State Comptroller: Failures in Israel's Electric, Water, Firefighting Sectors

The annual State Comptroller's report finds electrical sector dominated by short-term considerations; criticizes Defense Ministry for spending NIS 32 million on unproven, inefficient firefighting kits.

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State Comptroller Joseph Shapira on Wednesday released the first portion of his annual report, which focused mainly on economic and infrastructure issues, criticizing dealings in Israel's electric, water and firefighting sectors, as well as dealings in Israel's largest commercial harbor, the Port of Ashdod.

Shapira criticized the planning and execution of Israel's electrical sector, indicating significant flaws in the decision making process of the state's Israel Electric Corporation, and in charting a long-range electrical policy.

These failings, the report said, causes a state of affairs in which Israel's electrical sector is dominated by short-term considerations, and as a result cumbersome emergency plans that burden consumers are repeatedly approved.

Elsewhere in the report, Shapira criticized high water rates, accusing the Finance Ministry and Israel's Water Authority of poorly executing the relevant reforms in a manner that has severally hurt private water consumers.

Another topic dealt with by the newly released report is the reformation of Israel's aerial firefighting unit after the 2010 Carmel fire.

In the wake of the massive blaze, the document said, the defense establishment invested NIS 32 million in two special kits that were fitted on firefighting planes so they would scoop up water. This was despite the fact that experts have indicated that these kits were not proven to be efficient.

The "scooping" kits acquired by the Defense Ministry were eventually dismantled from the planes, Shapira wrote, after it became apparent they were unsuited to gathering water from Israel's lakes.

The installment of these kits, the State Comptroller added, effectively grounded the planes for a significant amount of time, damaging their operational readiness.

Shapira wrote that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recommendation to purchase the equipment, as expressed in a missive from Netanyahu's military secretary to his counterpart in the Defense Ministry, did not rely on joint research or on the professional recommendations of Defense Ministry and IDF officials.

In another section of the report, Shapira severely criticized acquisition procedures in the Port of Ashdod, which accumulated to an annual budget of NIS 60 million.

The port accounts for about 60 percent of the countries imported goods.

One of the Port of Ashdod's biggest annual expenditures, criticized in the report, is catering meals for the port's workers, with a yearly contract of NIS12 million, partly funded by the firm, partly by the workers.

Shapira indicated that the Port of Ashdod continued to conduct business with the catering service, despite the fact that the yearly cost of catering should have reached only NIS 9.5 million.

The Israel Electric Corporation said in response to the report that the firm had "cooperated with the professionals in the State Comptroller's Office throughout the probe," adding that it will work to implement its recommendations.

The Port of Ashdod said that it had already submitted its response to issues raised in the comptroller's draft report, and that "some of the flaws found were already dealt with, and other issues will be addressed in a tight schedule as part of an orderly pre-set plan."

The IDF spokesman said in response that the "government of Israel allocated a short amount of time for administrative work in the defense establishment concerning establishing an aerial firefighting force, both as a temporary and a permanent solution."

"The air force's stance was formulated with coordination with officials in the Defense Ministry and in the Israel Fire and Rescue Services, based on all the information that was at their disposal," the IDF said.

The army also indicated that due to the limited time, "the IDF recommended that the state purchase light aircraft and postpone the decision regarding the heaver CL-415 planes until a permanent solution was discussed by a joint team comprised of representatives from the IDF, Israel Fire and Rescue Services, and the Interior Ministry."

This team, which the IDF said was formed per the State Comptroller's recommendation, "worked with officials in Israel as well as worldwide in order to define the need and establish the required response to the aerial firefighting needs, and its conclusions were a direct result of the temporary solutions given."

Concluding, the military said that the need for an aerial firefighting force was proven in recent fires.

Israel Fire and Rescue Services said that "the matters were dealt with during the probe."

A response from the Defense Ministry was yet to be received.

The Defense Ministry said in response that it, "along with the other agents involved, succeeded in establishing an aerial firefighting ability, which already proved its efficiency in last summer's fires, and with a cost of only tens of millions of shekels, as opposed to the original plan, estimated at over a billion shekels."

As for the "scooping" kits, the Defense Ministry said it acted according to instructions given by the Prime Minister's Office. "After its practicality was examined by the Air Force, it was found that the hauling of seawater in the specific airplanes was not possible due to the high waves in the Mediterranean Sea."

After it was decided to uninstall the kits, the statement said, the Defense Ministry exercised its contractual option to alter the aircraft back to its original configuration, and "was successful in its negotiations with the company to broaden the firefighting force with an extra airplane, with no extra charge."

The Defense Ministry also said that it will continue to cooperate and offer its expertise.

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira will be looking into allegations that the IDF violated international law during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza..Credit: Shiran Granot

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