Holyland scandal spurs PM to rethink parts of buiding reform

Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman requested to carry out an additional review of the oversight mechanisms included in the bill.

binyamin netanyahu 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
binyamin netanyahu 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman requested to carry out an additional review of the oversight mechanisms included in the bill.
Allegations of high-level corruption in the approval of building permits for the Holyland building complex have led Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to reexamine sections of the proposed planning and construction reform law that deal with oversight mechanisms.
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement saying that Netanyahu, in consultation with Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, has asked Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to carry out an additional review of the oversight mechanisms included in the bill.
“A significant part of the corruption in Israel’s planning and construction mechanisms arises from the long and cumbersome procedures that exist in the field and the great difficulties they burden citizens and contractors with. As a result, the phenomenon of machers [middlemen], who bribe clerks and public officials, has spread widely over the years,” said Netanyahu.
Praising the reform, Netanyahu indicated that the solution to corruption was removing bureaucratic barriers.
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“We have shortened the process and rendered it both more transparent and more open to public scrutiny. However, I am still disturbed by the possibility that there might remain – at the local planning committees – pockets of practices that do not meet the criterion of integrity.
“Therefore, I have asked Justice Minister Neeman to – in consultation with Attorney-General Weinstein – examine the need to improve the new reform by adding tools that will further boost transparency, enforcement and the war on corruption,” said Netanyahu.
The bill has come under severe criticism by environmental and social organizations since it was first proposed in February, partly for the same concerns raised by Netanyahu.
While Netanyahu has said all along that the law has been designed to lift the bureaucratic impediments that have turned the construction process in Israel into one of the most complicated in the world, the plan’s opponents claim that the reform hands too much power to local authorities who don’t have the knowledge and resources to deal with external pressures, and they have warned of a rise in corruption and the disappearance of Israel’s open spaces.
The reform’s opponents have even taken to calling the planning and construction reform bill the “Holyland reform” claiming that its passing would lead to many similar corruption cases.
On Tuesday, members of the Coalition for Responsible Planning held a mock Independence Day torch-extinguishing ceremony below Jerusalem’s Holyland housing complex, where protesters wore masks depicting Netanyahu, Construction Minister Ariel Attias, Interior Minister Eli Yishai – all supposed beneficiaries of the reform and past Jerusalem mayors Uri Luplianski and Ehud Olmert, who have been implicated in the Holyland case.
“The statement that came out of the Prime Minister’s Office today is a smokescreen meant to lull the public to sleep so that they can continue promoting the aggressive bill, which tramples the publics’ rights and benefits the developers of the next Holyland deal,” read a statement from the Coalition for Responsible Planning.
“The coalition welcomes any initiative that will shorten and simplify permit procedures, but will never come to terms with the destruction of Israel’s planning mechanisms... What’s needed is the formation of a professional public committee that will act transparently and together with the public, academia and all stakeholders to propose a responsible reform that will protect the public integrity.”
“From the start it was clear that the planning and construction reform that Netanyahu pushed aggressively through the Knesset would increase corruption and harm the planning mechanisms and the environment,” said Kadima MK Yoel Hasson, chairman of the State Control Committee.
“The prime minister once again deluded the public. I plan to convenethe committee for a special debate about the decision-makingsurrounding the reform.”
Hadash MK Dov Henin, head of the Knesset’s environmental-social caucus,said it was clear that the reform would open the door for hundreds ofHolyland affairs across the country.
“The destruction of control mechanisms is at the heart of Netanyahu’sreform and the reason for the enthusiastic support of all sorts of realestate sharks.
“With the start of the Knesset’s summer session, the Knesset must showdetermination and decide on removing the reform from its agenda, toenable the government to produce a completely different reform thatwill address the real problems in the planning institutions.”