'Gov't fails to provide for Ethiopians'

State Comptroller's Report slams social services; says failure to provide for immigrants adds to poverty.

lindenstrauss 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
lindenstrauss 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A series of failures over the years to provide adequate and culture-appropriate treatment to tens of thousands of new Ethiopian immigrants has contributed to the growing poverty and distress of more than two-thirds of the 110,500-strong population, a report published Tuesday by the State Comptroller's office has found. Focusing on the treatments provided by the Social Welfare Services, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and the Anti-Drugs Authority to assist the needy immigrant community between January-October 2007, the report highlighted the "general failure by the authorities in treating the Ethiopian community in the area of social welfare." In addition, the report pointed out the failure by the government to transfer its decisions to the people out in the field. "The most troubling finding," wrote the comptroller, "is that these problems have been known about for many years. How could these state-controlled bodies not have internalized this community's unique needs and devised a method of helping them?" The report calls on the relevant ministries to "immediately seek ways to fix the problems outlined in the report and to coordinate their work by sharing their information and program ideas." "We know that the findings were not positive," a spokesman for the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday. "But we are now working hard to improve the situation and we have carried out our own research. The office now has new ideas on how to deal with the problems." He pointed out that since the comptroller's office completed its research in October, the government has approved a first-of-its-kind five year plan aimed at improving life for thousands of Ethiopian families. However, he added, "We are still waiting for final funding approval from the Finance Ministry." Ethiopian MK Shlomo Mula (Kadima) commented that the report made clear the disparities between government decisions and implementation. "There needs to be a parliamentary investigation to see how these [government] policies end up falling through the cracks," he said, adding the fact the five-year-plan has still not been implemented shows that the "government makes promises but nothing ends up happening." Taking the two cities in the case study - Ashdod and Netanya - the comptroller noted that "domestic violence in the Ethiopian community was disproportionately high" due to a range of social and cultural challenges faced by the immigrants during the absorption process. However, it added that the social welfare services charged with tackling the problem were not sufficiently trained or equipped to help victims of such violence. "In Ashdod, individual treatments were carried out by social workers who had not been trained in the field of domestic violence or with experience on how to deal with the Ethiopian community," observed the report. "In Netanya, there were two social workers of Ethiopian descent but they could not deal with the overwhelming demand for services and as a result those who needed treatment had to wait a very long time to receive it." Failure to provide wide-ranging assistance in the area of alcohol and drug abuse, despite 2003 figures from the Anti-Drugs Authority showing that a quarter of Ethiopian teens had reported to using drugs, two-thirds said they'd experimented with alcohol and 40 percent admitted to getting drunk, were also noted in the comptroller's report. Earlier Tuesday, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss presented the State Comptroller's Report to the head of the Knesset State Control Committee. "Today is a day of celebration for Israeli democracy," he said, "because there is no real democracy without a critical institution working in the most professional way." "The current report … contains more than 1500 pages," he added. He went on to say that the recommendations of past reports are currently "being used by ministers and government offices." "We are not talking of [charges of] corruption alone, he continued, "but rather of the shortcomings of the government [and its offices]." He said that the report will be passed on to [Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz], who Lindenstrauss estimates will be "interested in [the report] and will find materials to pass on to police for investigation." Lindenstraus mentioned the fear of criticism affecting the ability of government offices to take suggestions. He disagreed with this stance, stating that such criticism in fact "better helps citizens of the country." Knesset State Control Committee Chairman Zevulun Orlev (National Union-NRP) commented on the State Comptroller's Report, saying that he was "very concerned about attempts to de-legitimize the state comptroller." He added that if the government is harmed by criticism, it reflects badly on the Knesset. According to Orlev, the committee will "devote a concerted effort to strengthening the state comptroller's position." He said that no one has immunity from criticism, or from the fulfillment of obligations, "from the prime minister down to the clerks."