Versailles Disaster Panel 'Stunned' by Disorder in Construction

A new government office should be established to centralize the disorganized system of building standards, a state commission of inquiry on the Versailles disaster said in its findings, released Tuesday.

More than two and a half years after the floor collapsed at the Versailles banquet hall in Jerusalem as people danced at a wedding, killing 23 people and injuring dozens others, the Zeiler Commission said there is still no organized enforcement of construction laws, Army Radio reported.

The members wrote in their report that they were "stunned" by the sheer lack of order in construction, and recommended that in addition to the new government office, private, professional standards offices should be established to tighten supervision of planning and construction.

“The poisoned goblet of flaws that the construction industry is drowning in, is overflowing,” the panel wrote, to such an extent that it did not have the room to detail all the problems.

Judge Vardi Zeiler, head of the commission of inquiry, said only a "genius or a crazy person" could make sense of the disorganized and internally contradictory construction laws.

"The entire system [of construction laws] is a system that is flawed to its core," said Zeiler. "Someone who wants to know what [type of] stairs to put in some place has no way of knowing... Only a genius or a crazy person can be familiar with this kind of thing."

Minister of Housing and Construction Effi Eitam told Army Radio on Tuesday he agrees that the authority to create and enforce construction laws must be concentrated in one place. At the moment, he said, his own ministry controls only a portion of construction-related issues.

The Interior Ministry has authority over many aspects of construction, such as compelling building owners to fix construction flaws, said Eitam, while the Education Ministry controls the construction of schools.

"I think that if people want to take care of the issue on a long-term basis, they will really have to give the Housing and Construction Ministry concentrated powers," he said, specifically the authority to check the quality of construction and enforce construction laws.

So far, even decisions the government has made in the wake of the Versailles incident have not been strictly carried out, the commission's findings indicate.

The commission found that a special engineering team set up by the government following the release of the commission's interim report into the faults of the Pal-Kal building method - by which the Versailles hall was built - practically never meets. The committee called on the government to find a way to make sure that this team does its job. The panel also said that it would be a “miracle” if there was not another Pal-Kal disaster in the coming years.

The Zeiler Commission was set up in June 2001 to explore building safety in Israel, point to any problems in the industry and recommend necessary action. The panel began its work in November 2001 and has heard testimony from dozens of people, including municipal engineers, a host of experts, representatives of construction firms and inspectors.