'No fence money left in 2007 budget'

Contractors told to stop work on security barrier, including in J'lem; PMO admits: coffer is empty.

vilnaiscratcheshead298AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Ten contractors preparing to start work on new sections of the West Bank security fence have been told by the Defense Ministry to stop for lack of funds, according to Dudi Barrel, director-general of the Israel Infrastructure Contractor's Association. Initially he thought the problem was localized to three contractors, he told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday. But upon further inspection, he discovered the problem was more widespread and that 10 contractors had received such instructions, including in the area of Jerusalem considered one of the major entry points for suicide bombers. Barrel said he believed these were all the contractors involved in new fence projects. Therefore, he said, there had been no new work on the fence. The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said it did not know about the instructions to the contractors, but after delving further into the issue, it did agree that the 2007 coffer for the barrier was empty. Initially it had believed that NIS 500 million remained, but that proved not to be the case, it said. "The 2007 budget [for the security fence] is finished, and therefore the work is subsiding." Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i said in the Knesset Wednesday So far this year, the Defense Ministry has completed only 48 kilometers of the fence, compared with 102 km. last year. It has now scaled back its intention to finish an additional 50 km. this year. With two months left in the year, it cannot say how many kilometers it can complete this year. In the last four months, it has not finished a single kilometer of the fence. This means that since July, only 56.9 percent, or 450 km., of the fence has been completed. Out of the 790-km. route, 100 km. are tied up in court and another 160 km. are in the planning stages. But there are some 80 km. on which work has already started and for which there is no barrier to completion, except for the budget. The Defense Ministry was not available to comment on Barrel's remark that all contractors had been told to halt new work on the fence. Construction was ongoing on older sections of the barrier that had not been completed, Barrel said. For the last week, the Defense Ministry has refused to answer queries regarding a shortfall in the budget. According to the PMO, some NIS 800m. had been allocated to the Defense Ministry for fence construction this year, compared to NIS 1.3 billion in 2006. The ministry did not receive the full NIS 1.3b. sum in 2007, because NIS 500m. was diverted to other security priorities, the PMO said. Discussions are ongoing between the Treasury, the Defense Ministry and the PMO as to whether the NIS 500m. would be restored in the 2008 budget, jacking it up to 1.8b, the PMO said. At a cost of NIS 9m. to NIS 13m. per kilometer, the Defense Ministry this year should have been able to complete 100 km. of the security fence instead of 48 km. if it had received the full allocation of NIS 1.3b. This would have left only 36.71% of the barrier undone.