Visually impaired protestors outside a Haifa court yesterday. The sign in front reads: “There can be
Visually impaired protestors outside a Haifa court yesterday. The sign in front reads: “There can be no dialogue in the dark.” Photo by Itzik Ben-Malki
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Israel's only rehabilitation and training center for the blind and sight-impaired will be sent into receivership, the Haifa District Court said yesterday after the government refused to cover the nonprofit organization's NIS 11 million deficit.

Sources at Migdal Or (Tower of Light ) told Haaretz the operating expenses for the center and its various units are higher than what the state is willing to invest.

The Social Affairs Ministry accused the NGO's administrators of poor management, but said it would continue channeling funds to the receiver so the center would continue providing services.

The center, located in Kiryat Haim near Haifa, is operated on behalf of the Social Affairs Ministry at an annual budget of NIS 14 million.

The operation includes the national center for rehabilitative training for the blind and sight-impaired, a plant employing 140 sight-impaired patients, and a hostel for around 40 patients who need constant care. As many as 3,500 patients turn to the center every year, the nonprofit said.

Ministry funding didn't cover costs

Last March, after an agreement between Migdal Or and the ministry, a special administrator was appointed. But an official for the organization said the center's deficit continued to grow under the administrator's management, increasing by NIS 600,000. Migdal Or said this proves its claims that the funding from the ministry did not cover operating costs.

In her verdict, the Haifa District Court president strongly criticized the state's conduct. She said the ministry rejected a proposition from the team set up by the special administrator, which requested a budget increase of NIS 1.25 million.

The judge wrote that the Finance Ministry refused to make payments or guarantees that would have ensured that the center could continue as an ongoing operation. Only after state authorities could not find a solution that would support the rehabilitation of the blind did the judge agree to appoint a receiver for Migdal Or.

Trainers want to stay together

"The Social Affairs Ministry doesn't really comprehend what it would mean to close the place," the chairwoman of the nonprofit's workers committee, Ronit Landsman, said yesterday. "I don't understand the unwillingness to transfer funds needed for rehabilitation and training - after all, it would cost the state more to pay the workers' unemployment benefits."

Social Affairs Ministry director-general Nahum Itzkovich said he and his colleagues would "make every effort to ensure that services for the blind will continue."

He said the ministry would continue supplying the receiver with the budget necessary to operate the center, adding that the receiver could wind up running the nonprofit for years.

Itzkovich also said the ministry has published a tender for the operation of the rehabilitative training center, and that the instructors who help the blind lead an independent life will remain employed by the center.

He said the center would be operated by a number of organizations throughout the country.

The trainers, however, do not want to be scattered among different operators and demand that they remain together at the center.

They also demand that the Social Affairs Ministry cover Migdal Or's debt for their entitlement payments, amounting to around NIS 1 million.

"We will go on fighting," said one employee, Jacky Landau. "It's not a lot of money for the ministry, but it is for us, and the ministry is responsible for that money."