Cleaning House at the Local Level

No less than 44 candidates in the last local government elections have been sentenced at some point to prison.

The State Comptroller's annual report on local authorities in the country discloses a worrisome decline in governmental norms. No less than 44 candidates in the last local government elections have been sentenced at some point to prison, which should have rendered their candidacy ineligible, and 29 candidates declared bankruptcy in the past. Some of the candidates in these two categories were elected to local government posts.

Holyland construction project in Jerusalem.
Lior Mizrahi

More than 60 percent of local government heads who served during the 2001-2009 period failed to file personal income declarations, as is required by law; this holds true of 80 percent of local council deputies.

Particularly troubling is the co-mingling of public service and private business: 20 members of various local councils worked concurrently as contractors, and some of these served on planning and construction sub-committees, or committees that have administrative authority in the city or region in question. Fifty local council heads were involved in non-municipal companies; 31 of had roles in companies that work in investment and construction, electricity and metal products; 18 of these were the owners of such companies.

Such conflicts of interest, which are liable to have a negative, irreversible influence in land and real estate dealings, as well as local and national planning matters, are problematic.This is especially true now, when anticipated land reforms will soon transfer additional authority to local planning committees.

The planning and construction industries, where hefty profits are to be made, is singularly vulnerable to corruption. The report examined five local governments, and found that 10 of their council members belong to local committees that committed offenses such as un-permitted construction of temporary structures, building projects that did not fall in line with permit regulations and building on lots in contravention of authorized development plans.

While this report focuses on local authorities, it also bears witness to the central government's impotence, and to government ministries that shirk responsibility and breach their duty to monitor the local governments and set policy guidelines for them.

Local governments should carry out their own internal review. But these self-examinations will be pointless if Israel's central government does not repair its own errors.