Social Affairs Ministry Seeks Dismissal of Managers of Debt-ridden Center for Blind

A plant and rehabilitation center for the blind and vision-impaired in Kiryat Haim could have its current management fired, causing upheaval to 3,500 blind and partially sighted people, the operators say.

Migdal Or, the non-governmental organization running the plant and center, blames the Social Affairs Ministry for its NIS 9 million financial deficit and demands greater assistance.

The ministry however says public funds should not be used to pay for what it calls Migdal Or's mismanagement and that it will let another NGO run the facility, without disturbing its blind workforce .

Migdal Or has been operating the Kiryat Haim center on the Social Affairs Ministry's behalf for many years. A few years ago the organization ran up a financial deficit and stopped paying the workers' social benefits. A few months ago the NGO stopped paying wages and ceased to pay suppliers.

A few months ago the ministry rejected a recovery plan proposed by the Migdal Or which required the state to pay over NIS 7 million toward its deficit.

Ministry director general Nahum Itzkovich said the state earmarks NIS 12 million annually for the organization.

"The NGO has a deficit and cannot pay wages because of poor management. We don't think public funds should pay for the its incompetence," he said.

Migdal Or director Nissim Bachar said the body operates according to ministry regulations.

"The main reasons for the deficit are the ministry's failure to pay the workers' compensation fees, as it promised to, and we had to pay them," he said."Also the ministry's allocation doesn't cover the services we provide." The plant employs some 100 workers and some 3,500 blind and vision-impaired people go through the rehabilitation center and plant annually.

Itzkovich said that unless Migdal Or undertakes "real" recovery steps, including firing its management, the ministry will run the plant and center under another operator.

"We will continue to operate the plant and the workers won't notice the change," he said.

Bachar said if the his NGO stops functioning the blind people will have no place to go.

"It's not a matter of one day to find an organization to provide services for 3,500 blind people with all the required infrastructure and equipment," he said."We're trying to reach an agreement with the ministry because we don't want to abandon the blind."