Official to Litzman: Take Back Bias Charge

In a strongly worded letter, Accountant General Shuki Oren called on Deputy Health Minister Litzman to withdraw comments made during a meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee yesterday, in which Litzman accused the Finance Ministry of intentionally skewing the terms of the Ashdod hospital tender.

The allegations are baseless, Oren said. "We regret that you have chosen to level attacks on employees of the Health Ministry, Israel Lands Authority, Finance Ministry and Tenders Committee members, and expect you to withdraw your allegations," Oren wrote.

Two groups are contending for the Ashdod hospital tender: Assouta Hospital, which is owned by Health Maintenance Organization Kupat Holim Macabbi, and a group comprised of Africa Israel (60%) and the non-profit organization Refua V'Yeshua (40%), which is operated by the Gur Hasidic sect, for which Litzman acts as representative in the Knesset.

The Gur sect is also involved in establishing an emergency medical center in Ashdod, which Litzman is seeking to include in the tender.

In his letter, Oren also told Litzman that his request to include the emergency medical center in the hospital plan had been discussed by experts in the health and finance ministries, and it was decided that the building is unsuitable for a general hospital, and that inclusion of the building in the tender would create an unfair advantage to one of the contenders in the tender.

"I have many questions about the tender," Litzman told the Finance Committee yesterday morning. "I have been put off again and again, and I am concerned that the terms of the tender are biased. I have scheduled to meet with the finance minister twice, and both meetings were canceled. I was only able to reschedule the meeting only after the committee meeting had been set up. The finance minister must cooperate with the Health Ministry on the hospital tender," he added.

Committee chairman MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) asked the Finance Ministry for clarifications about the Deputy Minister's concerns.

Under an amendment for which the government is seeking approval, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz will be also be given the authority to decide whether to limit the hospital to just 184 beds, rather than the matter being left to the entrepreneurs' sole discretion.

Infuriated by the proposal, Gafni said that the direct upshot of such an amendment is that the Finance Ministry will be allowed to deny a proposal for a 300 bed hospital because it wants to limit its financing to a 184 bed hospital.

According to the budget department at the Finance Ministry, every effort is being made to allow construction of a hospital in Ashdod, and the grant allocated to the tender winner had been increased to 50% of the project cost, the maximum allowable for such projects.

Nevertheless, the source said, if the tender fails, no hospital will be built.

"The grants were increased without consulting with the Health Ministry,' Litzman said. "The ministry must be a partner in the tender process."