If the Transportation Ministry is driving you crazy, you're not alone

The ministry is this year's "winner" of the prize for poorest service to the public, according to the Ombudsman's Report for 2007.

Mofaz 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Mofaz 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Transportation Ministry is this year's "winner" of the prize for poorest service to the public, according to the Ombudsman's Report for 2007, released Wednesday. According to the figures compiled by Ombudsman Micha Lindenstrauss, 64 percent of the complaints against the ministry that his office investigated over the year were found to be justified. Lindenstrauss investigated a total of 178 complaints against the ministry. Next in providing poor service was the Israel Police. Of 344 complaints investigated in 2007, 44.8% were found to be justified. The government body with the most complaints investigated last year was the National Insurance Institute, with 688. However, "only" 27% of these were found to be justified. Other institutions with high proportions of justified complaints included the court system, with 43.4% of 106 complaints justified; the Israel Broadcasting Authority, with 39.9% of 143 justified; and the Finance Ministry, with 36.2% of 246 complaints ruled reasonable. The complaints investigated by the Ombudsman's Office included those left over from 2006 and most, but not all, of those filed in 2007. Only in some of the cases was the investigation carried through to the end, and only regarding these cases did the Ombudsman determine whether the complaint was justified. Many complaints registered were found to be outside the boundaries of the law, while others fell by the wayside for various reasons during the investigation itself. Altogether, 9,749 complaints were filed in 2007, about 180 less than the previous year, but almost 2,000 more than in 2005. Lindenstrauss's report gave examples of complaints he found to be justified. One complainant wrote to the ombudsman that the Tax Authority's National Unit for the Enforcement of Collection had seized his car and placed it in escrow. When asked why, the authority told him he owed money on the sale of land that he and three partners had owned. He then paid the authority NIS 12,876 for the taxes and NIS 1,125 for the storage of his car. Afterwards, he discussed the matter with the lawyer who had taken care of the sale. She showed him documents proving he had already paid all the taxes. He then went to the Tax Authority and asked an official to check whether there had been a mistake. The official refused his request twice. On his third visit, another official looked up the transaction and found that an error had indeed been made. He then complained about the official who had refused to check the matter. The ombudsman investigated and found that the Tax Authority had credited the entire tax payment on the land sale to one of the other partners. The authority could not find any documents to prove it had sent warnings to the complainant to pay his "debt" or it would seize the car before actually seizing it. It also found that the official who had refused to check whether the complainant had paid the tax had not behaved properly. It fined the Tax Authority NIS 3,000. In another case, an elderly couple from the former Soviet Union received a rental stipend from the Construction and Housing Ministry via Bank Tefahot. In May 2004, the bank, without warning, demanded that the couple pay back NIS 1,560 that, it said, it had paid them in error over a period of time. The couple wrote to the bank asking for permission to pay the debt in installments. The bank did not reply. Instead, it stopped transferring the monthly stipends altogether for nine months, until the couple paid back the debt in full. The bank then refused to pay the couple for the nine months it had suspended the stipends. The ombudsman found that the couple's "debt" was a result of the fact that their rent had been reduced while the payments had continued according to the previous rate. The couple had informed the bank that the rent had been reduced, but the bank continued to pay the higher rate. In the nine months before the couple repaid their "debt" of NIS 1,560, they had monthly payments of NIS 900 coming to them, for a total of NIS 8,100. The ombudsman found that the bank was responsible for the mistake. The Housing Ministry then paid the couple the NIS 8,100 that had been withheld. The ombudsman added that in a case in which a government authority overpays, it may not deduct the overpayment from the regular, monthly payment without first examining each case on its own merits to see, for example, who was responsible for the mistake. In this case, it ordered the ministry to repay the couple the NIS 1,560.