Red tape hell

Even savvy ministers throw up their hands in frustration at regional planning procedures.

red tape 88 (photo credit: )
red tape 88
(photo credit: )
A 10-year-old boy riding a bicycle was killed in an accident at a railway level crossing in Binyamina. After the accident, it emerged that a plan to separate the road and the railway and place them on different levels, a scheme that would have prevented the accident, had been languishing in the regional planning committee for nine years. Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit, one of the government's more practical and efficient ministers, was deeply distressed by this case and angrily assailed the bureaucracy involved: "I am simply shocked by the terrible red tape in which government officials themselves tie up the government." He further related how he and the local mayor had once toured the Binyamina area before the accident, and how the mayor had complained at the foot-dragging in the regional planning and construction committee, adding that crucial plans to pave roads were hamstrung by the intolerable sluggishness of the regional planning committees. Anyone familiar with government bureaucracy in the area of planning and construction can confirm Sheetrit's frustration. Stupidly, the Knesset and government have established an insane system in which government officials not only impede government plans that are intended to save lives, but also often undermine plans for Israel's development. The height of absurdity was reached during the intifada, when the country's economic situation and unemployment worsened and it was necessary to advance construction and development plans in order to alleviate the distress. Instead of moving into high gear, the planning system did just the opposite: It slowed down its work rate and virtually paralyzed all development programs. THE TEMPO at which the planning and construction system works is unusual even for Israel. A waiting period of five or even 10 years for a decision of any kind is par for the course - even when nonprofit organizations that benefit the entire public are involved. The law has established a system so intricate and ramified, so intimidating and cumbersome, so lacking in logic and common sense that even ministers have given up their attempts to streamline it. Sometimes the outcome is a fatal accident, like the one in Binyamina. Intriguingly, the complications and stumbling blocks, mayors and municipal engineers maintain, are caused by the transportation minister's representatives on these regional committees, who cause unnecessary difficulties and unreel excessive red tape, even when there is no logical reason. In other words, the impeded is also the impeder. The Transportation Ministry is complaining about red tape for which it is partly responsible. The planning system thereby symbolizes the disease our bureaucracy suffers from: Everyone is tying everyone else's hands, much like the chain gangs once common in American prisons. All, including the ministers, are encumbered by the same chains, fettered one to another, with none of them - the minister, his representatives, the local committee, the regional committee, the national council, the various special committees set up in accordance with the law, the various appeals committees, the legal advisers, the planners, the local governments - able to move. Even if all, individually, have the best of intentions, they are unable to work together. Because other developed countries do not suffer from difficulties of this kind, the Israeli economy is put at a disadvantage in international competition over investments. ONE OF the first tasks of the next Knesset and the government should be to unwind these chains. Clearly, the interests of the public and our environment must not be compromised in favor of narrow interests, but these interests can and must be safeguarded more efficiently. Three principles should guide the Knesset in passing a law to establish a regulatory bureaucratic system: • All interested parties should be allowed to participate in one planning committee, and all the bizarre redundancies currently existing should be abolished. • There should be only one right to appeal. The option of multiple appeals benefits no one. There is no proof that a large number of appeals ends in a better decision. This type of unnecessary profusion is exactly what is referred to by the saying Summa ius, summa iniuria - The height of justice is also the height of injustice. • Each body should be allocated a maximum period of time for a decision. After that the administrative body should be required to compensate those who suffered from any delay - unless, of course, they themselves have contributed to it. Moreover, if the time stipulated in the law has passed, the authority should be removed from the hands of that administrative body and handed over to the relevant minister for a final decision. These proposals suit all types of regulatory procedures. If the Knesset and government will only introduce them into the entire bureaucratic system, they will improve governance in Israel and benefit all citizens. The writer is president of The Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.