War-stricken North Left to Own Devices

In the comptroller's opinion, the government must overhaul its organizational, budgetary and administrative planning for assistance to Haifa and the north.

Following the Second Lebanon War in 2006, the government approved a series of steps meant to put the rehabilitation and development of Haifa and the north at the top of its list of priorities. The public was shown a NIS 4 billion assistance plan, which raised many expectations - particularly among residents of the north.

But the plan in fact contributed almost nothing to the north, according to the new State Comptroller's Report. Government ministries did not see themselves as obligated by the rehabilitation plan and did not alter their priorities, and they even directed funding meant for the missile-stricken north to other projects.

Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss placed the bulk of the blame on the Prime Minister's Office and the office of the vice premier. The latter was headed at the time by Shimon Peres, now the president.

The comptroller concluded that the plan had raised what proved to be false expectations among northern residents and municipalities. The actual budget allocated turned out to be substantially less than the NIS 4 billion that had been announced - just NIS 2.8 billion, with another NIS 1.2 billion donated by world Jewry.

Moreover, of this NIS 2.8 billion, NIS 1.2 billion had been part of the original budget for the north, with no connection to the war or the damages sustained. In other words, the actual budget increase totaled NIS 1.6 billion, and not NIS 4 billion as announced.

The comptroller also found that some of the NIS 1.2 billion in pledged donations was spent on communities in the south, which are suffering rocket attacks from Gaza, or on nationwide activities like promoting tourism.

The government did not require ministries to direct additional funding to the north, he wrote, so some simply relabeled preexisting budgets as part of the assistance plan, which distorted the picture of how much money was actually allocated.

And in some instances, he noted, government decisions and plans were based on pledged donations that were never actually received. "The government's dependency on the receipt of donations to carry out decisions it has identified as top priority - particularly when what is at stake is the financing of activities that are essential to the population, and when the government [therefore] refrains from carrying out these activities - is improper," the comptroller wrote.

"The government has placed government decisions into private hands, jeopardizing policy considerations and priorities," he continued. "Since the receipt of donations is dependent on the will of the donor, the government cannot depend on these donations as an assured source of funding to implement its plans."

The report noted that neither the Vice Premier's Office nor any other government body has comprehensive information on the total amount of donations received from around the world following the war, or on what was done with these donations. In addition, the Finance Ministry's budget department has no system for recording donations within the state budget.

In the comptroller's opinion, the government must overhaul its organizational, budgetary and administrative planning for assistance to Haifa and the north, including by setting clear goals and yardsticks for implementation. "Rehabilitating the population in areas that suffered and continue to suffer from wars is a very important test for the government," he wrote. "The government must take steps to ensure that its plans and decisions do not become dead letters."