PMO Paying for Minister's Unused Luxury Office in TA

Avishay Braverman already has one office in prestigious Tel Aviv high rise.

A luxurious office suite in a prestigious Tel Aviv high rise, which has been rented out to Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman (Labor) has been empty and unused for several months. Braverman works in another office suite two floors below. In addition, he has his Knesset office in Jerusalem.

Why does a minister need two separate office suites in the same building? And why is one of them empty?

Braverman's spokesman, Nadav Galon, first denied that the office was empty. "The minister uses the office, which was rented for him by the Prime Minister's Office," he said.

Galon declined Haaretz's offer to accompany him to the empty offices two floors above. The Prime Minister's Office confirmed later that the office was empty and said it was intended for an authority the minister would be in charge of in the future.

Only a week has passed since the State Comptroller's report slammed Labor leader and Defense Minister Ehud Barak's extravagant trip to the Paris Air Show. The comptroller found that the Defense Ministry delegation paid tens of thousands of shekels for hiring rooms - which remained unused - in the prestigious hotel the minister stayed in.

The silver plaque outside the door on the 13th floor of the Amot Hashkaot building on Tel Aviv's Weizmann's Street says "Professor Avishay Braverman, minister for minority affairs, Prime Minister's Office."

Despite expectations from an office belonging to the PMO, the entrance was not guarded and the door opened with a light push. The suite consists of a spacious meeting room overlooking the city below, a reception area and three additional offices, all empty. The office floor, at least 100 square meters, is covered with wood paneling. All the rooms are furnished with leather armchairs and wooden tables, some still in their original plastic wrapping.

Several documents bearing the minister and his bureau's stamp were found in one room, apparently intended to serve the minister or one of his senior aides. These included personal letters to the minister, long lists of names and addresses, a writing pad with handwritten notes and other items, all out in the open, unguarded.

"There are no documents or items belonging to the minister in that office. I don't know what you're talking about," Galon said.

Workers in other offices in the building told Haaretz that Braverman's office suite on the 13th floor has been deserted for at least six months. Nobody had seen anyone entering or leaving the office.

"I'm not paying for that, ask the Prime Minister's Office, I told you, they're the ones who hired that office," Galon told Haaretz.

In a formal statement replying to a query about the empty office's rent, the minister's bureau said "We don't have those figures. In matters of rent costs you must inquire with the PMO."

The PMO did not reply to Haaretz' query about the money paid for the deserted office's monthly rent.

Hiring a similarly sized office on an adjacent floor in the same building costs about NIS 100 per square meter. In other words, some NIS 10,000 were spent monthly for renting the empty suite, not including municipal rates and management fees, which are paid separately.

Real estate consultants were not surprised to hear that the government was paying rent for an empty office. "It's not unusual. It's very possible that the office has been standing empty for six months. What do they care?" a large Tel Aviv realtor said.

An official in the Finance Ministry, which is in charge of the government's rented real estate, said there were no properties not in use.

Braverman entered office seven months ago. He employs eight staff members in the office he uses - 176 square meters for a monthly rent of NIS 18,500 - and has a budget of some NIS 12 million.

The PMO says that the empty offices are intended for the Authority for Economic Development of the Arab, Druze and Circassian Sectors, which will soon move in with its staff of six. The offices are empty because "processing the workers requires a tender according to the Civil Service Commission's regulations. The process is in advanced stages," said the Finance Ministry source.