrounds are known to be important for children's development, municipalities in those places must work to build more of them. An examination carried out on children's camps during school vacations in Herzliya, Ramat Gan, Holon and Tel Aviv-Jaffa found that in those environments, too, children were far from safe. In all four cities, Lindenstrauss found that the municipalities were unaware of dozens of summer camps operating in their boundaries without any supervision. None of the 164 summer camps operated in Ramat Gan and Herzliya that should have applied for operating permits did so. In the other two municipalities, the situation was barely better. Other chapters in the report found fault with municipalities hiring private companies to collect taxes and tariffs owed by the residents, and drastic differences among penalties and tariffs charged in different municipalities. The comptroller found that the private companies charge residents even for mail they send them, or for punitive measures such as disconnecting a household from the water supply, and described the use of the private companies to collect debts as "a true failure." In some cases, companies charged residents a tariff for services the municipality must, according to law, supply for free. The report blasted zoning, planning and preservation practices in Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Netanya, highlighting Jerusalem's faulty handling of the historic Frumin House, the Knesset's home in the state's early days, which has been modified in places to such an extent that it is barely recognizable. The comptroller lamented that the committee approved a conservation plan without noticing that the plan did not offer an accurate recreation of the original hall. Lindenstrauss also warned that the local authorities themselves were in danger of collapse as a result of inconsistent and insufficient funding as part of the annual state budget. In presenting President Shimon Peres with his report, Lindenstrauss said it was one of the most serious reports that his office had prepared. Lindenstrauss said that his office would continue to keep a watchful eye on the various municipalities, and would crack down on those that persisted in shortchanging their residents. Peres responded that there was no doubt that each local council was involved in the day-to-day life of the citizens of the country, and that there was a serious problem in the division of resources and responsibility between local authorities and the government. Such divisions were not always balanced or correct, he added. Peres expressed the hope that the report would lead to an improvement in the situation, and that local authorities would begin to eradicate their faults. There was no point in writing the report, he said, if its recommendations were not implemented. Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.