Corridors of power: Revenge is sweet

Among the many large-scale projects he promoted in the city, Olmert was eager to see the YMCA's prestigious construction project approved by the planning committee and the city council.

ymca 298. 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
ymca 298. 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For some people, 10 years may be considered a long time; but if they end in sweetness, they can seem like a day. From 1993 to 2003, our current prime minister, Ehud Olmert, served as mayor of Jerusalem. Among the many large-scale projects he promoted in the city, he was eager to see the YMCA's prestigious construction project approved by the planning committee and the city council. The project was indeed approved and Olmert, whose imagination and creativity were at their peak, promoted another agreement within the project: The developers would be released from the compulsory land development tax, which totaled at first some $14.5 million. Due to some unclear internal computations, the sum was ultimately reduced to $11.5 million. But for Olmert, it was not enough. Approached by the developers, he was persuaded to replace the tax by some nice - and not really necessary - gifts to the city: a few kindergarten classrooms, a public library that would be free for the children of Jerusalem and access to the project's parking lot. Upon its release, this agreement caused such anger among the opposition on the city council and in the local and national press, that the Movement for Quality Government decided to take it to the High Court of Justice, but not before the state comptroller was asked to check its legitimacy. The state comptroller ruled that it was not legal but added that the agreement between the builders and the municipality couldn't be broken. The opposing city council members were frustrated but had no choice. One of them, then chairman of the municipality comptroller's committee Pepe Alalu, was outraged and swore he would never give up trying to reverse the decision if the opportunity arose. More than 10 years have passed. Today Alalu is deputy mayor and holds the culture portfolio, but he never forgot the YMCA agreement. Recently he discovered that the project contractors have failed, some 12 years after being hired to do so, to provide the municipality with any of the facilities they promised. "We haven't received any classroom, there is no library, the parking lot is not close to being ready - in other words, we received nothing, not even the ridiculous sum promised for the municipality's renouncement of the millions of dollars we are entitled to and the city needs so badly," complained Alalu. He asked the municipality's attorney, Yossi Havilio, to check if in this case, the agreement was still valid. Havilio is checking into it. Meanwhile, the city's architect and the municipality's director-general are also looking into the matter. Although they are all very careful not to raise any false hopes, Alalu believes that "It will take time, but I am confident we will win." The problematic YMCA agreement is not the only recent case in which the municipality lost money. In another case, the city's daughter company Moriah did roadwork without a permit on a privately owned plot of land near Lifta. As a result, the municipality - i.e., our taxes - had to pay the owners $8 million for the land, despite the estimates of two experts that its real cost was less than $200,000. And this also took place - guess what? - during Olmert's term as mayor. And guess who has been trying to overturn the decision and to get back - at least a part of - the money? Alalu, of course. Here too, Alalu says he is realistic: "The case is in the court's hands. It may take a few more years, but I will never back down. After all, this is public money, and I am sure that in the end we will obtain sweet justice."